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Pride of place: Inverness

The next in our series spotlighting UK high streets takes us to Inverness, where strong links between the city and its surrounding area are drawing entrepreneurs to the capital of the Highlands.

Funding business growth
  • Visit gov.scot for more information on business grants and advice and guidance from the Scottish government.
  • Applications for Scottish Government Covid-19 Grant schemes being operated by the Highland Council have now closed, but information on other available business support, including discounts on business rates, can be found via the Highland Council website.

  • The Business Gateway Highland also offers expert local business advice, with offices based across the Highlands.

 

Like every city, Inverness has its landmarks: the red sandstone castle overlooking the River Ness; the Eden Court arts complex; the Kessock Bridge crossing to the Black Isle.

Yet Inverness also has one slightly unusual landmark – the larger-than-life model of a butcher standing outside Duncan Fraser & Son’s Queensgate shop. Now, more than a century after it was founded, the business has passed from one family to another, with John M Munro from nearby Dingwall buying the shop.

“The butcher at the door will stay,” laughs managing director Charlie Munro. “We’ll be changing the colours on his apron and hat though.”

Inverness will be Munro’s seventh shop in the Highlands. “Our existing shops are in small towns, so the lure of the big city lights was population, population, population. Inverness puts us in a different league,” he explains.

As well as boosting sales, the bigger shop will make Munro’s abattoir more sustainable and will generate increased business for the local farms that sell livestock at Dingwall’s market. “We’ve had lots of positive feedback from customers saying they’re happy the shop is staying in local hands,” adds Munro, whose company marks its centenary next year.

Boosting craft makers

Supporting local suppliers and tapping into the local market were also factors for Judith Glue (pictured on the right, below). Having run her craft shop on Orkney since 1979, she chose Inverness as the location for another shop just over 10 years ago.

“I had two shops on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh in the 1990s, but then the parliament was coming, and the landlords changed and wanted to put the rent up threefold, so it wasn’t financially viable,” she explains. “Inverness has been the ideal location because it’s only two hours from Orkney.

“We wanted somewhere that would attract tourists, and also attract locals. We have a lot of regulars who come over from Fort William and the west coast.”

Glue has used her Inverness shop – run by manager Laura Martin – to give fellow makers and artists from throughout the Highlands and Islands a platform for their products. “The response we’ve had has been great,” Glue says.

Shining a light on injustice

Creativity is also at the heart of Libby Bligh’s work. When Bligh left an abusive relationship, she went from being the director of a charity to being homeless almost overnight and moved to Inverness because Scotland’s welfare system gave her the protection she needed.

We wanted somewhere that would attract tourists, and also attract locals. We have a lot of regulars who come over from Fort William and the west coast

Judith Glue
Founder, Judith Glue Shop

I saw straightaway how people’s attitudes changed towards me because my circumstances had changed,” she explains. “I was the same person inside, but the way people treated me was completely different.”

Seeing that injustice stoked a fire within Bligh and she set up The Libertie Project, a social enterprise that helps people who are disabled or disadvantaged to improve their life chances and train to get jobs. The project features among the 15 inspirational female-run businesses to recently win a place on the bank and Getty Images’ Female Focus #BeTheRoleModel initiative.

A large part of improving people’s life chances involves giving them access to digital technology, so they can access public services and information on the internet, with the digital side of the project’s work expanding during the pandemic.

“We went from supporting 100 – 150 people a year pre-Covid to gain digital access to more than 800 households in the past year,” adds Bligh. “On the creative side, we’ve supported just over 2,000 households – pre-Covid, that figure was 150 – 200 a year – with Covid shining a light on the therapeutic benefits of creativity.”

Reinvigorating the high street

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Inverness’s growing business base is “innovative, diverse and increasingly resilient”, says Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, adding that the Inverness Campus is a great example of these values. “The Campus brings together pioneering businesses, researchers, academia and scientists and provides a perfect place in which to collaborate and innovate,” says Nicol. “As a purpose-built location for those operating in life sciences, digital healthcare and technology sectors, the 215-acre site is already a thriving life sciences community.”

The region is also intent on developing the massive potential offered by the offshore renewable energy sector and the development of green hydrogen technology, says Nicol. “By attracting inward investment in innovative renewable energy technologies of the future, we are seeking to equip local people with skills, and businesses with opportunities that will bring transformational regeneration to the Highlands.”

And as Inverness emerges from lockdown, many initiatives are reviving the city centre. Work is under way to refurbish the Victorian Market and convert the former Arnotts department store into shops and flats. “The whole of Inverness’ old town is getting a much-needed shot in the arm right now and we’re excited to play a small part in that,” adds Munro, whose butcher’s shop sits near both sites.

Other infrastructure investments include the completed Inverness Townscape Heritage Project to regenerate conservation areas and the ongoing Inverness CityFibre project, a £20m investment to provide full fibre connectivity to the city. Meanwhile, local businesses have created the Support Inverness website to promote trade online and encourage people to shop locally.

That willingness to collaborate strikes a chord with Michael Golding, chief executive of Visit Inverness Loch Ness, the area’s tourism business improvement district. “It’s a thriving city, and also has this community feel, where people know each other and find opportunities to work together. And we’ve seen that with the pandemic recovery efforts, with tour operators working with key visitor sites,” he says.

Golding points to the strong links between the city and its surrounding area, which includes attractions such as Culloden battlefield, Loch Ness, and the North Coast 500 driving route. “Inverness draws in visitors and locals from throughout the Highlands and Islands, which is an area the size of Belgium,” he adds.

“Inverness has long been an attractive place to live and work, but the opportunities for doing business in this city are more plentiful than ever before,” says the bank’s local enterprise manager Màiri Macdonald. “With a booming tourism and leisure industry, an ever-growing student population, and world-class scenery, historical and cultural attractions on our doorstep, Inverness acts as a gateway to the wider Highlands and Islands and is a fantastic city in which to base your business.”

Welcoming visitors back

Strong tourist trade is important for Jane Wilson, who runs the Castle Tavern with her son, John Robertson. Their pub sits opposite Inverness Castle and Wilson welcomed the conversion of the site from a court into a tourist attraction, with exhibition space, cafes and a roof terrace proposed for the historic landmark.

She also praised the efforts by Visit Inverness Loch Ness to promote the city and the wider area as a destination for staycations, and the work Highland Council has done to bring visitors back into the city centre, including space for cyclists and pedestrians.

“Before we took over The Castle Tavern four years ago, I didn’t realise just how popular walking the Great Glen Way was – the castle marks one end of it, so we see a lot of walkers,” she adds. “As interest in outdoor pursuits increases, Inverness is a natural base for exploring the surrounding countryside. There really is something for everyone here.”

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