History of Town Catalyst

How the Town Catalyst project came to be

The Town Catalyst idea grew from a discussion between Steven Hill (Dunbar T-Shirt Shop & Dunbar Trades Association Chair) and Richard Baty (East Lothian Council Economic Development) around the search for businesses to attract new customers to the High Street.

What defines a successful high street in today’s age of internet shopping and out of town shopping complexes has changed dramatically from what it once was. The landscapes of our town centres, and what consumers demand from them, has shifted. Businesses need to offer value add service, expertise and a more personal touch than larger shops which have become the new convenience, opening 24 hours and providing a vast array of choice.

With this in mind, The Vinyl Frontier (now Green Cat Records, a record shop that was based in a soon to close skate park in North Berwick) was approached to come and trade for a week in a pop-up shop. This pop-up was funded by the Dunbar Trades Association which recognised the benefits of bringing a new audience to the town for all its members. After a successful introduction to the town the business went on to find its own shop and begin trading. This success then continued, and after a rebrand to the now famous Green Cat Records, the owners were able to completely renovate what was a poorly maintained shop and breathe new life into a unit which had been in a sorry state for some time. The business now enjoys a customer base from across the country, which is great news for the local cafes and other shops that all benefit from this additional foot flow that may otherwise never have discovered Dunbar.

Making a place for new niche, attraction retail and retail service businesses is key to the long-term success of towns, and this is where we believe the high street can gain a competitive advantage in a market saturated with online stores and enormous, faceless multinationals.

From this original idea the project grew to become the Town Catalyst which is a venture to help grow town centres with a view to the future. Working with Business Gateway and Economic Development and East Lothian Council, Town Catalyst was able to secure a small amount of European funding to help launch the pilot. The process of the pilot launch has been fraught with difficulties as the unit selected was a long way from habitable. After extensive renovations and many discussions with the landlord we finally managed to secure the premises and have gone through the rigorous selection process for what we believe will be a great business for the town for many years to come. The funding will allow us to support this business as it finds its feet and remove the barriers that may otherwise have prevented the founders from opening a shop.

Beyond the pilot we will work to secure more locations across the country and start the momentum for change in our high streets. Retail and retail service is no longer the turnkey profit making business of old but it can provide a life changing career move for families and provide the local vibrancy so often lacking in modern town centres.

Demographics - East Lothian

Taking a closer look at the demographics and economics in East Lothian

East Lothian

As the world economy has shown turbulence, it is important that we not only improve local services but also re-localise services that may have been lost to town centres. Social mobility and community cohesion are two areas which have suffered from these demographic changes. Many towns in East Lothian are used as dormitory towns for Edinburgh and as such their town centres have receded and become predominantly tourist centres. East Lothian’s jobs density per population is 0.56, which is much lower than the Scottish average, highlighting the number of East Lothian workers who commute out of the area.

With large retail parks in the neighbouring county, it is difficult to attract people to town centres. Sadly, anti-social behaviour, change from retail to services, and proliferation of betting and charity shops has become the trend. Once the shops begin to disappear, it creates a domino effect. The service sector, especially food and drink, then struggles due to the downturn in foot flow, this can lead to a downward spiral that leads to empty units, often left vacant for years.

Population growth

East Lothian has a growing population. Estimated at 101,360 in 2013, it is forecast to grow at one of the fastest rates of all 32 local authorities in Scotland, according to East Lothian council. The number of households is projected to grow by 26.5% between 2012 and 2037 compared to a growth of 16.6% in Scotland.

Supporting entrepreneurial spirit

East Lothian has the lowest number of businesses per head of population of any county in Scotland. The number of new businesses in East Lothian declined by 15% in 2006 and remained relatively stable for 4 years before increasing to a 10-year high of 350 in 2013. Sadly, there was a 10% decline the following year. The barriers to entry are simply too daunting for many people. With the right support, we think the true entrepreneurial spirit of local communities will show through and we can redress this imbalance.