By Carolyn O’Hara
Who hasn’t, at one time or another, experienced a down day, one of those when everything irritates, when we’re wrapped in a blanket of bleakness, when venturing out feels like an impossible challenge?
But perhaps you’ve experienced a moment of magic when, as you pound the pavements, someone – even a stranger – passes the time of day or shares a smile or grimace about our climate. Such a moment of human connection has a powerful, positive effect on the person it touches, creating a glow of happiness, well-being, contentment. On a day when your mood is low, it’s those tiny things that make the biggest difference.
But such social niceties might well begin and end there.
In our fast-changing fearful world, a friendly, supportive community can imbue a sense of wellbeing in the people who live there. I am lucky enough to be in such a place.
Now, I am not saying that my community is perfect but there is a sense of solidarity, of looking out for one another, something which was evident when we moved to the town of Prestwick in 1995, but which has increased since, and blossomed during the pandemic. Walk around our neighbourhood and you’ll witness the evidence.
Let’s start at The Cross in Prestwick and look opposite at The Red Lion. Apart from providing good food, this establishment is also one of the locations where you can enjoy live music, particularly if you visit the town in early September, the time of Prestfest, our very own music festival. Established in 2013 by enthusiastic local business owners, this is a must for music lovers who can enjoy all types, in a host of venues, over the course of the three-day event.
And on the subject of businesses, another one here at The Cross earned the accolade of being named Scotland’s Best Newsagent as part of Scotland’s Business Awards, 2020. The team at J Brown Newsagents do not simply provide papers, or sell you stamps: their service is special. Nothing is too much trouble, and everyone is welcomed, usually by name – tots, teens, and seniors, even dogs get the special treatment. Now, let’s head for Prestwick Prom but before we get there, be on alert.
Eagle-eyed pedestrians of Prestwick may happen upon prized works of art in the form of painted pebbles, nestled discretely around the town. A few years ago, a local resident struck upon the idea of collecting and painting pebbles, to match the seasons – Christmas, Easter, Hallowe’en – and placing them, like a treasure hunt, for children to find. So began Prestwick Rocks. Such unexpected discoveries put smiles on faces, old and young.
Keeping my eye open for such a find, I head to the breezy beach. There, it’s not long before a stroller’s eye is caught by the sight of colourful benches dotted along the curve of the coastline.
Back in 2016, Dementia Friendly Prestwick was established, a wonderful addition for the local community. Organising regular supported prom walks, and the provision, amongst other things, of these colourful benches from which to admire the view, this invaluable group provides support and friendship to sufferers and carers of this debilitating disease. Recently, the group, named ‘Legacy Partners’ by Life Changes Trust, has received funding from Voluntary Action South Ayrshire which has enabled them to open a regular ‘social club’, with the intention of eventually establishing their own Meeting Centre in the town.
Meanwhile, back on the Prom, I am impressed that the beach is looking good, in no small thanks to long standing charity organisation, the Rotary Club of Prestwick. This active group organises regular litter picking amongst its many activities, as well as fundraising, liaising with local schools, and making a real difference to our town.
I stroll on south, until at the sailing club, I head east, up Grangemuir Road, joining Ayr Road, near Prestwick Swimming Pool, the car park of which is particularly busy, with vehicles and pedestrians.
Why? Today is the first Saturday morning of the month, now known as Recycling Saturday, an event which is the epitome of people power. Yet another amazing resident of our town found herself perturbed and dismayed that discarded blister packs from medication had to be thrown away. Not one to be beaten, she canvassed opinion and having found many others supportive of finding a way of recycling them, she began the first collection day in May 2021.
More than a year on, the venture now provides a way of recycling many items including used postage stamps, unopened toiletries, bras, household items, pet food sachets, wool, milk bottle tops, and even vacuum cleaners.
With a feeling of pride at the thought of this environmentally friendly endeavour, I turn left and head back north along the main thoroughfare. Perhaps the size and layout of our town helps the feeling of community: not too big and sprawling, with amenities helpfully clustered along our traditional Main Street, with businesses run by folk I now count as friends.
Seasonal colour adds to the pleasure of this walk, with flower tubs dotted along outside shops and, thanks again to the Rotary Club of Prestwick, our Railway Station is brightened up with a profusion of blooms. And as for Christmas time, it would not be the same without the Lighting Up Prestwick event,
the collection of presents for children and, best of all, Santa’s Grotto, all thanks to Rotary.
When I’m not admiring the flower tubs, my attention is caught by banners billowing in the breeze. These are proof of Prestwick’s thriving business community which led to the town winning the Great British High Street Award in January 2020. Many businesses, along with a dynamic business association, worked hard to impress the judges that Prestwick is bucking the trend, with its thriving independent shops, lively bars, cafes, and restaurants.
Before I know it, I have reached the old Broadway Cinema, a significant landmark in the town since it opened in the 1930s. Having subsequently been used as a bingo hall, amusements, and squash court, it lay closed and unloved for years but hopefully not for much longer.
It is currently the subject of an exciting plan. The Friends of the Broadway, a group of dedicated volunteers who have created a charity, hope to restore the listed building for community use, in an interesting way, retaining many original features, creating a small modern cinema, performance area, retail outlets, community meeting spaces and a café.
Since 2012, they have been putting smiles on people’s faces with their community film festivals, exhibitions of photographs and artefacts from the Broadway’s history, and last year it became part of the Doors Open initiative, which attracted many people eager to step inside the building and learn more about the ambitious plans. But it doesn’t end there. Prestwick also has The 65 Club and Community Centre which offer a host of activities and exist principally because of the generosity of local volunteers.
I recall reading, recently, words about finding happiness, which resonated with me: happiness is not connected with wealth but worth, not with status but smiles, not with careers but caring.
That encapsulates why Prestwick makes me happy.