The size of Scotland’s diaspora has acquired almost mythical proportions with some suggesting that around 100 million people across the globe have a legitimate claim on Scottish ancestry. Such a number may be stretching the bounds of credibility but whatever the facts, there’s unquestionably a large number of people out there who feel well disposed towards this country and in many cases towards a particular part of the country. A clever idea, that originates in the States, has been picked up and adapted by Scotland’s Towns Partnerships as a potential source of funding for communities.
Scotland’s most deprived towns could be regenerated by nostalgic US ex-pats under a new scheme which will tap into the successful crowdfunding platform that helped rebuild a bankrupt Detroit.
The proposal for the initiative, labelled Tartan Cent, is being launched by Scotland’s Towns Partnership – a collective of the country’s largest towns – and the US match-funding, web-based platform Patroncity. It will see community projects in towns that would benefit from regeneration highlighted, with wealthy members of the Scottish diaspora able to make online pledges of financial backing.
The site founders, who are based in Detroit – the Michigan city which in 2013 went through the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history – claim it offers an alternative way of investing in communities hit by cuts to public spending. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) has raised concerns with the Scottish Government that cuts to local funding will impact on jobs and services, leaving little for investment in more ambitious projects.
Diverse US projects match funded include sports complexes, community gardens, revitalised town squares and community facilities such as a museums, a folk school and a photography centre.
Phil Prentice, the chief officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnerships, claimed that the Scottish project will also seek contributions from Scottish and local governments as well as well known wealthy philanthropists with a link to the proposed projects.
Tartan Cent, which will be launched at the Scottish organisation’s conference this Tuesday, is due to kick off its first 20-week campaign to target ex-pats with emotional ties to the motherland in January. Towns put forward for support have yet to be confirmed, but it is expected several in Fife – Scotland’s former industrial heartland, with a nod to Detroit – will be in the running.
They include a proposals to create a “merchant’s quarter” in rundown Kirkcaldy, which has a rich history and was the birthplace of Adam Smith, as well as plans to develop the nearby beach for tourism. Other projects include the regeneration of Dunfermline’s town centre, highlighting its unique history and heritage. The town first became significant in the Bronze Age with the marriage of Malcolm III, King of Scotland, and Saint Margaret.
Others have suggested urban areas, such as Glasgow’s Govan which has suffered from high levels of deprivation following the decline of the shipbuilding industry, or the former tourist destination of Rothesay.
The project which attracts the most backing on the Patroncity site – which has raised almost $5 million for 135 projects since its 2011 inception – will be awarded the funding.
Prentice claimed that the Detroit model fitted with the Scottish Government’s agenda of community empowerment and local democracy and would allow communities to have more control to make the changes they wanted to see.
He said: “We wanted to explore how Detroit had managed to repurpose itself using small community crowd-funding platforms and to see if we could replicate the approach of Patronicity in Scotland – towns and cities across Scotland paying for what they want to see happen, in tight financial times, just like Detroit.
“Maybe a landmark building can be reused, a statue of a famous son or piece of public art developed, a reflection garden or greenspace created, a play area or events space constructed. It’s a democratic way to get new things happening.”
He claimed that Scottish-based crowdfunding plans, in partnership with local entrepreneurs, was also under consideration.
Rob St Mary, director of outreach for Patronicity, who will be in Scotland this week to attend the launch and whose grandparents, mother and aunt emigrated from Aberdeen in 1970, said it had worked in cash-strapped Detroit by giving local, not-for-profit and community organisations an opportunity to access grant funding and build local support for projects.
“A project like this one in northwest Detroit had a huge impact on bringing together families, children, and artists to create something they could be proud of,” he said.
“This programme is, in a way, how people like me and my family – first generations as well as expats of the Scottish diaspora – can directly help their communities ‘back home’. I believe if we can match great projects in Scotland with people who care about Scotland overseas it can be a great programme for all, improving community, building bridges, and sharing stories.
“We have seen it here in Michigan when people who have moved away are still emotionally engaged with their hometowns. They want to help improve that park they played in or that special place in mom and dad’s, or grandma and grandpa’s, old neighbourhood.”
Andy Milne, chief executive of Scotland’s Regeneration Forum, welcomed the initiative. He said: “The support and resources of ex-pat locals from towns all over Scotland can be a valuable catalyst in encouraging and funding innovative community projects.
“Given the scale of the challenges that so many of our post-industrial towns are facing, it’s by no means a substitute for a well-targeted system of public services and strategic investments in what is still a rich country. But it can certainly help to deliver that vital ingredient of authentic community participation that makes community regeneration successful and sustainable.”
Scottish Community Alliance. 2018. Retrieved from http://www.scottishcommunityalliance.org.uk/articles/2717/