IT’S ALL HAPPENING AT THE CORNER

DART (Darvel Area Regeneration Team)

Linda Brown

I’m standing at The Corner – a site, just off Darvel’s East Main Street that I’ve passed several times in my car and admired, but never stopped to properly investigate. Now that I’m here, having a good nosy around, I’m overwhelmed by what a huge, fabulous, open space it offers for the local community to enjoy, and appreciate the remarkable achievement its construction has been for DART (Darvel Area Regeneration Team).

DART is a group of enthusiastic volunteers, each of whom brings their own particular skills and talents to the team. I’m chatting with one of them, DART’s Secretary, George Gardner, who is showing me around. I ask George about the background behind DART and The Corner.

“DART is a registered charity established in 2019, initially focused on replacing Darvel’s old Co-operative building with a new development and to generate a programme of transformational projects. For several years the community had pressed East Ayrshire Council and Historic Environment Scotland to declare the empty building no longer of any use, and eventually in 2018, that was agreed. DART was set up and a project team established to deliver The Corner. We were lucky enough to have retired architect Colin Allan as part of our team. Colin drew superb diagrams to illustrate how the site might be developed and his designs were just spot on.”

I have to agree.

The Corner is split into two levels, an upper level and a lower level separated by amphitheatre seating, and boasts an impressive pyramid-style canopy which provides shelter during inclement weather.

“The Corner has replaced a carbuncle with something that has given pride to the town,” George adds.

So, what’s been happening at The Corner since its completion last year?

“The Corner has been exceptionally well used,” George says. “We have monthly markets there. We started off thinking, if we could get six or eight people coming along to sell things, that would be great. Now we’ve got over 40 vendors at each market with over 100 registered with us.”

The Corner’s market vendors are an eclectic mix of crafters, a gardeners’ corner and stallholders selling local produce such as cheese, beef, fruit, vegetables and baked goods. Entertainment, including music from local bands and face painting for wee kids (and the big weans too), is laid on to appeal to families. Sounds like a fab day out. DART’s Halloween and Christmas markets were immensely popular.

The area is regularly used by Darvel folk who go there just to sit down and have a blether if it’s sunny, or meet under the canopy if it’s wet – and don’t be surprised if you see a yoga or Tai Chi class practising their moves there.

“Local Scouts and Brownies make use of the space under the canopy, and one of the very ambitious projects in the town, Verve, co-ordinated by a lady called Jane Slider, providing support for vulnerable adults, uses The Corner on almost a daily basis, weather permitting,” George tells me.

Back in January 2023, DART set up a screen at The Corner to show ‘that’ major football match (remember Darvel’s spectacular win over Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup?) and last May it was also the focal point for Darvélo, another one of DART’s enterprises – its first, and very successful, big cycling event.

It’s fair to say, DART has been very busy over the past four years, taking on a wide range of other projects, with some completed already. The impressive list includes: The Coronavirus Support Team, improving the Water Lip Walk along the River Irvine, an involvement with East Ayrshire Council to upgrade the playpark area of Morton Park, working on digitising material held at Darvel Town Hall’s small Heritage Museum, producing the Darvel Bulletin (an online magazine published every second month) and Darvel Bee-ing Better – a wildflowering initiative. Not forgetting, DART has created its own specially blended gin (Lang Toon Gin) with all profits from sales going to Darvel charities. Slainte!

But as George points out, “A project can’t be initiated unless we’ve identified the funding for it. We acquire grants that can then be used to finance the projects. One of my roles within DART is to put forward funding applications.”

Potential projects in the DART pipeline are: working with East Ayrshire Leisure to modernise Darvel Town Hall, increasing the amount of inclusive play equipment at Morton Park, improving the overgrown Matha Burn (a feature of the Park) and, in collaboration with the Scouts, improving the Scout Hall which sits adjacent to The Corner.

I ask George about the community’s involvement and feedback on DART’s activities.

“Our membership has increased and I think that is an indication of how DART is regarded in the town; the work we’ve done is recognised by many residents. Our Facebook comments are testament to that.”

DART is keen to engage with the community, obtaining their views, comments and ideas on the team’s developing projects through surveys and workshops. They have developed a website (www.discoverdarvel.com) and have two Facebook pages – Discover Darvel and The Corner – check out the photographs online taken by DART members Ricky Rowe and Raymie Swan.

DART’s many successes and, in particular, its sterling work in transforming what was an eyesore on Darvel’s main thoroughfare into a fantastic, thriving community space has led to the organisation being ‘regally’ recognised.

“Last year DART was put forward for the King’s Award for Voluntary Services,” George says. “We were assessed by the Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Ayrshire and Arran and lucky enough to be recommended for the Award, which we received last November. The formal presentation was made on 10th February, convened by the Lord Lieutenant for Ayrshire and Arran, Iona McDonald. That was a fantastic event.”

George shows me a photograph (see main image) of DART’s Chair, Fiona Anderson, accepting The King’s Award, flanked by Treasurer, Steve Gillies, and himself. Then he reveals DART has been shortlisted for The Scottish Design Awards and is in consideration for other community and architectural awards. How amazing!

I wonder what’s next on DART’s agenda for The Corner?

“Our next market is on Saturday April 20th,” George informs me. “And Darvélo 24, our second big cycling event is on May 25th. We are looking to have organised outdoor music festivals and we are discussing this idea with the Darvel Music Company. We are also looking at the possibility of an outdoor cinema in the future. And we might organise a table-top sale of ‘pre-loved’ items.”

This all sounds fantastic, and I know my thrifter daughter would love a good rummage at a table-top sale.

“The one thing that is missing on The Corner…” George reflects, “… and we are hoping we might eventually get funding for, is a mural on the gable wall which overlooks it – something which represents the history of Darvel, like Sir Alexander Fleming or the lace industry.”

Now that would be the icing on The Corner.

DART is obviously passionate, focused and committed to promoting Darvel and the Irvine Valley as an area for people to visit – not just drive through.

Come along to their monthly market. Have a browse at the next table-top sale. Spend the day at Darvélo 24. It’s all happening at The Corner.

  • Market day – April 20th
  • Darvélo 24- May 25th