Dunoon Goes Pop! Designing new approaches to heritage engagement and enterprise

Community organisations can use lessons from the lockdown to utilise heritage assets in enterprising new ways.

Organisations of all kinds can grow their brand by drawing on lessons learned during the lockdown. Successful independent businesses demonstrated invaluable ways to cultivate the kind of deeply-rooted localised affinity that can sustain their brand over time. I saw this happen in my community.

While working with the Lido Community Shop, for example, I witnessed how an independent trader can increase brand awareness and nurture engagement through creative and highly responsive social media campaigns. In response to food supply chain disruptions triggered by the crisis, the businesses found new ways to connect with and serve local customers. Like other businesses, they expanded the range of products and services with a level of flexibility they might have previously considered impossible before.

This is a silver lining for community-based cultural organisations weathering the economic fallout from the lockdown. Like the success stories in Dunoon and elsewhere, they can profit from the objects, spaces and places that make them unique in hyper-local campaigns.

These strategies are already helping some organisations capitalise on their cultural assets. A resurrected drinks brand developing in Dunoon offers a vision for how it can be done.

The gift of local heritage is a unique story

While sifting through the archives of Dunoon’s Castle House Museum, Museum Manager John Stirling drew my attention to a collection of Victorian glass and ceramic bottles. I’d been researching records and artefacts in preparation for an exhibition called People of Place: Shop Keepers of Dunoon Heritage Trail. This series of creative shop window displays used objects to engage local people with the lost and hidden stories of its high street.

The collection of bottles became part of the arrangement in the window of what is now Kennedy’s Pharmacy. The display included a short text describing George Stirling, who established the pharmacy in the late 19th century. There he sold pharmaceuticals typical of the time as well as what he called aerated waters.

The production of flavoured sparkling water alongside healing elixirs and medical prescriptions didn’t raise eyebrows at that time. Stirling was suitably qualified and equipped with the mechanical processes to infuse water with carbon dioxide and natural ingredients.

When Stirling died in 1879, his eldest son expanded the family business with the construction of a new factory. Following this move, George Stirling beverages became enormously popular across Argyll, selling directly to the public and the hotels, restaurants and public houses across the region.

It wasn’t until the late 1940s that the business was sold. Stripped of the Stirling brand, the factory continued to produce soft drinks until the 1970s when it was finally shut down.

Making cultural legacies into enterprises that create value in communities

Now, long after the close of the event, I continue to develop ways to utilise this piece of enterprise heritage to benefit the local community. This led me to Dunoon Goes Pop.

This ongoing collaboration with local illustrator and drinks enthusiast Walter Newton explores ways to resurrect soft drinks manufacturing in Dunoon and opportunities for local people to co-recreate the brand.

We have already revived the company’s historical branding and produced new sparkling beverages based on Victorian recipes using traditional techniques. We also hosted public taste tests of George Stirling Ginger Beer, Lemonade and Cola and continue to compile first-hand research into the social history of the Stirling factory. This feedback and the stories of local people will inform the strategic plan for taking Dunoon Goes Pop to market.

Importantly, this plan will draw heavily on the lockdown lessons learned from the independent businesses across the UK who enriched their niche brands through localised growth and connection. A strategy that can benefit other communities with cultural heritage treasures that may unlock new ways to generate public engagement and revenue in these challenging times.

We are looking for taste testers to help us co-create and refine our Dunoon Goes POP range. If you are interested talk to us.

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Dunoon, Scotland