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Cultural Kilmarnock Project Kickstarted with £20m from UK Levelling up fund.


The masterplan for the Cultural Quarter in Kilmarnock, created by Keppie Design. (Image by kind permission of East Ayrshire Council)

East Ayrshire Council’s vision of transforming Kilmarnock into a major national cultural destination takes a major step forward following an award of over £20 million from Westminster’s Levelling Up programme.


Douglas Reid discussed what this funding meant to East Ayrshire, and particularly Kilmarnock.


Councillor Reid commented that the funding, which is primarily targeted at the Palace Theatre complex, is not just for a simple refurbishment: “I don’t like to use the word 'refurbishment' as the plans are much more ambitious than that. The whole Palace Theatre complex, which includes the Grand Hall and the Art Hall, will be transformed into a first-class venue for music and the arts as well as having the ability to cater for events such as conferences.”



Council Leader Douglas Reid speaks of ambitious plans to transform Kilmarnock into a major cultural destination. (Photo credit - Derek Lewis.)

Councillor Reid went on to describe how this first step is part of a much larger project in the town (Kilmarnock) that will see buildings of cultural significance, such as the Palace Theatre, CenterStage Arts Academy, and the Dick Institute, connected by new outdoor event spaces and a green corridor.


The project is also set to make a focal point of the river (Kilmarnock Water) that runs through the centre of the town.


Councillor Reid stressed how other places in the UK really make the most of their rivers, as places to meet and maybe have a picnic or just relax, “The river in Kilmarnock has largely been built over, so we've lost that connection with it. We need to make the most of what we have in the town and really celebrate Kilmarnock and Ayrshire in general.”




Chief Officer, Aneeke Freel; many historically significant places in Kilmarnock will be linked by a ‘green corridor.’ (Photo credit - Derek Lewis.)

Anneke Freel, Chief Officer, East Ayrshire Council, spoke passionately of Ayrshire’s great history of innovation, “From Fleming, Dunlop, and Boyd-Orr to the invention of the world's first fully electric fire-engine, which was developed in Cumnock and is now being shipped all over the world...”


Ms. Freel also referenced Kilmarnock’s link with the national bard, Robert Burns, who spent a lot of time in the town, “He (Burns) stayed with his good friend, the farmer Tam Sampson, whose house is commemorated by a plaque at the site of the old Kilmarnock Academy. The first published edition of Burns' poetry was printed at John Wilson's Printworks in Kilmarnock, known worldwide as The Kilmarnock Edition.”


Ms. Freel added that these and many other places of historical significance will be linked by a ‘cultural green corridor’ that visitors will be able to follow from the centre of the town all the way up to the Dick Institute on Elmbank Avenue.


Head of Economic Growth, Planning, and Economic Development, David McDowall (Photo Credit -Derek Lewis)

David McDowall, Head of Economic Growth with Planning and Economic Development, discussed another part of the town improvement plans that is important to mention is the Kilmarnock Infinity Loop.


The Infinity Loop is a mainly off road, 28-kilometre cycle and walking route that will form a figure of eight around Kilmarnock, linking the town centre, schools and other community buildings, parks, and other significant landmarks.


Mr. McDowall stated that “during the COVID pandemic, lots of people took up walking and cycling, and we want to continue to encourage these activities and get people out and about in the fresh air instead of getting into their cars.”


Mr. McDowall added that he hoped the Infinity Loop would also help get children safely to school and back and increase people's general wellbeing.


“We want to make the most of our environment, there are a lot of hidden gems in and around Kilmarnock, and there are also plans to transform underused areas along the infinity loop into green havens with possibly some places where you can sit and have a bite to eat or just enjoy being outside.”


Tying in with the cultural aspect of the overall scheme, some public art is also being considered for certain points along the route.


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