Combining food and arts to breathe new life into Ayr

by Gill Sherry

I’m intrigued by the social enterprise known as ‘Narture’, the innovative project set up by father and daughter artist team, Robert and Saskia Singer.

Both studied art, Robert at Glasgow School of Art, and Saskia at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. Both have core backgrounds in hospitality. Together, they came up with a plan to transform empty town centre spaces into thriving community hubs, all with a focus on food and arts.

Narture is an artist collective, nurturing the arts and respecting nature, hence the blended title. Saskia tells me how it all began.

“In June 2020 we opened The Sourdough Bakery at 3 Cathcart Street, during the COVID-19 pandemic, baking real bread to earn the dough to fund arts projects. During this time, we developed the historical Lady Cathcart House directly opposite the bakery into an arts space. We ran a successful CrowdFunder campaign which allowed us to run various art projects from this space. This included our inaugural exhibition, Water – Salt – Grain. This led to commissioning local artist, Laura McGlinchey, to create a Paper Cave, where people could literally be inside the art.”

You can see more about this project at

www.narture.co.uk/papercave.

In June 2022, the art space went through another transformation into Narture Artisan Café, allowing Robert and Saskia to fund further projects in the town centre.

“I’ve always worked in hospitality,” Saskia explains. “I know how much profit can be made from the hospitality trade. We’re blending our skills within food and art to provide town centre regeneration through utilising otherwise empty spaces and providing them with a different purpose, hopefully a more positive, creative one. We love to bring historical buildings back to life and to highlight the rich history of Ayr whilst offering people a place to create and play. Our future vision is a People’s Art School which will have a print studio, Riso printer, community dark room and café. This is an ongoing work in progress in finding the right location for it.”

But what prompted this ambitious plan?

“I’m originally from Ayr, I was brought up and went to school here and then went to study at Art School in Dundee. I’d been away for about 15 years and every time I came home to visit, I found it very upsetting seeing how much Ayr had deteriorated. Whilst studying in Dundee, I saw how drastically it changed in just five years. It’s quite similar to Ayr with the waterfront, and they’ve invested significantly into it with the V&A. They’ve taken art and culture seriously, regenerated the area and created employment. It proves that it can work, it just needs some trust and encouragement behind it.”

Recognising the potential in her home town, Saskia, along with Robert, was determined to do something positive.

“We’re working closely with South Ayrshire Council to see how we can work together to bring places back to life.”

With Narture’s three core pillars – Creativity, Wellbeing and Sustainability – at the heart of its projects, it aims to regenerate forgotten and deteriorated places, giving both employment and purpose to local people and new skills to those who come to learn. It’s a unique vision with a focus on a new creative economy.

“We’re a Community Interest Company,” Saskia confirms. “We have just taken on the MacNellie buildings at 34 Newmarket Street, which was the original library of Ayr from 1870, prior to the Carnegie Library being built in 1893. We have recently developed the space into Narture Studios, to encompass our three pillars and have a group of multi-disciplined, experienced practitioners who will be providing a range of Holistic Therapies, Nutrition and Lifestyle Coaching, Meditation, Mindfulness, Yoga, Hypnotherapy, Medical Herbalism, Ayurveda, Wild Foraging and Herbal Walks.

“We also have individual art studios and a large shared studio space for events and workshops.”

Saskia urges anyone interested in hiring space for either wellbeing or creative purposes or anyone wishing to host an event, to get in touch at info@narture.co.uk.

“Recently, Narture facilitated a series of workshops in collaboration with Recovery Ayr, National Galleries and artist, Ursula Cheng, based on the work of notable artist, Alberta Whittle – Scotland representative for the Venice Biennale 2022. The workshops provided Recovery Ayr participants with an opportunity to use creativity to explore difficult topics in a safe space. We have just launched a window exhibition at 60 High Street to display the work created through those workshops. Check it out if you’re on the High Street.”

Saskia continues: “The whole purpose of Narture is to try and generate funds ourselves, providing future sustainability. A lot of it will come from the food and beverage income streams and then invested back into various arts projects.”

But, as father and daughter are both fully aware, it’s not just about the money.

“We are going to do a campaign for volunteers soon. The issue is that most of these buildings have been empty for so long, so aren’t in a usable, walk-in state. The spaces require a lot of time, energy and money just clearing them out and getting them into a wind and watertight condition. That’s what we’re currently working on – getting the creative space accessible, as there are no toilets on the ground floor, and will need rewired, plumbing, lighting, etc. fundamental things like that.”

She tells me they intend to do a skills CrowdFunder to appeal for volunteers who can help with painting, clearing out and other manual jobs. In other words, people who are willing to donate time and/or materials. I suggest she is the Nick Knowles of Ayrshire but the comparison is lost on Saskia.

“I don’t know who that is!”

She makes a note to look up DIY SOS.

There’s certainly plenty to keep Saskia and her dad busy. In the meantime, if you’d like to help by donating or volunteering, visit www.narture.co.uk/get-involved.

Narture’s aim is to nurture a thriving and successful social enterprise, encouraging people to creatively influence positive change. It strives to create an inclusive hub where participatory cultural activities are available to all.

As part of their commitment to the community, Robert and Saskia also donate bakery produce to local food banks.

I congratulate Saskia, not just on their hard work and determination, but on the original idea of breathing new life back into Ayr by combining the two skills they selflessly ploughed into the project.