Council vision sees past the stereotypes to a Paisley of achievement, creativity and global influence

Paisley is best known for the pattern and shawls but now the town is retelling its unique story for a new century, with a bid for UK City of Culture 2021 set to launch Paisley on to the international stage.

At its heart will be a proud history. The 19th century saw Paisley transformed from a small settlement into a thriving industrial hub at the centre of a global industry.

Along the way the town became known for its radical roots and early trade unionism, prompting then-Prime Minister Disraeli to comment: “Keep your eye on Paisley.”

Yet while the old trades died out, their impact remains very much visible. The mill-owning families of that time helped fund a rich architectural legacy – in Scotland, only Edinburgh’s historic centre has a greater concentration of listed buildings.

But while Paisley is justifiably proud of its past – the City of Culture bid will also build pride in what it has in the present, and can have in the future.

There is no secret recent years have brought difficulties – manufacturing industries had already declined, the two-pronged competition of out-of-town retail development and the rise of internet shopping produced high town-centre vacancy rates, and pockets of poverty and deprivation still exist in the town.

That is why Renfrewshire Council and its partners are using the City of Culture bid to spearhead an ambitious heritage-led regeneration strategy intended to transform the town over the next decade.

That will see infrastructure projects including a multi-million-pound project to upgrade Paisley Museum into an international museum of textiles and costume by 2020, plus the creation of a museum store in a vacant basement on the town’s High Street.

Other projects include a Paisley fashion and design centre selling 21st-century versions of the products which made the town’s name, plus work to investigate a new theatre and cinema development, currently being taken forward by a community trust.

Tying all of that together will be a new brand for Paisley to sell the town at home and abroad, and work to co-ordinate the visitor offer to make the town a must-see destination for heritage tourism. All of these projects are due to go ahead whether the bid is successful or not – but the process will turbocharge that planned transformation.

As Renfrewshire Council Leader Mark Macmillan explains: “The council has already outlined a bold vision for the town’s future – and bidding for UK City of Culture will be a catalyst for that. The bid will put the town on the map as an international destination, change perceptions of Paisley, create jobs, re-energise our town centre, and build pride in the town. We shouldn’t be shy about what Paisley has to offer – our contribution to the world is massive for our size. Think about our textile heritage, the globally-recognised Paisley pattern, and the achievements of individuals like Gerry Rafferty, John Byrne, Paolo Nutini, David Tennant and more.

“And consider our outstanding location and transport links – home to the Glasgow Airport and the fourth-busiest train station in Scotland – plus our thriving contemporary cultural scene and events programme. I want people to look beyond the negative stereotypes and be proud of what we have and can become.”

Paisley doesn’t need to be a city to bid; the competition is open to large towns and urban areas. Paisley has two years to prepare its submission, with the winner due to be decided by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport by the end of 2017.

And as Councillor Macmillan explains, a successful bid cannot be shouldered by the council alone. He said: “The bid will be by the people of Paisley, for the people of Paisley. We already have good relationships with key partners – the University of the West of Scotland, West College Scotland, Renfrewshire Chamber of Commerce, the Paisley First Business Improvement District, and others such as PACE Theatre Group, the largest of their kind in the UK.

“All of these groups and more will take this forward together – the bid will be steered by a cross-party Paisley City of Culture Partnership Board, with business, educational and community representatives.

“And of course it’s not just Paisley that will benefit – the economic and social impact will be felt throughout all of Renfrewshire.

“The opportunities this bid offers are bigger than any of us – we will work together and sell our town to the world.”