The DTA (Dunbar Trades Association) held an open meeting last year to bring together people from every walk of life locally and discuss current issues and potential solutions. One of the items from that meeting was an appetite to bring to life the history of many of the closes on the High Street. Beyond John Muir, Dunbar has a very rich history and the closes hold keys into much of it, from Printers close to the Corn Exchange close there are many stories which lie between the narrow passages and often grand courtyards.
A meeting of interested parties was called including local historians, council officials, community council members and members of the trades association. The meeting took a walk around some of the closes, identifying potential issues and discussing how we may unlock these gems of history for the public to enjoy. With foot tours and plaques both muted as ideas the DTA decided the priority for the closes was a little TLC. The reason to begin with a clean-up is simple, locals busy making their way along the street may not give these closes a second glance but many visitors and residents look down and see a bounty of rubbish and fly tipping. This is all bad for business and frequently you find once an area begins to look unloved it is soon treated that way. A project to really bring our closes back up to standard and utilise them for public good doesn’t have to be costly and can in fact be achieved with simple hard work and effort.
Phase 1 – Clean and tidy
Perhaps the most obvious thing to do is get out with a shovel and brush and get rid of the worst of the litter, so on Sunday 26th January a team of local traders and high street residents decided to get their hands dirty and do just that. With the worst close identified as 102 High Street, due to a derelict building to the rear the team spent time digging out rubbish, weeds and sweeping cigarette butts.
Moving along the street the task proved less strenuous as most of the closes whilst needing minor aesthetic work were in fact in a nice condition. With the wild winds on the high street it is no surprise to see rubbish collect in these spaces but a quick brush and shovel makes all the difference. The key is to encouraging tenants (commercial and residential) and residents to adopt this approach going forward. Some of the closes reveal well taken care of beautiful spaces, so instead of the huge undertaken it may have been it was surprising to see just how well looked after some of the areas of this historic high street, something tenants and residents should be proud of.
With the weather against us, the day was long and hard but by the end the team were both proud and excited about the hidden history of a town they all live in. Stories they didn’t know and buildings they had never seen, hidden behind the high street begging to be told and seen.
Phase 2 – Repair and Improve
Noting the repair work required as we went along the street revealed a couple of areas which needed council rubbish uplifts, broken lights, ceiling damage, broken windows, cracked plasterwork and a number could do with a coat of paint. But the overriding issue appears to be all to do with drainage. Overgrown guttering means water is literally pouring down some of the areas and with lack of proper drainage they create puddles of muddy water.
We will be forwarding the list to the council and community council in the hope that we can get some of the work undertaken before the busy summer schedule of events. Some of the closes will be painted and minor repairs conducted in conjunction with volunteer traders and residents present at today’s big clean up.
Phase 3 – Promote and Enjoy
Publishing guided tours, erecting plaques and continuously looking after them. Roy Pugh local historian and renowned author has written up some fantastic history of the closes in the hope this can be turned into a foot tour and the original meeting group are working to identify the ten most historically important to erect new plaques. This will give further reason to maintain the closes and improve on what should be a great asset to the town.
In working together across community groups and with council support and input we have managed to begin what could be a great project for the high street. Improving the aesthetic appeal of the town for residents, locals and tourists will benefit economic activity and create a town centre people can be proud of calling their own.
Michael Veitch, local councillor, who has been involved in the discussions said: "Following a suggestion made at the meeting to discuss the future of Dunbar High Street which I hosted last September, I am pleased to say that plans are now being developed to improve the appearance of the High Street's historic closes. I have enjoyed working with council officers, Dunbar traders and others to drive this project forward and would welcome any further support and input from those with an interest in this area."
If you are interested in learning more about the history of the closes, helping to get them back into a good standard or simply want to express an opinion please use the comment box below.
Many thanks go to Hamish Mason (Mason’s shoes), Dick Litherland (Litherland Milk Deliveries & High St resident), Pauline Jaffray (PJ Designs), Kate Covey (High St resident), Dave Pate (Belhaven smokehouse and High St Landlord), Lorraine Ferguson (Graze Coffee & Chocolate House) and Steven Hill (Dunbar t-shirt shop).