The Vanguard initiative aims to challenge norms and inspire bold, new ways of thinking in order to write the next chapter in the success story of the Aberdeen city region.

Its roots trace back to a piece of research in 2017 which revealed that three quarters of young professionals in the North-east felt disenfranchised and uninvolved in the future of the area.

We wanted to create a platform to get them involved in real economic challenges, give them the opportunity to make a real difference and providing them with the support and direction to take them through to delivery.

In June 2017, we launched an appeal in the local media for volunteers of all ages, experiences, sectors and backgrounds to volunteer their time and expertise. Around 100 people came forward and they were tasked with coming up with fresh ideas across a wide range of topics; developing business cases around eight key projects designed to create an amazing legacy for future generations of Aberdonians.

These included what it would take to establish food and drink tourism as a unique regional selling point, how best to galvanise a new generation of independent retailers at the heart of our town centres, how to retain the graduate talent coming out of our universities; and how to re-invent Union Street as a shining, vibrant mile to be proud of.

In December 2017, the Vanguardees put their presentations forward at the Route to Renaissance Vanguard Conference, presenting them to a panel of ‘judges’ including representatives from both local authorities and investors. Delegates at the conference were also asked to vote on the projects they felt would have most impact.

Following a year of hard work by the teams including securing funding to create a full time role promoting the life sciences sector here, the second event, ABZolutely Aberdeen: a Vanguard Conference, took place in November 2018. High profile speakers provided their perspective on placemaking and the Vanguardees themselves presented updates on the progress of projects across three main project themes:

Tourism – exploring how to take forward key parts of last year’s business case, including a campaign to get local people to become tourists in their own area and creating a package to attract the millennial weekend audience.

City centre – considering how to inject pace into existing activities and further develop the Union Street brand.

Regional narrative –looking at work being undertaken to talk up the North-east, encompassing talent attraction and retention; cultural ambitions and making our city region a ‘cool’ place.

During 2019 some of the main projects being worked on ranged from:

Bringing open top sightseeing buses to the streets of Aberdeen to running urban street markets

Supporting hospitality businesses to be more visible on Google Maps to installing a Piccadilly Circus-style big screen in St Nicholas Street

Running sessions to convince students why they should stay in Aberdeen post-study to creating parklets- green spaces to enjoy the city centre

Creating a pub quiz celebrating all that’s great about the region to developing a feasibility study around the idea of an urban cable car linking the new South Harbour to the city centre via the beach

And much more.

Instead of running a third conference, the volunteers wanted to share their successes and ambitions with a wider audience of the general public and were given the unique opportunity of showcasing the project to 10,000 people at the new P&J Live open day in August. The feedback was fantastic.

Looking forward, much of the focus will be on bringing existing projects to fruition but also to add new ideas to the table.

To see a gallery of images from Vanguard events click here.