Many of the thousands who pass through Stobswell daily may be oblivious to the affection the area holds to those living there.
Its physical heart is a thoroughfare, with the A929 linking Dundee to the main A90 serving Forfar and Aberdeen.
Its emotional heart is somewhere very different. Albert Street is not a passport but a destination for independent cafes, pubs and Dundee’s last remaining balloon and model shops.
But locals appreciate what they have, or in some cases what they had.
Ronald Fraser spent his first 33 years in Stobswell before moving to Whitfield last year. “My heart will always be here,” he says while walking in Baxter Park.
Irene Shearer is not risking such a scenario. “When I leave here it will be feet first in a pine box,” she says firmly.
So why are those touched by Stobswell so unflinchingly loyal? We do our best to explain.
City to Kingsway
The Stobswell district begins on the north-eastern edge of Dundee and extends all the way north to the Kingsway border of Caird Park and Linlathen.
It is roughly bounded by Old Craigie Road and Kenilworth Avenue in the east, Broughty Ferry Road in the south, and Dens Road, Arklay Street and Graham Street in the west.
The main shopping areas are Albert Street and Dura Street, where there is a Lidl.
The area also contains Clepington Primary School and Morgan Academy, which was designed in 1862 by the Edinburgh architects John Dick Peddie and Charles Kinnear. The Morgan building is similar in design to Fettes College in Edinburgh and is designated as a Category ‘A’ listing by Historic Scotland.
West End influx
“There needs to be more areas like Stobswell,” says Colin Clement, chairman of Stobswell Forum.
He has a strong argument. “The locals are rough around the edges but still speak to people.
“If you’ve got a good job you’d probably quite like living here. It’s got plenty of local shops yet is only 20 minutes’ walk to the city centre.
“It’s got an oldie feel to it and has a strong community.
“It’s one of the few areas left in Dundee where poverty lives quite comfortably with the relatively wealthy.”
One of the reasons for this, believes Colin, is the preservation of buildings that were built during the jute boom of the late 19th-century.
“We have retained a lot of the terraced housing from the 1880s/1890s,” says Colin, 61.
“Up to the 1950s and 1960s areas like Lochee and Hilltown were thriving but then there was a fashion to knock buildings down and replace them. We were lucky to escape that.”
Colin grew up in St Marys and moved to Stobswell when he was 18 due to his father’s job as a school janitor.
He began as a labourer at JW Hendersons and stayed there for almost 40 years, eventually retiring as a director after the company became Travis Perkins.
Colin has remained in Stobswell his entire adult life and takes an active role on the forum, with successes including the introduction of murals in the OpenClose project and the annual Stobfest festival, which takes place this year between May 10 and 16.
“We are starting to see an influx of people who would have normally lived in the Perth Road area pitch up here because accommodation is hard to get in the West End.
“The people who live here rather like it.”
First date in park leads to wedding date
When Ronald Fraser takes his six-year-old Pug Henry on a walk in Baxter Park he also takes a trip down memory lane.
The 34-year-old’s thoughts drift back to when he used to hang out in the park with his school friends, to school sports day on this lush open space, and to a time before the pavilion was improved to its current plush look.
He recalls growing up in Mary Slessor Square, going out in Ross’s Bar with his older brother, being a student at Morgan Academy and experiencing the fallout from the school fire on March 21 2001.
Most poignantly, perhaps, a fateful day in late May 2019 comes to mind. This was when Ronald met Sally Jackson for a first date.
“A friend of a friend introduced me to her and we decided to meet at this park,” he says. “It brings back so many memories. We walked around the park and I introduced her to my dog.
“This was on the Wednesday. Because we liked each other from that walk around the park we decided to meet again the following Saturday for a meal.”
The romance blossomed and last year Ronald moved away from Stobswell after 33 years to live with Sally in Whitfield. They are now engaged and eyeing a potential wedding at Gretna Green in 2022.
Ronald is still drawn to Stobswell though.
“There are closer parks to where I live now but I like coming to Baxter Park to walk Henry,” says Ronald, who previously worked at Michelin for 10 years and now drives for CJ Lang in Douglas.
“Stobswell means a lot to me and I feel at peace at Baxter Park. I always see people I know and run into those I haven’t seen for years.
“My heart will always be here.”
Independent businesses reign
Stobswell residents are rightly proud of their longstanding independent businesses.
Forte Cafe in Dura Street is still going strong after being opened by an Italian family of the same name in 1946.
Jim Sturrock, 72, took over in the late 1970s and has passed the business to his daughter Wendy, who also opened the neighbouring Room 39 Boutique in 2015. Jim’s granddaughter Connie runs the adjacent hair salon at Room 39.
“It’s a great area to live in and it’s the people who make it,” says Jim, a Stobswell resident for 32 years.
“We always make everybody welcome; whether they come from the south or north they integrate into Stobswell.
“I know a lot of people in Stobswell and they know me. We look after each other.”
Living the dream at Baxter Park Terrace
It took her a few years but Irene Shearer achieved her dream when she finally got to live in Baxter Park Terrace.
After growing up on a poultry farm in Leven she moved to Perth Road at the age of 18 to study hotel and institutional management at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art.
“At college we used to come to come to Baxter Park for picnics,” she recalls. “At that time Park Avenue and Baxter Park Terrace were the places to be.
“If you stayed there at that time you’d made it.”
After finishing college in 1983 she started working in retail management in the city centre and moved into a one-bedroom flat in Park Avenue.
“When I moved there I decided that at some point I wanted to live on Baxter Park Terrace because I loved that the homes were overlooking the park,” she says.
Irene realised this ambition in December 1998, two years after starting work as a nursery nurse at Wallacetown Nursery in Crescent Lane.
“What I love about Stobswell is that if you want to do nature stuff you can go to the park or sit at the backies, if you want to meet people you can go to Albert Street and if you want to be anonymous you can go for a wander at the city centre.
“It is where I feel at home.”
Irene was chair of the Baxter Park steering group that was set up in 2003 to oversee £5m of lottery-funded improvements to the park that included replacement railings, improved paths, a new playpark and a renovated pavilion.
In July 2007 the park was reopened by the Queen and Prince Philip.
Irene, mother of Nicholas Boyle (28), is currently chair of the Friends of Baxter Park.
“When I leave here it will be feet first in a pine box. I am in a ground-floor flat and am all ready for a mobility scooter,” she jokes.
“I have no plans to move at all.”
The 9pm Gang is here for all
If you were to set up the ideal community group it would be bottom-up, inclusive and address a specific need.
In Stobswell ‘The 9pm Gang’ ticks all of the boxes. It was created after youths assaulted Gill Law in Baxter Park more than a decade ago.
The solution was a ‘safety in numbers’ group of dog owners who always have each other’s company when they give their four-legged friends a night-time stroll at Baxter Park.
As well as protecting each other, the group act as the eyes and ears for the wider community.
“Often we see things going on in the park when we are out, such as visitors setting fire to bins, and we will report it,” says Gill.
“So we are also able to monitor the park.”
The group’s inclusiveness is shown in the way Chloe Stewart has been welcomed with open arms.
Chloe, 19, is a Dundee University social work student from Stewarton, East Ayrshire, living in Park Avenue since October 2020.
After getting Border Collie puppy Oreo she was asked by a neighbour to join the gang.
“It’s lovely how friendly everybody is here,” says Chloe, who is also a part-time home carer in the Stobswell area.
“I am from the country so I like how it is nice and quiet here, yet I can walk into university. It feels really safe here.
“I am quite happy to stay here as long as I need to for my course.”
‘I belong in this area’
Helen Crook has lived in Germany, Hong Kong, Northern Ireland, Kent and Essex but “belongs” in Stobswell.
The logic is that Helen, 80, spent her first nine years in Broughty Ferry Road while her future husband John grew up in Lyon Street. After travelling the world due to John’s job in the Army an eventual return to Stobswell was what they wanted.
That day came in 1998 when the couple moved from their first post-Army home in Fintry to Baxter Park Terrace, where Helen still lives.
“I belong in this area,” Helen says. “We were both brought up around here so it is part of our heritage.”
Helen has fond memories of playing in Baxter Park with her elder sister Olive and younger sister Sandra.
“I love it here and I love it in Baxter Park,” she says. “We used to play in the swing park and used to be able to drink from a fountain with a metal cup.
“We played all sorts of games. In the summer months they had concerts and us children used to be singing and dancing.”
The second half of Helen’s childhood was spent in Fintry, but there were still plenty of visits to Stobswell.
“My parents used to bring us to Swannie Ponds,” she says. “We used to walk there from Fintry.
“One day, when I was about 11, we were in a boat on one of the ponds and I didn’t like it so I jumped out, saying ‘I don’t like this’.
“Me and my sisters all ended up in the water and they weren’t happy!”
John passed away in 2003 but at least Helen now has Butch, her eight-year-old Chihuahua, to keep her company.
Plus, she is a member of The 9pm Gang. “I just feel such a part of this area,” she says.
‘People tell you their life story’
Gill Law spent her formative years in Edinburgh but believes the Scottish capital can’t hold a candle to Stobswell.
Gill, 56, who grew up in the Corstophine area, moved to Crescent Street in 1989 after her chef husband was appointed manager of the former Garfunkel’s restaurant in Commercial Street (currently a Blacks outdoor clothing shop).
At the time she worked for Royal Bank of Scotland and was able to get a transfer to the Albert Street branch.
“When I first came here I really really liked the area straight away,” she says. “There has always been such a good community here.”
She moved to Broughty Ferry for 18 months and then returned to Edinburgh for three years after her marriage broke down.
But the draw of Stobswell proved too much and by the late 1990s she was back in Princes Street before moving to her current home in Baldovan Terrace in 2001.
“I fell in love with this area and I missed Dundee when I went to Edinburgh.
“People here stop and speak and they are so friendly and open. You would be on the bus and people tell you their life story. It is such a nice contrast to conservative Edinburgh.”
Gill is happily settled in Stobswell with her 10-year-old Shitzu/Poodle cross Honey.
“If my mum needed me she’d just have to move up here to live with me.
“There’s nothing for me in Edinburgh anymore and I can’t see me going anywhere else now.”
Stobswell v St Andrews
Swapping the celebrity attractions of St Andrews for the earthy delights of Stobswell has been a great move for Aziz Kiri.
He served the likes of Sean Connery, Samuel L Jackson and Tiger Woods while managing Cafe India and the Babour Restaurant (now Zizzi) in the Fife seaside town.
But after moving to Cafe Enjoy in Albert Street, after splitting from his business partner in 2008, he couldn’t be happier.
“It was a bit of a shock at first,” the Perth man says. “There were different clientele and I had to build it up again.
“We are all human and as long as I am giving something that my customers and happy with and enjoy then it doesn’t make much difference where I am.
“It is better when you have people who are more down to earth.”
Aziz received an unexpected boost in May 2009 when Cafe Enjoy was featured in ITV show The Secret Millionaire, featuring Roisin Isaacs.
“The next day was a Monday and the cafe was mobbed with locals and people from Morgan Academy,” he recalls.
“I really enjoy being here and am still trading despite the pandemic.”
Dressing up for the local cause
Neil Ellis’ commitment to helping the people of Stobswell cannot be questioned.
If managing the Boomerang Community Centre on Kemback Street for the past 32 years wasn’t enough, the 65-year-old has worn many different costumes to raise funds for the local cause.
Over the years Neil has dressed up as a schoolgirl, mignon, superhero, teddy bear and pirate – and with great results.
“We used to dress up and go around the local pubs to raise money for the Launch Club, which helps pensioners,” he says.
“This was successful and we still dress up now and again. I wear a Santa costume every year.”
Neil was a resident of Park Avenue between 1988 and 1990 and now lives in Arbroath.
“I have been working here so long that Stobswell feels like my second home,” he says.
“It’s been good seeing the changes over the past 30 years. Stobswell went down and now it’s coming up again.”