We’ve looked at the good, the bad and the downright ugly in Dunoon – and there are plenty of all of them.
The question is what the town can do with itself as it stands on the edge of being irrecoverable.
There is no money to replace the Queen’s Hall. There is no chance that the town centre can be remodelled to address the water. There is no way that the town centre can morph into a fashionable and expensive watering hole, pulling high net worth visitors with an offer of their accustomed lifestyles.
So what does Dunoon do to climb out of economic despond and build a sustainable future.
The obvious answer is, somehow, to build a unique brand playing to its traditional economic focus on tourism. But what might this brand identity be?
What are Dunoon’s advantages?
- It has the huge conurbation of Inverclyde on its doorstep, served by two ferries shuttling all day, one of them a passenger service from the Gourock railhead right into the linkspan by the pier in the town centre.
- Its barren urban desert in the area from the linkspan to the Argyll Hotel is effectively open empty space to be assigned a function.
- Its pier is unique, with two charming Victorian pier buildings screaming carnival – and in a position which makes it the identifier of the town. Pier and presumably buildings are in urgent need of restoration. Argyll and Bute Council has committed to that restoration.
- The town, on the hills above the town centre, is full of grace, delight and ease.
A prompt can be found in old postcards of the town held at the Castle House Museum, perched atop the very area that principally requires to be addressed.
This area – the desert on the toes of the Argyll Hotel was always open – but was a sort of pleasure garden.
It’s still open but its unformed and barren tarmac expanse removes any hint of possible pleasure.
Our proposition is to refocus Dunoon – not far from its original purpose – as a permanent carnival town for all ages and for families. Delivering real fun, physical fun, obvious fun. Year round.
The location is the current no man’s land of tarmac desert and the pier, which is alongside it.
The pier is key to nearly everything for Dunoon. Get the pier right and it will signal to the Clyde that Dunoon’s the place for fun, anytime.
So the big job for Dunoon is to get the pier well restored and to give it a focus on fun.
Make a standing year-round carnival of the pier and the tarmac desert.
- Put brightly painted spectacular wooden swing-boats on the pier – built for adults as well. These shout carnival and would be visible to every ferry coming in to the linkspan.
- Put a few more judiciously attractive permanent rides on the pier – like dodgems – with hurdy gurdy music [a real pied piper]; and lots of good seating.
- Convert the area of the former CalMac ferry’s vehicle queuing lines – and as much more as possible – into the rst of the fairground – with achievable but first class rides, treats, visual spectacle and music. [Wikipedia here has a list of amusement rides - have fun finding the right ones.]
- Make one of the pier buildings an attractive cafe with a limited but first class and always fresh offering.
- Make the other pier building an indoor amusement place, with the small footprint ‘grab a teddy’ machines for kids and the experiential skills-based simulators – like F1 racing and electronic clay pigeon shooting for everyone.
- Bring the cafe on the first floor projection of the Queen’s Hall up to good speed. It could not be better placed to service this sort of facility on its doorstep – and provide a dream view of the Clyde.
- In the summer season, have the bandstand [below] in front of the Argyll Hotel permanently busy – with modern day pierrots – street artists, stilt walkers, fire jugglers, local bands…
- Accept that there will not be a town centre vehicle ferry – because it is unnecessary – and lay out the area for vehicle queuing lanes at the linkspan into a spatially well organised car park.
- Dump the portacabins and put passenger facilities on the breakwater.
This creates an instant identity for Dunoon – as lighthearted playtime for kids and adults alike – any time of the year, day and into the evening. Support this with great coffee, great fast food and great ice cream. Home and dry.
Add another element to back up the immediately alternative pleasures of Castle House Museum and Gardens – urban walks.
Create a series of walks around the ‘other’ Dunoon – the tranquil, hugely attractive residential areas, with attractive public buildings. Create each walk with the single objective of making everyone love Dunoon. Choose appealing routes with snatches of enticing vistas over the town and the Clyde, with a variety of attractive buildings. Some, like the churches and the museum itself, are open to the public. Some have hidden local history. Provide high quality information on each walk, with notes on buildings, precincts and retail opportunities. Make sure every walk passes a cafe – people like to stop for a sit down a coffee and a think – and make sure the cafes are first class.
The side benefits
The permanent carnival plan achieves a range of other benefits – just like that.
- The passenger ferry from the Gourock railhead and Inverclyde acquires another specific market – bringing in funseekers to Dunoon, as opposed to ferrying commuters and local shoppers out.
- The town’s cinema has an expanded market, with the passenger ferry a powerful partner in supporting the exploitation of that market.
- There is an existing play facility on the coast beyond the linkspan [above] that is suddenly at home.
- Castle House Museum and its gorgeous gardens are on site, offering alternative attractions.
- The tacky Queen’s Hall immediately fits in with the ‘fun’ ethos [just maintain it properly] and the first floor cafe it hosts comes fully into its own.
- The main street, with its rat-run, low-profile gunslinger physicality, fits in too. [Just shoot those awful kitschy railings.]
- The town centre’s non-existent relationship with the Clyde becomes irrelevant The standing carnival, the focus for visitors and residents alike – providing entertainment not available anywhere else in Argyll or Inverclyde – creates a new relationship with the water from the passenger ferry inwards.
There would be bits and pieces to be done to make the town more attractive, functioning better and safer.
Much of this is down to the responsibility and commercial vitality of business owners to refresh, refocus, upgrade and change their businesses as necessary – and to maintain their properties well.
The rest is for the council:
- to strip out the physical clutter that bedevils Dunoon – remove as many vertical posts as possible: think multi-purpose. A lamp post can be fitted with a collared set of directional town signposts; a collared fitting for flower baskets; and a braced side-fitting to carry standards for major civic events.
- to remove the awful sections of kitsch railing in the main street. Apart from their visual gimcrackery, these have the capacity to catch and rip clothing; and, worse, they are a safety hazard where someone [guilty] darts across the road in the face of oncoming traffic – and finds these long barriers obstructing immediate safe escape to the pavement.
- to consider clearing out the ‘traffic calming’, space hungry kerbed projections into the main street, leaving a clean geometry to the street. There is little point pedestrianising the main street since so few of the shops are worth visitors time. A new market has the capacity to change this but pedestrianisation should follow need. One way traffic should only be ‘through traffic’ with ‘low speed’ lollipops at the Argyll Hotel end entrance; no waiting whatsoever, apart from given early and evening hours allocated for deliveries.
One development is for Police Scotland, in concert with the local authority: a serious Zero Tolerance stance on Dunoon’s crime scenario. The town has been harmed by the influx of known crime families from Clydebank – and any family oriented town cannot afford this to any degree whatsoever.
The photographs accompanying this final article in the ‘Looking at Dunoon’ series are designed to show the intriguing and beguiling aspects of the schizophrenic town centre – there to be protected, maintained, highlighted. perhaps given new and appropriate commercial identities.
The nooks and crannies, the sweeping little side street, the hidden gems like the little private garden above – actually on the main street – have much to offer if played to with imagination.
Dunoon does have hope and chances.
Who doesn’t want to see it take them; and who wouldn’t be whizzing off for an afternoon or a night on the rides, on the pier?