There has been a massive response to the launch of a new community-led initiative to re-energise the heart of Aberdeen.

Local entrepreneur Bob Keiller is leading Our Union Street, an organisation seeking to bring new businesses and people to the Granite Mile.

He put a call out for volunteers to help arrest decades of decline in the city centre, and he also wanted to hear ideas on improving the area.

Bob, who is providing his services to Our Union Street for free, said the response to last week’s launch had been “overwhelmingly positive”.

He has revealed more than 500 volunteers have already come forward, while 2,500-plus ideas have been submitted.

The businessman understands the frustrations people have about the city centre.

No single body until now

He added: “To date, there has been no single body that has the remit to take on these challenges and opportunities. That’s what this new organisation is for.

“We need to be realistic. We can’t turn back time and undo any historic actions and decisions - we can only start from now and make changes that improve the future.

“So far, we think that our priorities should be focused on filling the empty retail units and, in the meantime, make the empty units look less abandoned and unloved.

“We also think that the upkeep of the street - the buildings, the pavements, the street furniture could all be improved.

“But what else should we be looking at? What are the small things and what are the bigger concepts? What are the crazy ideas that you have chatted to your friends about? What have you seen working well elsewhere? Tell us and be part of the solution.”

The organisation can be contacted through its website

Weekly update

Bob is planning to give a weekly update on the initiative’s progress.

In his first message, he says: “It is very early days in what, I hope, will be a long-term project.

“The response to the launch has been overwhelmingly positive, with offers of help and support from many people.

“We all know how difficult it can be to get Aberdonians to agree on something, but I think the overwhelming majority agree that we need a different, community-led approach.

“Not everyone agrees, but our message to critics is simple - share your ideas, come and help, be patient.”

The entrepreneur said the massive number of ideas submitted so far means there will be no shortage of inspiration.

Common themes

He went on: “Some themes emerged from comments last week that might be worth sharing and addressing, but I don’t want to make this note any longer than it needs to be - so I will spread the answers out across this and future notes.”

One example of a common question being posed was: “Why not start by looking at local businesses to fill empty units rather than big international brands?”

Bob’s thoughts on this are: “This makes sense and was always the intention. We should be encouraging existing local businesses and emerging new businesses to consider Union Street - but I don’t know if that will be enough, so we need look further afield too.”

He can be contacted direct with questions, by e-mailing him on:

Bob is chair of Aberdeen & Grampian of Commerce and his long career also includes having been CEO of Wood group and chair of Scottish Enterprise.

Through Our Union Street, he hopes to build a community which can deliver “a thousand small steps for the city centre that, collectively, can make a big difference for Aberdeen”.

Not what it can be

He said: “Union Street is not what it used to be, it’s not what it should be, and it’s not what it can be.

“People care about the state of Union Street. They want it to be a safe, busy, energetic, thriving thoroughfare that compares favourably with the best of UK’s small cities.

“And they want somebody to take responsibility for addressing these challenges and improving the street; a consistent, concerted effort with plans, actions and progress.

“That’s what the new organisation is for.”

The idea for it was raised at November’s emergency Union Street summit and the organisation has been-set up by Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, Aberdeen Inspired, Aberdeen City Council and Opportunity North East, with additional support from Shell, which recently relocated to the street.

The partners wanted a unifying and collaborative figure to lead the effort, so they approached Bob.

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