Dumfries High Street and the streets around it used to be a highly populous area. Many of the properties were, by the early 20th century, in a very poor state of repair and the area was condemned as a slum. The final phase of slum clearance took place between 1956 and1963. During this period, over 3000 people were moved out, mostly to new housing in Lochside and Lincluden.
In the fifty years since, the remaining population of the High Street has dwindled almost to zero and many of the old buildings, particularly those of the old closes and ‘lands’ behind the High Street, have been demolished. For a while, commerce filled the gaps, with shop units becoming larger as national companies bought up and amalgamated adjacent properties.
More recently, the advent of online shopping and edge-of-town retail parks has seen the High Street increasingly abandoned by national retailers, while the units they’ve left behind are too large and expensive for independent retailers to maintain. The upper storeys of High Street properties – once almost exclusively residential spaces with separate access arrangements – now lie empty, with little prospect that any ground floor retail enterprise will ever be able to find a different use for these upper floors.
You can watch a short film about the recent residential history of the High Street here
The Bakers Oven Project
Recently, D&G Council has taken up the cause of getting people back living in the properties above our High Streets as part of a wider set of solutions aimed at making sure our central civic spaces can survive and thrive once more. This project is part of that push and is in no small way a result of artist-led agitations orchestrated by The Stove over several years.
Formerly known as The Baker’s Oven (or Oliver’s, if you’re old enough), this council owned, High street property is part of a first phase in redeveloping this part of the central High Street, also known as The Midsteeple Quarter. D&G Council has allocated funding to The Stove Network in order to make the case for its transfer to a Community Interest Society (CIC) with the express aim of creating living spaces on the upper storeys, whatever the eventual ground-floor use or uses may be. Find out more about Midsteeple Quarter at http://www.thestove.org/tag/midsteeple-quarter.
Signalling change, starting conversations
To signal that change is coming to the High Street, D-Lux Arts (another CIC) has been commissioned by The Stove to create an impactful and thought-provoking artwork for the façade of the Oven building.
The aims of this work are two-fold:
1. Get people thinking and talking about the High Street as a place to live and work, not just as an open-air shopping centre.
2. Give people a reason to visit and linger in the town centre after the shops close.