A wider knowledge of Paisley’s cultural assets can build the foundations for success. By Professor Leigh Sparks.

Paisley has witnessed remarkable events and changes in its history. Its location and site assets powered its foundation and its subsequent industrial rise – leading to the worldwide fame of its iconic product, the Paisley pattern.

But, its location, proximity and interdependence with more recent development in the vicinity – such as Braehead, Silverburn and the airport – and the narrowing and then decline of its industrial base have brought massive challenges and change to Paisley. For a number of years, it has been viewed as a symbol of town centre decline and problems, but this perception is now changing rapidly.

Paisley’s long and varied history is a fabulous base on which to rebuild and reimagine the town. It is an architectural jewel, and these historic assets provide a firm physical foundation for development, whether in their original use as with Paisley Abbey or reinvented as fresh living, visitor, artistic or creative spaces.

Paisley’s heritage however lies not only in physical buildings. The cultural assets include the extensive hidden treasures of Paisley Museum and many objects, stories and histories of the places and its life and work. The unique Shawls Collection is one such treasure. Indeed, there are too many such artefacts to be able to put on show at any one time. Many have remained hidden for decades.

One example amongst many is an original remarkable four-volume Birds Of America by John James Audubon; the most celebrated work of American ornithology, and the world’s most expensive book ever sold at auction. It contains life-sized paintings of hundreds of American birds in their natural habitat and is arguably amongst the finest pictorial works ever produced. Paisley’s Public Library set was donated by Sir Peter Coats of the famous thread manufacturers, J and P Coats. With other related and similar focused works, it has been claimed that Paisley is second only to Harvard in this natural history collection. Yet this remains hidden and relatively unknown.

This cultural and heritage base is thus being used to leverage the brand recognition of the town’s name. A reinvented museum of textile, costume and design, an extended Paisley Museum, a focus on fashion and design, theatre, events, new hotels, living spaces in the centre and the visual use of previously, hidden artefacts on the high street all focus attention on the renaissance of Paisley. The diversity and breadth of assets provides a base to attract national and international visitors. Whether drawn by the architectural, church, radical industrial heritage or by the collections assembled through Paisley’s historical wealth, the opportunity is to provide economic and cultural life via tourism and visitor spend.

This physical renewal has to be combined with a social renewal, giving residents a voice and a stake in the future of the town.

In Paisley it is the cultural, industrial heritage that powered its development and produced the brand for a modern Paisley, not just locally but internationally. Recognising, valuing and using the past – warts and all – can produce a town that will interest and attract visitors, but will also be a place people also want to live, work and play in. Uniquely different, each town has to find its voice and place and use the assets it possesses. In this regard Paisley is once again leading the way in Scotland.

Leigh Sparks is Professor of Retail Studies at the University of Stirling and Chair of Scotland’s Towns Partnership