WHICH city in Scotland has the highest number of listed buildings? Easy – it’s Edinburgh. But which town comes second? Even card-carrying Buddies might be surprised to know the answer is … Paisley. The town’s heritage assets are magnificent, but every week 20,000 students and far more Paisley residents tend to catch the train to Glasgow for meetings, nights out, films, theatre and jobs.

It’s a situation Paisley Community Trust (PCT) wants to change.

And not with a community cafe, “stay local” campaign or new allotment – vital though such ultra-local projects are in the art of community building.

No, the Paisley Community Trust is bravely going where (probably) no Scottish community has gone before – financing, building, owning and managing a state of the art, all singing, all dancing, brand-new £24.7 million cinema and performing arts theatre complex that will rival anything in cities.

Local businessman Gary Kerr and computer games entrepreneur Andy Campbell are two of the original three trustees behind the ambitious plans, which they hope will help transform Paisley town centre into an arts and leisure hub as iconic as Glasgow’s Merchant City.

The new building will include a flexible 500-seat theatre space, restaurant and cafe and five cinema screens varying in capacity from 170-seat to 70-seat, showing blockbusters, but also arthouse and niche films.

And it’s got a name that will strike a chord with folk in Paisley and beyond – Baker Street. The most famous hit by Paisley’s most famous 20th-century son has been adopted with the full approval and support of Gerry Rafferty’s family.

“That was a real moment when we met Gerry’s brother Jim Rafferty last year,” recalls Gary. “I’ve still got a picture of the coffee cups. I think that’s when we knew this thing was really going to be big.

The National:

An artists' impression of the new centre

"When Baker Street came to us, we realised it was the only thing we could call the project. The name elevates it on to an international level because everyone knows and loves the song.”

Baker Street started life four years ago, when Renfrewshire Council started considering how to regenerate the town and commissioned a report from Dublin-based consultants which revealed the town’s extraordinary wealth of historic buildings and encouraged the bid for Paisley to become City of Culture 2021.

The report suggested theatre and community groups should join that campaign, so the newly formed Trust focussed its efforts on cinema -- a massive and popular part of Paisley life in the last century, with venues like the Palladium, Regal, Scala, Castle, New Alex, Kelburne and the Rink/Astoria, which was located beside the new Baker Street site.

Gary remembers how cinemas earned the nickname of fleapits: “My dad called his local cinema in Johnstone the

‘bug-hut’ because it had to be sprayed with disinfectant before every film.”

But still Buddies young and old flocked in. One day, that popularity resulted in tragedy. On the afternoon of December 31, 1929, during a children’s matinee at Paisley’s Glen Cinema, a freshly shown film put in its metal box began to issue thick black smoke.

It filled the auditorium and almost

1000 children ran downstairs in a panic, piling up behind the escape door, which was designed to open inwards. Seventy children died in the crush – the worst cinema disaster in British history.

Today Paisley has no independent cinemas – a situation Baker Street will hopefully soon change. The small group of PCT trustees did their research first. They went to see the Ritzy in Brixton – “niche and quirky,” recalls Gary – and the community-owned Birks Cinema in Aberfeldy. “I was struck by the energy of everyone involved. Older folk had a bit of spare time and they were so proud of their cuddle seats [double seats] at the back. That sense of local pride stayed with me.”

THE next step was to form a charity to get a council grant for a feasibility study. The team lost energy when Paisley’s 2021 UK City of Culture bid was kiboshed, but Baker Street soon emerged as the ambitious successor project.

The PCT identified a likely site on derelict land in the town centre jointly owned by the council and a private company, which will be transferred once the Trust presents a watertight business case – but it must raise almost £25 million, so that’s a major task for a community group.

Renfrewshire Council has helped with funding, along with Social Investment Scotland, Paisley First and The Big Lottery. The biggest grant has come from the Scottish Land Fund (SLF), but it’s placed a proviso that means yet another road-trip – this time to Newcastle and Dumfries.

Gary explains: “The SLF say the site can’t stay derelict for years while we amass the cash. We must have a ‘meantime use’ like pop-up theatre, food, meeting spaces and social enterprises. Taking their advice we went to see the Stack complex in Newcastle to see how ‘container-based cinema’ works and the Stove in Dumfries to see how they’ve become ‘positively provocative’ within their community.”

Learning from others, the Paisley Community Trust is set to take community-led cinema on to a whole new professional level. Some local people will be volunteering and perhaps employed in the complex – but the aim is to create enough surplus as a social enterprise to maintain the Baker Street complex and fund new community arts projects.

Andy Campbell admits that as one of three businessmen who kick-started the PCT he was naïve about the pace of the journey.

“When we drafted the first project plan, the whole complex was going to be built by 2017. We thought we were out for a spin – now we realise we’re running a marathon. As business people progress has been slow and slightly frustrating.”

The current game-plan is two to three years till Baker Street breaks ground, with meantime use in the interim and a further two to three year construction period.

Gary, Andy and new trustee and architect George Gibson have been working on the project pretty well full-time for the past 18 months. Now the Trust has 100 members and are recruiting more before an AGM next year where the original three hope they will be re-elected

Andy says: “There’s a stage where founders of any project have to let go of some control – that’ll be happening soon and it’ll be difficult. I didn’t know how much emotion and self the three of us were putting into the project. Since the loss of the 2021 bid, we’ve had to support one another. But now we’re re-energised, expanding into a nine-person board.”

Initial designs by Glasgow architects Stallan-Brand have been unveiled, commanding but also reflecting the existing Paisley skyline. Hopefully this will be one more special building for a town awakening to the power of its own heritage. But this time, owned and built by the Buddies themselves.

Paisley Buddies are encouraged to join PCT at www.paisleytrust.org