Across Perth & Kinross, the number of long-term empty commercial properties is falling. The catalyst is a marketing campaign branded Empty to Plenty.
Its success is great news for town centre regeneration; great news for landlords and small local businesses; and great news for the sustainability of local rural communities.
The scheme brings older properties back up to standard, and in doing so is revitalising local shops and improving footfall. The recent experience of two retailers in Perth High Street highlights the schemes’ strengths. Coincidentally, both are jewellers.
Number Five opened at 17 High Street in October 2016, having relocated to Perth from Cupar, where the business had previously traded for many years. This meticulously restored Georgian merchant house is now the base for goldsmith Claire Bruce and her husband Stuart.
Just down the street, an old sandwich shop had lain empty for some time: it is now rejuvenated as Silver Linings, a jewellery and gift shop which is home to jeweller, Kyley Campbell’s workshop.
Both buildings were totally refurbished in 2016, with exterior work, rewiring and other improvements supported by the Empty to Plenty Scheme, which is administered by Isobel Butt and Katrina Morrison at Perth & Kinross Council.
“Perth Heritage Trust provided grant funding for the restoration of the characterful close at No17 through their City Heritage Fund and the works were organised by the owners of the block, ” explains Isobel. Arc Architects from Cupar were the project architects and the contractors were AGB a successful local contractor based in Perth.
The Council owns 17 High Street, but Silver Linings’ shop has a private landlord. “We gave impartial advice and provided the owner with information about grants, interest free loans and other incentives,” adds Isobel. “These can help cover things such as architect and surveyor fees, repair costs and, when a commercial property has a new tenant, help them apply for rates subsidies of 50% for their first year in the premises.”
Isobel and Katrina have now helped bring 138 properties back into use so far – both commercial and residential. “This has been achieved by a combination of grants, interest free loans, information on reduced rate VAT and discounts from contractors and Builder’s Merchants.”
For the retailers, the scheme has also been a powerful plus. Number Five offers an extensive selection of contemporary jewellery by around 50 designers, as well as items designed by Claire herself. “We had approached the Council for help in searching for suitable premises,” explains Stuart Bruce. “The refurbished character of the block at No.17 is perfect for us, the parking zone enables shoppers to park for 15 minutes for free, which is a great idea, and footfall in the High Street is good. Inside the store each individual maker has their stunning pieces displayed together as a collection, and as the maker would intend.
“We signed the lease while the exterior work was still being finalized, and once we got entry we were able to refit the interior using a local company. We brought recycled cabinets from our previous store – which originally came from the University of St Andrews. We also upcycled an old farm barn door as the shop counter, and put down a unique flooring to add the finishing touch. We’ve been very happy with how things have gone since opening.”
For Kyley, the refurbishment has also brought a silver lining to her search for start-up premises. “After 10 years of being a self-employed jeweller, working from home, and then being based in a fellow jeweller’s shop for the past two years, I finally took the plunge to open my own shop in March 2016. The location here has been good, and response from both established customers and new ones is very positive. With the help of social media and easy parking outside, Silver Linings continues to grow.”
It’s clear, Empty to Plenty is living up to its aspiration.
Opportunities exist currently with refurbished premises across Perth & Kinross, and landlords can get advice from the team on the support available.