Our Union Street is the new organisation determined to breathe new life into Aberdeen’s struggling Granite Mile.
The announcement of the group comes after years of decline, with the double whammy of the oil downturn and Covid restrictions hammering the city centre.
By the end of last year, with various units lying empty, things reached crisis point.
An emergency summit was convened at Market Street’s Douglas Hotel, with local leaders desperate to find a way forward.
It was at those crunch talks that Our Union Street began to take shape…
How was Our Union Street formed?
Before scores of interested parties, the idea of a “Union Street taskforce” was suggested.
It came amid fears that long-term solutions, like the new Aberdeen Market, could come too late – with action needed urgently to being the centre back from the brink.
Brought forward by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, the taskforce would “spearhead the marketing and development” of the central stretch.
The chamber’s Ryan Crighton highlighted how searching for Union Street on the internet tends to bring up stories of urban decay and crime.
He said: “Controlling the message and imagery is what we need to do. And it is how we could lure new companies to Union Street from elsewhere.”
What happened next?
In the weeks that followed the summit, organisers were left poring over dozens of ideas mooted to bring Union Street back to life.
Four months later, we appear to have an answer.
How will Our Union Street work?
Our Union Street is described as a “community-led” initiative.
Though captained by leading entrepreneur Bob Keiller, the start-up organisation wants the public to get involved as much as possible.
It’s being set up by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, Aberdeen Inspired, Aberdeen City Council and Opportunity North East, with additional support from Shell – which recently relocated to Union Street.
The not-for-profit outfit will look at other ways to raise money.
Aberdeen City Council will plough £100,000 into the initiative over the next three years – helping to cover staff and running costs.
The first £33,000 chunk was agreed at the budget meeting earlier this month.
It will be based from a premises, yet to be named, on the Granite Mile.
As chairman Bob Keiller put it: “To date, there has been no single body that has the remit to take on these challenges and opportunities.
“That’s what the brand-new organisation is for.”
What will they do to save Union Street?
Mr Keiller broke it down into some simple main aims, for now.
They want to get more businesses into the 47 vacant units by launching a nationwide hunt for takers.
And they want to harness people power to keep the Silver City sparkling – even if that means volunteers donning a pair of rubber gloves and scrubbing the granite themselves.
They believe making Union Street a more attractive place will make it an easier sell to would-be traders.
Shouldn’t the council be doing this?
Though the condition of Union Street is a matter of some significance, Our Union Street leaders agree it shouldn’t be at the top of the council’s spending list.
Mr Keiller says that, at a time when purse strings are tightened like never before, it’s not realistic to expect too much public investment.
What about Aberdeen Inspired?
Our Union Street draws an important distinction between its work and that of business improvement district, Aberdeen Inspired.
Whereas that organisation is run on behalf of businesses, who pay a levy to keep it going, Our Union Street aims to have a broader reach…
The group wants to have an “encompassing approach”, acting on behalf of everyone from building owners to locals walking the mat.
How can I help?
There is a website – www.ourunionstreet.com – where people can put forward their own suggestions on improvements.
As the scheme gathers pace, there will be opportunities to volunteer.
Who is Bob Keiller?
Bob Keiller is an energy industry veteran and one of Scotland’s leading entrepreneurs.
He is helming Our Union Street free of charge, as he believes he is the best man for the job.