The message that Falkirk’s town centres are the ideal place to shop, eat and play is spreading far and wide.
The opportunities they hold for people of all ages is something that Alastair Mitchell has been telling anyone who will listen for years.
Two decades after he arrived in the district, the town centre manager is as enthusiastic as he was in 1994 about what the Falkirk area has to offer.
While admitting there has never been a dull moment since he took up his role, he said what attracted him to the job is as relevant today as it was then.
He said: “Shoppers come to Falkirk from all over central Scotland, as far away as Glasgow and Edinburgh. We recently heard of one family that travels here regularly from Aberfeldy in Perthshire because of the choice of shops.
“Easy access is another major attraction – people come by car, bus and train and Falkirk is perfectly located in the centre of Scotland.”
Variety certainly seems to be the key with Alastair confirming that the mix of independent businesses, as well as the range of national outlets, is a firm winner with shoppers.
He said: “Many of our small independent shops utilise social media very effectively and have loyal customers attracted by great and, in many cases, unique products as well as fabulous service.”
However, the man who probably knows more about Falkirk and what makes it tick than most Bairns admits times are not easy, but that’s not something unique to Falkirk.
“All town centres have challenges in terms of vacancies, with many big name stores leaving not just our town centre but many throughout the UK.
“But don’t forget that we’ve got fantastic businesses throughout all our town centres – Bo’ness, Grangemouth, Denny and Stenhousemuir. The unique independent shops in our towns have, in many cases, been in business for many generations, serving not just their local customers but visitors from further afield.”
Looking ahead, Alastair continued: “Town centres are changing and Falkirk has already started that process – just look at the investment in our pubs, restaurants, cafes and office accommodation – The Hub being a best practice example.”
One of the best ways to encourage locals and out-of-towners to visit any of the town centres in Falkirk district is to market it effectively, lettling as many people as possible know what’s on offer and why they should come.
Falkirk Delivers is currently working on a ‘Locate in Falkirk’ marketing campaign to highlight the town centre as a destination in which businesses can invest while still on the expansion trail.
A pilot initiative just launched is ‘Park Free after Three’ which allows people free use of the pay and display council car parks in the town centre after 3 p.m.
The move is believed to be the first of its kind in Scotland with other towns and cities considering following Falkirk’s lead.
Alastair explained: “It’s not just about free parking, it’s about encouraging people into town to shop later in the day when it’s maybe not so busy, to eat or have a drink with friends, simply to have a bit of pamper time or even visit the bank.”
Some parts of Falkirk town centre have already had a transformation, particularly the area around Falkirk Old and St Modan’s Parish Church. However, thanks to funding from the Townscape Heritage Initiative even more work is planned that will give shop fronts and other buildings a makeover in a sympathetic manner and make the area even more attractive to visitors.
Alastair said: “Falkirk Delivers is working with all its partners to stimulate the town centre by ensuring it’s a clean, safe and friendly place that people will want to visit and spend some time.
“We’re also working to ensure that some of the visitors to our local tourist attraction, such as Callendar House, The Falkirk Wheel and the Helix, spend some time shopping, eating or simply visiting the town centre when they’re in the Falkirk area.
“That’s why I’m delighted to support this Falkirk Herald initiative to encourage people to Shop Local, Eat Local, Play Local. The more we highlight what’s of offer, the greater the opportunity to maximise our town centres.”