“Just like the Avengers, we have joined forces to save Union Street – but we need you.”
With this rallying call crafted to appeal to his youthful audience – and a colourful poster of the Marvel superheroes – Our Union Street co-founder Derrick Thomson begins his speech.
Braving a room of hundreds of Aberdeen University students, he implores the “young and inspired minds” to join their quest.
The Elphinstone Hall is historically associated with the pomp and circumstance of graduation ceremonies, full of mortarboard-tossing revelers ready to take on the world.
This time around, it plays host to a major brainstorming session on saving the struggling city centre.
It comes as more and more students are making the area their home, with various student flat plans recently approved on and around Union Street.
And the “future generations” are central to the group’s campaign.
The Our Union Street pitch
A buzz takes over the historic hall as Derrick and his colleague Honey Keenan, Our Union Street’s communications manager, take to the stage.
Geared up with an interactive presentation – and an uplifting spiel – they present the taskforce’s main objectives and ideas to revive the city centre.
These include sprucing up run-down buildings on Union Street, clearing up pavements and offering two years free of rent for new businesses taking on an empty units.
Fixing the taxi crisis in Aberdeen and re-instating night buses, as well as coming up with an “eclectic” events calendar, are also figured in.
And as part of their more recent plans, they have teamed up with Robert Gordon University students to use the vacant shops as exhibition venues.
‘This is our vision for Union Street – but what is yours?’
This is no usual presentation, Derrick reassures students while impersonating a “random Dave” talking over 25 daunting Power Point slides.
Their aim is to connect with them and get as many ideas as possible from “the people who will be living and working in the city for years and years to come”.
And just like that, an image of an elephant standing in the middle of Union Street pops up on the screen.
This is to illustrate the main problems Aberdeen’s Granite Mile is facing – online shopping and ever-rising business rates among many others.
Going by the quiet chuckles and several nods across the room, it’s safe to say Dumbo succeeded in catching students’ attention.
And at the end of almost every point of his presentation, Derrick concludes with: “This is what we’ve come up with so far – but what do you think, what are your ideas”.
What do students think of the plans?
Student council chairman Nirvan Abedi opens up the floor for questions and the hall becomes a sea of raised hands.
How do you plan to encourage businesses to come to Union Street in this climate? What are the benefits for locals? And what about antisocial behaviour in the city centre?
One after another, Derrick and Honey tackle the queries – presenting their case for a “vibrant, clean and busy” city once again.
Challenged on whether Our Union Street is doing enough to benefit locals – and not only tourists, the pair insist the plan has been designed to improve the area for all.
Derrick adds: “We want to make Union Street better for everybody – tourists are one part of it, but it is for those who reside and work in Aberdeen too.
“Those 10,000 ideas [that we presented] cover everything from a local perspective.
“We are trying to bring together a whole host of things so people can get a different take on what the city is all about.
“And at the core of it all is again coming back to you. We are seeking your input.”
Do you have any ideas how Union Street can be improved? Let us know in our comments section below.
‘We are here to make a difference – one salami slice at a time’
While the debate doesn’t come to a conclusion as to what the solution might be, it is the start of a “burning debate that needs to be had”.
Mr Thomson adds: “We are not going to promise the whole street will be cleaned by next Tuesday.
“And we are not going to promise all of the shops will be filled by a week on Thursday.
“We are about doing stuff one salami slice at a time – and if that takes us the next four or five years, then so be it.
“We are here to make a difference, and we will be here for as long as it takes.”
Anyone who wants to share ideas with the Our Union Street group can get in touch on their website or pop by their base at the Union Street pavilion in Union Terrace Gardens.