Passionate About Prestwick
By Gill Sherry
As waiting rooms go, this one is pretty special. Stone pillars, stained glass windows, ornate and elaborately carved chairs (for looking at, not sitting on) and giant, gilt-framed works of art.
I am, of course, in Ayr’s County Buildings and for once, I don’t mind waiting. Councillor Martin Kilbride, however, is exceptionally prompt and I’m soon making my way up the grand, winding staircase and into a sea-facing office.
Despite the impressive view, the office doesn’t quite live up to the splendour on display downstairs. The first thing I notice is the sound of the wind whistling through the windows. Proof, should I need it, that budgets never quite stretch as far as we’d like.
Having established that the seats in this room are actually for sitting on, I make myself comfortable. I’m here to talk about Prestwick and its people and who better to chat to than the Councillor who represents them?
Originally from Northern Ireland, Martin Kilbride moved to Prestwick when he was twelve years old. He worked in various different industries, most latterly in removals, but always wanted to do something else, something more worthwhile.
“I just thought I could make a difference… I genuinely believed I could. That gave me the drive to do things and improve things and to, I suppose, make things better for people.”
He began by joining the Conservative Party.
“I went through the selection process and was lucky enough to be selected to be a candidate to stand in the Prestwick Ward. Then it was… getting elected in.”
In May this year, Martin was indeed elected in and was allocated the Housing, Building and Environment Portfolio for the whole of South Ayrshire. It sounds daunting but Martin admits he was happy with the challenge.
“It’s probably three Portfolios in one but the three of them actually work pretty well together. It’s good, I was delighted.”
It also gave him the chance to really make that difference and being able to do so in his home town provided him with added incentive.
“The Community Council meets once a month. South Ayrshire Council don’t actually run it but we’re invited to it. If there are any questions from the people of Prestwick, we take them on board.”
Meetings such as this are a great way for people to bring up matters of concern. Martin, however, firmly believes that people shouldn’t have to wait a month if they have a problem.
“Some Councillors prefer to do surgeries,” he says, “but you can get me anytime. If you’ve got a problem, just come to me direct. My email and phone number are there on the website. I don’t believe anyone should have to wait for an appointment. I’ll go to people’s property if they want me to. I’ve met people in Prestwick for a coffee because they’ve wanted to walk through the Main Street. All these options are available.”
He tells me that Prestwick Main Street was crowned the best in the country in 2020 and how proud the people of the town were to win the title.
“It’s good how passionate people are about Prestwick. But if you could walk down Prestwick Main Street with ten different people… you’d get ten different views. Probably most are happy with the way it looks.
Me, I’d like to get into a bit more detail about what you could do to improve it.”
One of the challenges is the demographic, the combination of young families, older residents and, of course, visitors. The most important thing, he admits, is getting everyone’s view and then deciding what’s possible.
“I do believe, if you’re going to commit to something, you need to make sure it’s feasible and deliverable. We need week-to-week projects where folk can see the difference.”
One such difference involved the putting green beside the beach.
“It hadn’t been used for over three years,” Martin tells me. “I was actually there… to see where the new play park is going to be but I called in to see Dementia Friendly Prestwick, they meet on a Monday. They asked about the putting green so
I asked if they could do anything with it. They said it would be nice for the group, on a nice day, to have a secure place outside.”
As a result of that chance conversation, a new lease was arranged on a ‘right to occupy’ basis.
“Things like that make a big difference to me,” admits Martin. “It’s short-term but it’s brilliant to see people using it again.”
Martin, it seems, is not the only one who is passionate about Prestwick. Councillor Hugh Hunter has set up the Prestwick Development Group where the four Ward Councillors – Ian Cochrane (SNP), Cameron Ramsay (Labour), Hugh (Independent) and Martin (Conservative) – look at what they can do to improve the town. Four residents, with various skills complementary to the aims of the group, are also on board.
“Everybody has ideas,” Martin says with obvious enthusiasm.
“It’s cross-party so everyone is involved, including Community Councils.”
The initial priorities of the group are to replace the steeple on the Freeman’s Hall, to showcase Prestwick’s heritage and to enhance the seafront. The first initiative is to create a heritage trail of memorial plaques and interpretation boards at historically important sites in collaboration with Prestwick History Group and Prestwick Community Council.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of potential initiatives for Prestwick, and Councillor Kilbride acknowledges that the community itself does plenty to promote and improve the town.
“Prestwick Business Association does loads for the town. They do the Christmas lights switch on… they arrange all that and deal with everything themselves. It’s brilliant the way the shop owners all get together. And there are lots of people who do work that’s not recognised. I think that’s where people need to be aware… because I don’t believe these groups shout enough about what they do.”
As if to reinforce the point, when I ask about The Broadway, the old cinema, he suggests I contact ‘Friends of The Broadway’, a community group and registered charity dedicated to bringing the former Broadway Cinema back into community ownership. This is what Kyle McFarlane, one the Directors, told me:
“Our aim is to re-open the Broadway as a cinema and inter-generational community hub, creating a living room for the town and restoring our beautiful building for the benefit of the town… to restore the Broadway to its former glory, building the regeneration process around heritage preservation and engaging with the community throughout to create a plan for the building’s future that is all-inclusive and delivers on the community’s vision for the building. The future of the Broadway belongs to Prestwick!”
It’s an ambitious project but the group is determined for it to succeed. And Martin acknowledges that the more people put into something, the more they get out of it.
“I want everyone to feel as if they’ve had an input. It gives a bit of ownership to people… they look after things better and enjoy it a bit more. And if a group wants to do something, let’s pull out all the stops and let them do it.”
He talks about Prestfest, Prestwick’s annual live music festival and what a huge success it was, praising the community for its hard work and enthusiasm.
“It really shows off Prestwick for what it can be,” he declares. “There’s loads of space and loads of talent. It’s great to bring people in, but you’ve got to think about the folk who live there. And don’t forget, Prestwick is not just the Main Street.”
He’s right of course, there’s much more to Prestwick than one busy road and he’s the first to admit that some areas are in need of freshening up. But he also points out that things are constantly changing. What might have been impossible two years ago, might now be a feasible option, or vice versa.
“People’s habits change,” he says. “Businesses change – especially since COVID – even planning changes. It’s just letting people have their say. If there’s a genuine problem, we’ll look to put it right but obviously, you can’t get it right with everyone.”
One thing that should be seen as a positive by all residents is the new play park he mentioned earlier. Beside the beach, this is due to be completed by March 2023.
“What we’ve done is… moved the play park from where the old swimming pool was because in winter it gets flooded all the time, to the grass area. And it’s not just swings with baby seats it’s got zip lines and a climbing wall so it’s been designed for older kids as well.”
It is, Martin agrees, all about maintaining standards and being proud of your home town. Again, he stresses the importance of being contactable and echoes his desire to make a difference.
“Once you’re elected,” he says, “you’re representing everybody. You’ve got to be approachable to everyone.”
And with that, I leave him to his whistling windows and his rather extensive Portfolio.
To keep up-to-date with news about the Broadway or if you would like to get involved, find Friendsofthebroadwayprestwick on Facebook or Instagram.