My Story

Alan McNiven, chief executive of Engage Renfrewshire, shares some rambles & recollections on the past 24 months since Paisley launched its bid for UK City of Culture 2021.

It’s now two years from the launch of the bid to make Paisley UK City of Culture 2021 – and from the start everybody in Paisley was invited to be part of it.

I’ve been looking back at some my ramblings & notes I collected on the bid and posted in my blog, (which I kicked off on December 24, 2015 - how festive!). It’s simple to say – but true – that it has been an amazing time with so many highlights. Right from the start we knew that if Paisley was to win the title, we would need the whole community to help shape the bid and make it unique to us.

From the off we have been getting the word out about what the bid could do and I remember being at the Town Hall in Paisley for the first of the Paisley 2021 cultural weekends (February 20th & 21st – ‘2021’ – see? – pretty clever). It was a fantastic participating in workshops with local cultural champions – hearing some great stories relating to what people are achieving within the cultural sector and what opportunities the City of Culture bid would bring. Jean Cameron, the Bid Director, was great at making sure everyone got to know everyone else that weekend – a role she has excelled at throughout the process!


We know that it is Paisley’s people that are the catalyst for the town’s regeneration. During May of 2016 we held community planning conferences focusing on the bid. The events were great ways for people to feed into the bid as well as finding out about the social and economic benefits for Renfrewshire that can come out of bidding.  We also held smaller community led “Have Your Say” events where discussion around Paisley’s bid was also extremely positive. There were some great ideas in Paisley about how we can transform the town for the people and attract tourism and investment. It became clearer and clearer that we have great grassroots cultural and community organisations, and Paisley 2021 will be a time to put a spotlight on them.


If you were in Paisley during the summer of 2016 you must’ve bumped into the ‘Pride’ – fantastic multi-coloured lions that popped up all over the centre of town. Did you collect them all? And also during 2016 we decided to hit the road – a whole team of us getting aboard the ‘Culture Bus’ and getting the message out there – more of this approach later!                  


At the beginning of March 2017 I had the brilliant opportunity to visit Hull – 2017 City of Culture – and it was great to be there with colleagues from the Paisley 2021 bid team and with other representatives from bidding cities from across the UK. The overwhelming feeling I was left with following the visit was how much the opportunities from the City of Culture status has changed how local people feel about the city in which they live.  Talking to some of the volunteers who were acting as city ambassadors was a treat – all of them were so enthused by what was happening and they looked fantastic in their very cool and colourful uniforms. 


In Hull railway station, you’re met not only by the volunteers but also by a striking statue of poet Philip Larkin who lived for a large part of his life in Hull. A wonderful writer, his poems capture qualities of life which are often overlooked. His work seems to be concerned with the modern world and the relentless process of change but it also, to me at least, contains a sense of hope in regards where the change may lead too. I’d like to think that he would have seen the City of Culture award for Hull as something filled with hope for the future. While I was in the station I couldn’t help think that a statue of a Paisley icon in Paisley’s Gilmour Street railway station would be a great way to greet our guests. I will cast my vote now for Gerry Rafferty… perhaps with these words somewhere nearby…

‘I know how much I lean on you

Only you can see

The changes that I’ve been through

Have left a mark on me’


During April of this year Paisley’s first stage bid for City of Culture 2021 was submitted and as I noted at the time - I won’t lie, I found myself getting quite emotional looking at the ‘The Story So Far…’

And of course, a true highlight, the Paisley’s Baker Street saxophone event – the film is a treat! Just press the link here –


According to my scrawled diary notes I had a great Friday afternoon  in May which included a visit to the Tweedie Hall for the Renfrewshire Disability Arts Forum’s “Art and Health” Exhibition. A brilliant exhibition of photographs launched in singing and dancing style. A highlight for me was the performance by Dirty Feet Dance Co. Our very own Jean Cameron was also there. Jean was, without doubt, mightily impressed by the artist’s work that was on show and of course the City of Culture bid will bring brilliant opportunities for developing the profile around this group and their superb work. And I also remember having a great Friday night at the ‘University of West of Scotland’s Music Showcase & Awards’ – a red carpet event focused on rewarding and recognizing the finest works, the most connected students and the best artistic approaches. The talent on show was top notch, and the event itself – compered by the legendary Davie Scott – was great fun. I was left feeling very optimistic about the music scene in Paisley, Renfrewshire & Scotland – and the film & TV industry should also be in good hands. Needless to say by the end of that Friday I felt cultured & emotional as well as tired, but happy – however, never let it be said that even when I’m wrung oot that I miss the chance to grab myself a #Paisley2021 selfie.


During June it was a great pleasure to attend the Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Awards – the second year the event has taken place in Paisley as part of highlighting the ‘Paisley 2021’ bid. It was a phenomenal night with a personal favourite being ‘The Spook School’ who were great live. I think the SAY Awards should take up residence in Paisley.


And in July we made the shortlist – cue partying, dancing and greetin’….In August we were out on the road again – with Paisley now being Scotland’s bid for City of Culture 2021 a few of us hopped on the Culture Bus and went visiting… On previous ‘Paisley 2021’ engagement tours, our very own Linzi Clark provided songs and entertainment – this time around we asked our Paisley 2021 Ambassador organisations to put on a show – and they didn’t disappoint!! Under the banner of #shortlistshowcase we were provided with some amazing performances and cultural information. Let me provide you with a brief reminder of ‘Tour 5’… First Stop was Engage Renfrewshire where Iain Cunningham of the Community & Voluntary Action Team presented his poem titled simply ‘Paisley 2021’ – a wee highlight for me is this part of the piece which considers the list of Paisley’s star turns:

The list is endless and no one can compare

Alexander Wilson, Robert Tannahill, Gerrard Butler, David Tennant too

Oh and Kelly -Marie to name but a few!

Not forgetting Sandy Stoddard a royal sculptor of note

Gerry Rafferty and Paulo Nutini, We’ve got a right tae gloat!

It was then on to The Experience where the Team had decided to dress up in random costumes – as long as they started with a ‘P’ for Paisley…So we had pirates, painters, police, pharaohs and pink ladies – not to mention parrots and my personal favourite, a piñata! They also had a brill band (called rather enigmatically ‘Sub-utopian Planning Board’) for some high octane entertainment. Another stop was at Boston Networks – time for some, brilliant singing, Irish dancing and drumming from their team – what a talented lot! Everyone was so welcoming and really up for a bit of cultural fun. Then we arrived at ROAR where we were treated to some community singing and percussion playing – I was also coerced into a wee song too…I say coerced – what I mean was I jumped at the chance… At Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park we met Michael who showed us his skills in wood turning and told us some amazing facts about the cultural & environmental approaches that are so much part of the way of life in Renfrewshire. It was then onwards to Linstone Housing Association where we took part in some mosaic workshops. We then had a couple more impromptu stops to see some brilliant piano playing by Alistair at the Fair Full café in Paisley and we also popped in to see the guys at Zambretto’s Restaurant. And of course we had to drop in on Tommy and team at ‘Loud n’ Proud’. Last stop was the Create Café – a place which is always fun to visit and the top talent taking part showed exactly why Paisley is a City of Culture.


On to September the 29th - I went up the ‘Toon’ to watch the community sending off the final Paisley 2021 bid to London. And I’m not embarrassed to say that I was emotional. Definitely a curse that afflicts me, this emotion thing. I try to keep a lid on it but, you know, sometimes you just have to give in – sunshine, community choirs, weans smiling and waving flags & a sing song – ‘Will Ye Go, Lassie Go?’ – which is always a song to make you get all ‘emulsional’ as it’s called in my house… It was great – brilliant input from Tommy at Loud ‘n’ Proud (Godfather of Paisley Rawk!) and of course bid director Jean Cameron – ‘Oor Jean’ as folk seem to want to call her. As the event concluded Jean popped the bid into the bag of the coolest courier ever – who was sitting astride a Paisley patterned ‘Vespa’ and off he rolled up the High Street. Not just cool… Paisley cool… Really couldn’t ask for a better send off for the bid – a bid, which if it was a stick of rock, would have the words ‘community’ all the way through.


So where are we now?... Well in the last few week the judges who will decide which of the five shortlisted towns and cities will be named UK City of Culture 2021 came to Paisley. The judging panel, led by Chairman Phil Redmond, were given a tour of the town and they also visited a series of community groups and projects at the Tannahill Centre in Ferguslie Park. The Tannahill Centre was – to put it politely – jumping. Acoustic guitarists, local sewing groups, and school folk sang out, made quilts and danced – sort of in that order – as the judges made their way through the vibrant, buzzing, community space. It was great to catch up with a number of folk on the day – some of whom I had worked with when I was a community artist and they had been children at the local schools. They were of course very happy to make me feel very old by pointing out their own children, who were now amongst the performers – all of whom were giving it ‘laldy’, singing their hearts out, just like their parents had done when they were kids. Everyone there on the day representing the local communities did an amazing job of showing how much passion Paisley ‘Buddies’ have for their own culture, but they also demonstrated how excited the people of Paisley are about the opportunity of welcoming to their hometown other artists, cultural leaders and entertainers from across the UK and beyond.  For sure there were a lot of smiles, chat and energy in the Tannahill Centre on that Tuesday – all of which I’m sure will not have been lost on the judges. Fingers crossed!


So, that’s been some rambles & recollections of mine reflecting on the last 24 months. I’m very proud to say been involved with some amazing, exciting and truly impactful initiatives during my time in Paisley, but the ‘bid’ has topped it all – and we’re not done yet!!

Please continue to show your support for Paisley’s bid – a bid, which in its ambition, aims to be truly transformational – @Paisley2021

All the best