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‘It’s not perfect, but it’s home’: Peterhead beyond the buzz of Scottish Week

We asked locals and business owners to share their thoughts on the town centre and what they would like to change.

Locals shared their thoughts about Peterhead and what change they would like to see in the town centre. Image: Denny Andonova.
Locals shared their thoughts about Peterhead and what change they would like to see in the town centre. Image: Denny Andonova.

It’s early afternoon and Peterhead town centre is desolate.

Only the occasional greeting between friends and brief chatter out of nearby cafes breaks the lingering somberness.

Suddenly, a cheerful voice pierces through the silence.

“Mum, mum, I got another shop ticked off – we are halfway there now,” says 11-year-old Jack Gillespie as he runs down Queen Street.

Peterhead town centre during Peterhead Scottish Week.
While most of the events during Peterhead Scottish Week were “mobbed”, the streets in the town centre remained empty. Image: Denny Andonova.

For the past week, Jack and his seven-year-old brother Robin have been going around town businesses, hoping their lucky number will scoop them a prize.

They are among many taking part in Peterhead Scottish Week’s window shopping competition, where people can win a free item from one of nearly 200 traders.

Jack’s granny Morag Dixon tells me the festival has breathed new life into the town centre – as it does every year – and it’s actually “quite busy” right now.

Jack and Robin Gillespie outside Symposium café, which is taking part in the Peterhead Scottish Week's window shopping competition.
Jack and Robin have been to a dozen of events already – including the dog show, the artist challenge and RNLI Peterhead’s open day. Image: Denny Andonova.

But it’s still not even near to what Peterhead once was.

“It used be more of a community hub,” the 65-year-old says. “About 40 years ago, Peterhead was a central town in the north-east and it was booming.

“I remember the town centre packed with people. But it’s not like this any more.”

‘It’s been a dire situation for years’

Like any other north-east town, Peterhead still bears the scars from the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis that followed.

The M&Co and Brewdog units, which were once bustling with customers, now lie empty.

It is a reminder of the hardships many are still going through.

The former Brewdog bar on Marischal Street, Peterhead.
The former Brewdog bar on Marischal Street is still empty – nearly a year after bosses decided to close it, saying running the Peterhead business was no longer “viable”. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

I walk a few more steps up to Chapel Street and another “store closing” sign pops out.

It’s the ladieswear shop Dorothy Jacks, which has been offering a variety of smart and casual outfits for more than 35 years.

Days gone by: ‘Peterhead town centre would be full every weekend’

Pointing towards all of the empty stores, Robbie Cordiner tells me the town centre is “slowly dying” – and this has been the case for some time now.

Ladieswear shop Dorothy Jacks on Chapel Street with a sign "store closing".
Earlier in the day, people were coming in and out of Dorothy Jacks, eager to grab reduced items before the store closes its door for good. Image: Denny Andonova.

I meet him and his 10-year-old daughter Evie-Rose near the £285,000 outdoor public stage at Drummers Corner.

The unusual structure was at the heart of an ambitious regeneration project, launched to make the area more appealing and attract footfall.

But Robbie says a lot more needs to be done to lure people back.

Robbie and Evie-Rose Cordiner pictured at Drummers Corner, Peterhead.
Evie-Rose was also chasing signs around the town’s shop in hope of getting a prize from the window shopping competition. Image: Denny Andonova.

“It’s a dire situation,” he says. “Before, everything was done in efforts to make people come to the town centre. Now it seems it’s all to drive them outwith it.

“You used to be able to get everything from here. We’d come down and go to the local butcher, chemist or tailor. The town would be full every weekend.

“Now everyone just goes off to the big supermarkets and that’s that. The town centre needs a lot of new things and more variety if people are to come back.”

Drummers Corner during Peterhead Scottish Week.
Drummers Corner has been at the heart of an ambitious regeneration project, aimed at bringing more people to the town centre. Image: Denny Andonova.

I ask what they would change in Peterhead and Evie-Rose immediately jumps in.

“The liveliness of the town so it’s more fun for children,” she says. “And the weather. It always rains here and I like it when it’s sunny.”

If only I did have a magic wand to grant her wish…

Peterhead Scottish Week a boost for town centre – but is it enough?

For Evie-Rose and Jack, Peterhead Scottish Week is a chance to do something different, have fun and make new friends during the summer holidays.

There was a twinkle in their eyes as they went past every shop in the prize trail, diligently checking their number and then marking it off in their programmes.

This, of course, awakened the child in me and I decided to try it for myself.

While I didn’t manage to tick all of them – I did mark off quite a few from the lengthy list of businesses. Image: Denny Andonova.

My box-ticking adventure led me to the boutique clothing shop Fox and Feather.

The store is heaving with customers when I walk in and I have to wait for my turn to speak to Dawn Ritchie, who is kindly tending to all browsing the colourful outfits.

When her niece Lauren Joiner, 30, opened the business about a year ago, she never expected it to become so big. Especially in the current climate.

Customers browsing clothes in the boutique store Fox and Feather during Peterhead Scottish Week.
The Queen Street store has been going from strength to strength since it opened in June last year. Image: Denny Andonova.

Dawn says there needs to be more encouragement for traders to come to the town centre, which has now become “undesirable”.

Peterhead ‘not what it used to be’

Born and bred in Peterhead, she describes it as “bustling” with shops, cafes and restaurants back in the days when she used to run one of her own.

“It’s just not what it used to be,” the 52-year-old adds.

Dawn Ritchie in her niece's shop Fox and Feather on Queen Street, Peterhead.
Dawn used to run the Simpsons Tea Room on Broad Street and now helps her niece at the clothing shop. Image: Denny Andonova.

“Hopefully, things will pick up. But for that to happen, the town centre needs cleaned up and tidied up a bit. And we need more flowers – bring some colour to Peterhead.

“We are always busy and everyone seems to be loving the shop. But with these things, you have to take a gamble.”

‘Businesses need more support’

And this is exactly what Leanne Dalgarno has done.

The 35-year-old is still unwrapping the new furniture at Sprinkles Ice Cream and Desserts – a small parlour just off of Queen Street – after taking it over last month.

Leanne Dalgarno at Sprinkles Ice Cream and Desserts, Peterhead.
Leanne is still adding the finishing touches to her new parlour on St Peter Street. Image: Denny Andonova.

She also opened a shop for healthy snacks and drinks called Juiced in May in hope of bringing something different to the town centre.

For Leanne, the window shopping competition is a chance for start-up businesses like hers to be spotted.

She says: “Businesses need a lot of support to get people in so it’s good to have something like Peterhead Scottish Week that shines more light on them.

Sprinkles Ice Cream and Dessert on St Peter Street, Peterhead.
Leanne wants to draw people in with tasty desserts and treats. Image: Denny Andonova.

“I just saw the ice cream shop as an opportunity. Peterhead needs variety and this is exactly what I wanted to give – along with nice treats and desserts.

“It’s been hard going but the feedback so far has been really good. It just takes time.”

Could visitors from abroad be the answer?

Peterhead Scottish Week is just one initiatives aimed at drawing crowds to the town centre to boost tourism and local businesses.

The highlight, a stunning display by the Red Arrows attracting hundreds of spectators from near and far.

Meanwhile, £20 million is being spent creating a cultural quarter in Peterhead and revamping Macduff Aquarium with the same ambition.

Artist impressions of a revamped Macduff Aquarium and new cultural quarter in Peterhead.
Artist impressions of a revamped Macduff Aquarium and new cultural quarter in Peterhead. Image: Aberdeenshire Council.

The project includes transforming the disused Arbuthnot House in Peterhead into a new destination museum, library and cultural hub.

However, Wendy Sime seems quite confused when I ask her about the plans. She is not the first person I’ve spoken to that didn’t know anything of it.

The 63-year-old thinks attracting more tourists is a great idea, but the council needs to fix what’s already there first before building something new.

Peterhead harbour.
Could Peterhead harbour be the next destination for hulky cruise ships.

She adds: “The town centre needs more local artisan shops, more crafts shops – and shops in general, really.

“Folk were saying we might try to get cruise ships coming into the harbour. But why would they want to come here?

“There is nothing for tourists to go to or shop at.”

‘It’s not perfect – but it’s home’

Despite the hardships, locals believe that it’s not all doom and gloom.

For Steven Ritchie, Peterhead is the “perfect place” and there is no other place he would rather raise his daughters Isobella, eight, and Melinda, three.

John Adam and Khanim Guild took over the former Peterhead North School and transformed it into a full-scale nightclub, bar and restaurant – with a distinctly Eurasian flair. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson.

Morag, the shop-chasing granny, also holds out hope that the town centre will again blossom. The success of Arc Cinema, Peterhead Prison Museum and BrewToon promise a brighter future, she thinks.

The North Bar and Restaurant, which opened in February this year, is also quickly becoming a firm favourite of residents and visitors to the Blue Toon.

And when I ask Morag about how she sees Peterhead, she simply says: “It’s home. It might not be perfect – but it will always be home.”