Cupar’s CharrettePlus

Bill Pagan, Board member of BEFS and founding Board member of Cupar Development Trust, brings us up to date on Cupar’s CharrettePlus, led by PAS last month.

So that’s what a CharrettePlus feels like!  While this blog covers only Cupar, many of the issues are common to Scotland’s Small Towns, as we know from the BEFS report.  The BEFS visit to Cupar and the subsequent report on the town inspired the creation of the Cupar Development Trust which then raised the funds to employ PAS to deliver the exercise.

The Corn Exchange, a central venue in town, hosted the consultations, which took place from the evening of Thursday March 17 to the afternoon of Sunday March 20. But the work had started weeks in advance.  That preparatory work was evident on the first evening, when pupils from Cupar’s Bell Baxter High School, St Columba’s Primary, Castlehill Primary, and Kilmaron Special School, kick-started the public consultation process with a string of ideas which challenged all of us to see the town from the perspective of its younger citizens.  Their thoughts were echoed by a strong message from Cupar’s Youth Cafe, which has customers from out-of-town as well.  It is encouraging that this generation is alive to Cupar’s heritage, its open spaces and its “small town vibe”.

Cupar benefits from the Howe of Fife Rugby Club’s ambitious development at their ground, to be available for other sports clubs who will have the chance to improve their specific facilities.  But the young presenters wanted better facilities for casual, unsupervised, ball games as well, and had identified the park at Ladyinch as an area to fence, and keep clear of dogs.  Not a huge project.  The pupils suggested also re-opening the toilet block in the Haugh Park as a community cafe and finding somewhere to create a small cinema facility and a “family cafe”, to both of which they could go  “without our parents having to drive us out of town”.  These would be a boon for the parents too – but it was clear that what the nine and ten-year olds were asking for was a town in which they could have a bit of freedom and independence at a time when, so sadly, there are reasons for parents to worry about their safety.

Another proposed project, small-scale, but high-impact for those who would benefit, was a plea from Kilmaron Special School for better access to the town centre by simple improvements to things like the pavements and crossings that challenge them on their journeys.  We hear that the inspired staff have already made progress on the pavements and kerbs, and are now attacking the question of access to buildings, including the town’s Library, and the upper floor of the Corn Exchange (a theatre and event space, above the space where all these discussions were taking place).

More ambitiously, the pupils from Bell Baxter and the primary schools agreed with the BEFS comments on the lack of a hotel, and both the former Police Station site at the western gateway to the town, and the former Reekies’ site at its southern gateway, were suggested.

All that I have mentioned so far arose from the Thursday evening session alone.  Obviously, not all would survive to be included in the plan – “CuparCould” – to be developed on the Sunday afternoon – but what a start!

On the Friday, three structured workshops were held – and were well attended.  The topics were Enterprise, Conservation & Community, and Creativity & Innovation.  Many of the issues raised that first evening came up again – and again – including the benefits of Cupar’s heritage, the problems of access to the town centre, and the need to attract outsiders to Cupar’s independent businesses.   A “quick win” would be improved signage.  A medium term target could be positioning Cupar as an exemplary “21st Century Market Town”.  Making Cupar a destination in its own right, with visitor facilities as well as increased independent retail and service business offerings, was a strong theme throughout.

The CARS and THI schemes already under way were welcomed, as was Fife Council’s project for Cupar’s ancient Closes.  The opportunities for re-use of the former Town Chambers and the County Buildings were noted, as were Cupar Development Trust’s aspirations for re-development of “Inner Court”, the area bounded by Bonnygate, Crossgate and Kirk Wynd.  It was hoped that one outcome of CARS/THI would be improved maintenance of town centre buildings and a fresher face for the town.  The Bonnygate “Missing Tooth” needed an early solution.  Many constructive suggestions were put forward, and it was clear that the PAS team and its Volunteers would have a major task pulling them all together by close of play on the Sunday.

During the day, we were visited by Marco Biagi MSP, the outgoing (and retiring) Minister for Local Government & Community Empowerment.  He heard from Bell Baxter and St Columba’s pupils and, movingly, from Kilmaron Special School on the problems of access to the town.

Before moving on to “Connecting the Ideas”, Saturday had one structured workshop – on Travel, Transport & Moving Around.  Cupar is blessed with ample parking and good rail and bus links – but little signage to guide those arriving.  It was agreed that Cupar needs to improve its cycling and walking routes to its compact town centre.  There was no shortage of ideas, only a few of which find space in this brief report.

The Sunday afternoon session was dedicated to pulling ideas together, summarising possibilities and preparing the first stages of a plan for delivery.  Artists’ impressions were available to comment on, and a presentation was shown several times as the audience changed during the afternoon.  The presentation included the first draft of a new logo for the town, and potential slogans to assist in presenting the town to visitors, home seekers, and businesses potentially relocating to the town, as well as exploring some of the specific improvement ideas.

The individual workshops were well attended, and there was a steady flow of drop-in visitors all four days.  There is clearly a lot of interest in the town in exploring possibilities for improvement, and members of established Cupar groups attended the workshops, expressing the intention of pulling together to this end.  Follow-up work is in full swing, preparing for an open public meeting on the evening of 21 April, when the enthusiastic input to the CharrettePlus will have been corralled into a forward plan for implementing the vision for Cupar as seen by contributors over the four days.

That event and its outcomes will be the subject of my April blog.  In the meantime, do visit Twitter (@cuparcould), Instagram (@cuparcould) and Facebook (