A RUN-DOWN East Ayrshire town has been celebrating after a £2 million restoration project saw eight new businesses set up, more than a dozen new jobs created and seven major building grants awarded.

It came five years after the Galston Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS) was launched to address years of economic decline, from which the area is still recovering.

The partnership saw Galston Community Development Trust (CDT) and Historic Environment Scotland (HES) working with East Ayrshire Council and individuals to promote economic regeneration through conserving and restoring some of the town’s most important old buildings and removing two from the “at risk” register.

Lynne Easton, the council’s CARS project officer, said: “Over the duration of the scheme, the town has continued to face difficult challenges – the closure of VE Energy and Balmoral Knitwear along with the demolition of the town centre Co-op.

“No-one could have anticipated just how difficult it was going to be to give away hundreds of thousands of pounds of grant funding but it was a real challenge.

“Multiple ownership, tenancy agreements, liquidations, absentee landlords, poor weather and material shortages and bats all conspired to undermine the success of the scheme over its course.

“Eventually, around three years into the five-year period, with the determination of some very committed grantees, projects began to come to realisation with work on site and some dramatic results which in turn motivated others to take up the challenge.”

As part of the work Galston CDT took up the challenge of buying The Portland – a vacant and derelict pub – and set about finding funding to transform into the Portland Centre, a thriving community hub which is now the jewel in the town’s crown.

“This building is a shining example of what can be achieved by empowered communities and exemplifies the aims of CARS,” said Easton. “It will hopefully continue over time to contribute to further physical and economic regeneration in Galston.”

Local SNP MSP, Willie Coffey, said: “It’s stunning to see what’s been achieved through partnership working in a relatively short space of time. Galston had been needing this kind of work for a long time. There’s always a disruptive element during the construction, but this is the prize that we have in front of us so far and I’m looking forward to seeing the plans for what’s to come.”

Challenges still remain, including many more buildings that could benefit from restoration, but Jim Roberts, the council’s cabinet member for skills and economy, believes the future is bright.

He said: “Our schemes provide opportunities for builders employing well qualified, traditionally skilled craftspeople, jobs, business premises and homes for our communities and with their co-operation we can all look forward to a brighter future for towns such as Galston.”