Let's raise a glass to Bushmills, a town with a lot of (shop) front
There are few places with the advantages of location, history and potential that Bushmills has. Home of the world famous whiskey (note the 'e' – both our spelling and our spirits are smoother than our Scottish cousins) and gateway to the Giant's Causeway, it should have everything going for it.
But, like many small towns across Northern Ireland, the economic depression has hit local businesses hard.
Add to that the competition of internet shopping and out of town shopping complexes, and it's not surprising that local businesses are feeling the squeeze.
Indeed, so bad were things that a number of businesses had closed down, robbing the town not just of economic opportunity but, equally important, a sense of civic vibrancy and pride.
But you can always trust the canny people of northern Antrim to come up with a winning wheeze. Rather than let the town fall to rack and ruin, it was decided to brighten up the closed shops with artworks that suggested the businesses – the barber, the baker, the cobbler – were thriving. The idea – the brainchild of the Brighter Bushmills Project – is stunning in execution. We're not talking about some clumsy A-level style art project but rather a work of breathtaking vision and craftsmanship. True, we'd all prefer flesh and blood businesses but the reborn shops have in themselves become an economic boon, with visitors coming just to gawp at the sheer wonder and oddness of it all. And all for the rather modest investment of £30,000.
Even more remarkably since the project began, two new businesses have opened up – perhaps a sign that life does indeed follow art. So, well done to all those in Bushmills. You are a model for towns across Ulster, showing us all that imagination (and a lick of paint) can do wonders. Maybe our city fathers in Belfast should take a wee day trip up there – and not only for the whiskey.