“The most beautiful, if not the most romantic village in Scotland” is how Sir Walter Scott described the town of Kelso. Indeed, a visit there is always a pleasure; the town is a friendly streetscape of historic building gathered around a spacious square and full of the kind of unique shops that makes Peebles or North Berwick such a popular destination.
Like those towns and many others, it suffers from the inexorable pull of Edinburgh for well paying jobs and counts many commuters in its population. But, unlike other councils around Edinburgh, Scottish Borders is fighting back with an imaginative business complex near the Square, right in the heart of Kelso. Having heard about this initiative, I arranged a visit with East Lothian’s EDU manager and its Economic Development spokesman
All felt the visit well worthwhile. SBC’s new £800,000 Horsemarket Business Centre incorporates five business units between 44 and 63 sq.m. It was built on the site of decrepit public toilets and the innovative design provides new public toilets and two bus shelters on the ground floor with bright offices offering views of Kelso’s streetscape on three floors above. The centre was funded by SBC, Heritage Lottery Fund and European Regional Development Fund.
All offices have mains electricity, water and drainage and superb heat/noise insulation. Heating is provided by a highly efficient system of solar panels on the roof and an electric air-source heat pump—even in an empty office where heating has never been on it was cosy, despite it being 2deg outside. The arrival of super-fast broadband is expected year. And, despite being so central, parking appears easy because of the number of hidden medium-stay lots near the town centre.
We spoke with the first tenant to move in: Border Marketing Company. They had moved from considerably older premises in Galasheils and were delighted with the move. They found the new premises delighted their creative staff and management were now proud to show clients their offices, many of whom found Kelso a more convenient location to meet, with its wide variety of restaurants for lunchtime meetings.
Quite apart from its quality finish and its convenient location, it seems that most small towns who have significant professional commuters would benefit from such a development. Start-up businesses are often launched from second bedrooms and before they grow into medium enterprises able to invest in their own premises, such quality premises allow the entrepreneur to stay local, enjoy the local quality of life 24/7 and especially the shorter commute.
East Lothian Council is now in the process of refurbishing one of its buildings in Brewery Park along similar lines. But it would appear that each of East Lothian’s six towns would each benefit from such a development, especially as the transport links with Edinburgh are easier and the attractions by way of quality food and restaurants at least as good. Providing local SMEs with such facilities would lure many professionals to stay closer to home. This, in turn would cut commuting and provide extra business for local retail and town centre regeneration so vital to keeping communities vibrant.