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The Revitalisation of Argyll and Bute: A Journey Through Ardrishaig, Lochgilphead, Inveraray, and Helensburgh

One of the best parts of my role as Chief Officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnership is having the opportunity to travel and learn from the inspirational work being carried out across the country.

In late April, I had the pleasure of being invited by Argyll and Bute Council for a two-day visit to explore the region’s regeneration projects. 

I saw developments in Ardrishaig, Lochgilphead, Inveraray, and Helensburgh all highlighting the collaborative efforts that have brought these projects to life.

Lochgilpead water front area, Inverary Pier , Ardrischaig water front and public realm improvements, Lochgilphead Community Shop, Scottish canals, Ardrischaig and The Egg Shed, Ardrischaig

Day 1: Ardrishaig, Lochgilphead, and Inveraray 

The first stop was Ardrishaig, where the waterfront and public gardens have been revitalised thanks to funding from Argyll and Bute Council, Crown Estate Scotland, HiTrans and the Scottish Government’s Cycling, Walking, and Safer Routes Fund.

This project has delivered a lovely new waterfront viewing area and a public square opposite the North Hall, creating a vibrant space for relaxation and community events. It serves as a great example of repurposing public spaces to make an open, welcoming place for tourists and locals alike.

Next stop was Lochgilphead. There, the Front Green has been transformed into a welcoming public space thanks to funding from the Tarbert and Lochgilphead Regeneration Fund, the Scottish Government, HiTrans, Lochgilphead Phoenix Project, and the Co-op Local Community Fund. The new play area, public square, and walking/cycling paths have made it a real focal point for residents and visitors. It was great to see this project in person, having celebrated with the team as they won the 2022 ‘Streets and Spaces’ category at the Scotland Loves Local Awards.

A key focus for us at STP is preserving the rich heritage and culture of our places,while making our towns and town centres more appealing for visitors and those who live there.  The £2.2 million Lochgilphead Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS) which is dedicated to preserving the town’s architectural heritage, is a wonderful example, and the project has already made significant progress with the restoration of priority buildings and the implementation of training activities. Funded by Historic Environment Scotland, Argyll and Bute Council, the Place-Based Investment Programme, and private owners the initiative ensures the town’s historical character is maintained while supporting local businesses.

I was also interested to find out how the Lochgilphead Public Realm project had prioritised active travel and accessibility by enhancing pedestrian and cycling routes, encouraging greater footfall in the town centre and providing a boost for local businesses in the area.

The final stop of the day was the picturesque Inveraray, to find out more about the £2.1million Inveraray CARS project. This serves as a wonderful example of how collaborative funding has helped preserve the rich history of several priority buildings, while also promoting traditional skills and conservation techniques. By engaging with the local community, the project showcases the importance of involving the people who live in these places to work collaboratively together with funding bodies to the benefit of all. 

Helensburgh Outdoor Museum

Day 2: Helensburgh

Day 2 of my tour took me to Helensburgh, often referred to as the ‘Garden of the Clyde!’ And it did not disappoint.

The £2 million CARS runs from 2020 to 2026 – and its efforts are already visible thanks to  the restoration of a shopfront on Sinclair Street and initial works on priority buildings in the area. It was wonderful to hear that the scheme has also prioritised traditional skills training, which is so important not only to ensure long-term success of the scheme, but to retain local jobs, empower the local community and preserve these precious skills for future generations who will live and work in Helensburgh.

Speaking of preservation, the transformation of Hermitage Park, Argyll and Bute’s only urban park, includes a new Passivhaus Pavillion, the restoration of historic features and a demonstration garden. The park’s heritage is celebrated through guided walks, storytelling and trails, providing a vibrant hub for all the community to take pride in. 

As a coastal town, Helensburgh has much on offer for tourists, including the Argyll Sea Kayak Trail, funded by the Coastal Communities Fund. As well as helping to promote watersports in the region, the activity provides employment opportunities for local young people.

Furthermore, the £24 million Helensburgh Waterfront Development project has delivered a new leisure centre, enhanced flood protection and a new car park, providing a modern and accessible place that supports local businesses and retains footfall in and around the town centre. 

I was keen to find out more about how the Council had used funding from the Town Centre Fund to enhance Helensburgh. Between 2020 and 2021, the Helensburgh Shopfront Improvement Scheme awarded 12 grants to local businesses to carry out repairs and improvements to their shopfronts, enhancing the appeal of the town centre for visitors and locals alike. The funding also saw creation of a Community Hub and Wellbeing Centre, providing a community space for education, activities and support services. 

It was really encouraging to see the commitment from the council on improving the town centre, which is crucial to foster economic resilience for our towns to ensure a sustainable future. 

It was great to meet up wit Genna Lugue, a real Scotland Loves Local champion, at Helensburgh Waterfront

We often use Argyll and Bute as a case study for the Scotland Loves Local Gift Card, with the Council showing real commitment by the way in which they have embraced it  to supporting local businesses. 316 businesses in the region have signed up to accept the card. Campaigns to increase awareness including the Business Ambassador initiative, has driven nearly £1 million in local spending. The gift card has been a real success for fostering a ‘think local first’ attitude across the region – one that we are always keen to talk to other local authorities about. 

After a busy two days, I left Argyll and Bute feeling energised. 

The projects I visited – funded through a combination of local, national, and private investments – have transformed public spaces, preserved heritage, and supported local businesses.

As these towns continue to grow and evolve, they serve as a model for sustainable, community-focused development, ensuring a bright future for Argyll and Bute.