AN EXCITING and unique proposal to convert a disused building in Langholm into a centre for business start-ups, artists’ studios, exhibition venue, retail units and café has been unveiled.
The Stevenson Trust has applied for planning permission to make alterations to and change the use of the former Border Fine Arts to create a multi-purpose social enterprise and visitor centre.
The plan also includes a micro-brewery / distillery and a bakery.
It is estimated that it could attract 17,000 visitors a year.
Renamed Auld Langholm Station because it’s on the original site of the former station, this community regeneration project will be a catalyst for the economic revival of the town and its High Street.
The retail units will have a focus on Made in Scotland and particularly southern Scotland products.
The lay-out is designed to enable visitors to see the artists and artisans at work, for business to be transacted and for craft workers to give demonstrations of their skills.
David Stevenson, the trust’s chairman, said there was no plan at the time of purchase in 2018.
He added: “We went up a few blind alleys before deciding to create a something unique, an opportunity to create business start-ups and job opportunities in affordable spaces as an attraction which will bring visitors all year round and be an asset to the quality of life of Langholm folk.
“The BFA buildings were built on the site of Langholm railway station so we decided to create Auld Langholm Station, give the development a railway theme and take advantage of the extensive site to celebrate the heritage and lifestyle of Langholm and the Esk Valley.
“There will be exhibitions, markets, demonstrations, talks and workshops and we plan to have a micro-brewer, artisan baker, handloom weaver, garment maker, potter, artists and craftworkers.
“There will be speciality retailing with a focus on products made in Scotland and even a canine café for the dog walkers who enjoy a visit to Langholm.”
Considerable research was done over the two years, including a mixture of studying traffic flows on the main roads into Scotland and discussing business start-ups, job creation and community regeneration with local and national organisations.
David said: “We have a lot of space to fill and hope more than a dozen small businesses will base themselves in Auld Langholm Station.”
He outlined the importance of the plan’s success to Langholm’s regeneration.
“The main objective is to provide opportunities for business start-ups and for them to meet their potential customers.
“To do this we need to attract visitors to the site: a drop-in for people who live locally; a day out for those who live within 25 miles of Langholm; the ‘place to stop’ for regular travellers along the A7; and a ‘Welcome to Langholm . . . for your first Taste of Scotland’ for tourists heading north or ‘last taste’ if heading south.
“Auld Langholm Station will bring more visitors and cause more travellers to stop.
“More visitors bring more opportunity for all businesses in our High Street and, if any of the start-up businesses need more space to expand, we have that available next door in the warehouse behind the filling station or in Reid & Taylor’s mill when it is eventually brought back into use.”
Relatively few people visit Langholm but thousands pass through Langholm all year.
David added: “There are 5,000 plus each day even now and there’s often more than 8,000 every day in the summer.
“More than 200,000 people live within 25 miles of here and are often looking for a destination for a day out.
“This is a unique, indoor, all-year-round attraction. It will be visible to the A7 traveller and marketed to the day visitor and tourist via social media, TV, local papers etc.
“Exhibitions, demonstrations, events and activities will be ever changing but with a local or regional focus.”
Auld Langholm Station will be a social enterprise, the role of which is to create employment.
“Where there are grants or assistance to bring the concept to fruition, we’ll certainly apply for them,” said David.
“We don’t have final costs at this stage and experience has taught me best not to speculate on such matters.
“The earliest opening date will be April 2022 but how the coronavirus behaves will have a bigger bearing on timing than the planning process.
“This is a unique project and there will be nothing quite like it in the Borders or even Scotland.
“However, game-changing will really come into play when the benefits of this project are combined with the successful development of the Langholm Moor. Then we’ll start to get somewhere.”