Will Haegeland was this week appointed chairman of Selkirk Chamber of Trade and Commerce.
Norwegian Will, who has co-owned the County Hotel with his partner Trond Dalby for nine years, was nominated for the post at the royal burgh’s community council meeting on Monday when the former chairman Gordon Edgar stepped down to concentrate on his role as a newly-elected councillor for Selkirkshire.
Will, a former BBC senior manager with corporate responsibilities, told The Wee Paper he was glad to accept the chairmanship – and revealed a few of his ambitious ideas to rejuvenate the organisation.
He said: “The first priority is to define what the chamber is for, what we want it to achieve, what members expect it to be and what benefits there are to being a member – what do they get back?
“Having been a member for the last eight years, I always wondered that. And that’s quite interesting when you also look at the declining number of members.
“So we must be clear about our aims and objectives, be clear about what we want to achieve and be clear to people about what is in it for them, so we can increase our membership base.”
The hotel boss went on: “It is an interesting time to rejuvenate the chamber of trade, because the town has a regeneration plan which is just starting.
“Someone obviously needs to take hold of that and make sure it happens, and make sure that we, who are the businesses in Selkirk, support it and work towards it. Because if not, it won’t work.”
Stressing the importance of working together, Will added: “We need to make Selkirk look nice, make it safe and make the shops prosperous.
“We had quite a few bus tours over the summer, and when they stepped out into the square, what is the first thing they see? A boarded-up pub. It doesn’t really give you a feeling of wanting to go around spending your money. It makes you want to go home really.”
“Whether there is a bypass or not, we need shops in the town that sell products people want to buy.”
He said the town needed more shops, adding: “We have big brands in Selkirk, like Lyle & Scott and Lochcarron, but they’re not sold in the town. Where are the products Selkirk is known for?
“There was a comment at this week’s meeting of the community council about shops closing early on Saturday, and also that it was very expensive to shop in the town. Well, this is the feedback business owners need to know from people.
“And the chamber of trade can create a place to discuss those issues and see what we can do about them.”
Tentatively noting a few green shoots of recovery in his own business, the new chairman was optimistic about the fortunes of the town in the future: “We started with a 10-year plan, and that has somehow now become 15, because when we started we had plans about what we wanted to do – but then the recession came.”
However, on a more optimistic note, Will added: “But lately, the hotel has improved and business seems to be slightly climbing up the hill, and we hope that will continue. So we’ll probably be here quite a bit of time yet.”