Creating welcoming places together

Happy Connections hosted a co-design workshop to explore the question, 'How might we re-imagine a retail unit as a space for community connection?'

People in Ayr told us that they want more opportunities to connect in their everyday lives.

In particular, people spoke to us about Ayr’s town centre which, like many towns and cities across Scotland and the UK, is changing. Where once the High Street was a 'hub', a place to visit, browse the shops and bump into friends and neighbours, now, our habits are changing. We’re not using our high streets the way we used to and in this time of flux, there are vacant spaces. While this has been a cause concern for some, it also presents an opportunity to try something different.

Happy Connections have moved into a retail unit in the Kyle centre where we will explore and learn about the ways we might reimagine the town centre as a place to make connections. We'll be using the space to host workshops and events and we would like other people in Ayr to use the space too!

We started our collaboration by inviting a number of interested people and groups to join us and begin to design the space together. The group - which included people from higher education, local council, private sector, third sector and community members - worked together to explore how we might use this space differently. It was clear from the beginning that everyone was committed to the space being inclusive and welcoming to everyone.

Amongst many great ideas, from doggy day care to musical theatre, from silent discos to cosy corners, two themes emerged: a place for socialising and a place for learning.

We explored the possibilities of impromptu opportunities to meet others and facilities for hosting organised activities. People shared ideas of what might be missing in Ayr and thought about what activities might bring the community together in a positive way.

People interested in a space for learning, talked about the idea of a community classroom as a place to learn new skills and for others to use for co-working. We heard from some people about the limitations of spaces they are currently working in. The retail unit offers the space and potential for an accessible, welcoming and relaxed environment for people to host training sessions and members of the community to learn new skills.

The next steps in establishing the space will include exploring how we can make new ways of using spaces in the town centre financially viable, what will make these spaces desirable for people to use and what is feasible for the community of Ayr in terms of the available opportunities, skills and resources to sustain new uses for town centre location.

We have the space at the Kyle Centre for a limited time. This gives us an opportunity to develop some of your ideas, support collaborations and challenges us to develop new ways of working together than will be sustainable beyond the time we are here. We’ll also be hosting our 'Sparkcatcher' innovation workshops. Things are happening - watch this space!