Following our report on Thursday on plans to reopen the former Helensburgh Heroes centre in Sinclair Street in a modified form as a visitor centre and arts and crafts showcase, the man behind the proposal, Helensburgh resident Professor Michael Baker, has written two articles explaining his idea in more detail.

You can read our initial report here, and Professor Baker's first article on the need for a visitor centre here.

In his second and final piece, Professor Baker explains how he thinks Helensburgh can lead the way in changing what towns offer to both visitors and locals.

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On Saturday, October 19, the second leader in The Times newspaper was headed ‘Talking Shop’.

Its subject was the need for radical action to save high-street retailing in Scotland in light of further closures of well-known and long established shops, many of which have “fallen victim to competition from online shopping, out-of-town retail centres and the steady drain of commerce from the traditional high street”.

The challenge for town and city councils is to stem the loss of such outlets and their replacement by cheap outlets “with betting shops and discount stores replacing high-street institutions”.

As the author of The Times' leader commented: “Nothing reflects worse on the character of a town than a seedy, down-at-heel street right at its heart, the very place where it should be thriving."

In the short term, little consideration appears to be given to the nature of incoming businesses so long as they can pay the higher rates for what, previously, were prime shopping sites, despite the fact that “once a town surrenders control of its retail profile it begins to lose appeal to visitors, businesses and investment”.

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Inevitably, in the longer term, this results in yet further decline.

To offset this, screening potential tenants and offering advantageous rates and other assistance could be effective.

This has been achieved in a number of locations in Scotland, where “better goods, personal service and social attraction” offer “opportunities for gossip, the meeting of friends or for sipping a latte and watching the world go by”.

There is already some evidence of this in Helensburgh, with numerous new restaurants and cafes, and retail outlets like Anne of Loudounville, Shufti, the Tweed and Scandinavian shops et cetera, offering high-quality merchandise for inspection and sale.

Together with the Hill House, the restored Hermitage Park, the Tower Digital Arts Centre, the Scottish Submarine Centre and the Mackintosh Club, there is an increasing number of visitor attractions appealing to tourists and creating an IGE, or 'income generating engine', to sustain further employment and inward investment.

While Argyll and Bute Council, local community councils, the Chamber of Commerce and other organisations all strive to make Helensburgh an attractive place to live and visit, we lack a visitor information centre to help coordinate these efforts as well as making them better known to both the local community and tourists.

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Such a visitor centre featured in Helensburgh Heroes' site at 28 Sinclair Street but, unfortunately, closed with the rest of the charity at the end of September 2018 because of health and safety issues.

Since that time the owners of the property have been seeking to resolve these and hope to be able to reopen the shop/visitor centre and exhibition hall early in 2020.

Regrettably, the cafe, which was planned to provide the income to underwrite the charitable activities, will remain closed for the time being and an alternative source of income/support needs to be identified to retain some of the original aspects of the Helensburgh Heroes proposals.

Central to these is the ambition contained in the slogan I have proposed, namely: “Celebrating the Past: Inspiring the Future”.

This will be achieved by installing a hall of fame on the upper walls of the exhibition hall combining blue plaques linked to an ‘app’ detailing the past and current achievements of persons with an association with the

Helensburgh and Lomond district, and links to other historic, cultural and noteworthy attractions in the area.

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Ideas for ‘monetising’ the floor and wall space to eye level are being explored but opening the visitor centre is seen as a priority to both attract and inform ‘tourists’ in 2020.

To do this a manager will need to be appointed but, more important, volunteers will be required to ensure knowledgeable residents are on hand to deal with ‘customers’ during the agreed opening hours.

When Helensburgh Heroes first opened, a number of people indicated interest in filling this role and I would be pleased to make contact with anyone who might be willing to help out.

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If you're interested in putting your name forward as a volunteer for Professor Baker's initiative, contact us on and we'll pass your details on.