Welcome to Kilmarnock, Britain's luckiest town

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The Independent Online

The industrial town of Kilmarnock has been down on its luck in recent years, its centre suffering a slow death as businesses lose the battle against out-of-town shopping precincts.

The industrial town of Kilmarnock has been down on its luck in recent years, its centre suffering a slow death as businesses lose the battle against out-of-town shopping precincts.

But recently things have been looking up in the East Ayrshire town; this week, a resident, Rosemary Ferguson, became the UK's latest National Lottery millionaire when she picked up her cheque for more than £2.2m, joining five other winners from the town who have also won seven-figure sums in the past 22 months.

The win by the 51-year-old, an unemployed cleaner, has helped cement Kilmarnock's reputation as the luckiest place in Britain. With a little more than 44,000 residents, it now has the highest number of Lottery millionaires per head of population. Last year alone, Camelot paid out more than £12.5m in prizes to Kilmarnock residents.

"It doesn't surprise me," said Vicki Miller, deputy manager of the Gala Bingo hall in the centre of the town. She has seen enough evidence over the past few months to convince her the area is onto a winning streak. "On a good night we have up to 500 people in here, and we get more than our fair share of winners," she said.

"Every month this year we have had at least one national winner - sometimes we have two or three - each walking away with thousands of pounds. It certainly seems a lucky place to me."

Kilmarnock, the largest town in East Ayrshire, dates back at least 6,000 years to middle Stone Age settlements on the banks of the Irvine and Kilmarnock Water. Throughout the centuries the town, named after the "cell"of a sixth-century monk called Marnock, has seen its share of success and famous connections.

It is believed Scotland's most famous hero, William Wallace, was born in Riccarton, a suburb of modern Kilmarnock, and the area can boast links with Robert Burns, who published his first edition of poems in the town. Edgar Allan Poe, the horror writer, received some of his early schooling in the town, copying inscriptions from gravestones in the old Laigh Kirk. The famous Johnnie Walker, the dandy of the whisky brand, comes from Kilmarnock; the tipple was first sold as Johnnie Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky.

Yet despite its connections, none of even Kilmarnock's most ardent supporters could regard the town as a picturesque part of Scotland.

Sitting close to the M77, A71 and A76, it is rapidly becoming a commuter dormitory for Glasgow, which is about 40 minutes away. Where once woollen and cotton mills stood, there are now light engineering, carpet manufacturing and food and drink production companies, along with "state of the art" call centres for First Choice Travel and National Australia Bank, owners of Clydesdale Bank.

"Kilmarnock may be lucky as far as the Lottery is concerned, but not for much else," said Catherine Hennedy, manager of Goodfellows estate agents. "The centre of the town isn't what it used to be, as a lot of the shops are moving out to the big retail places on the outskirts.

"It's like a lot of small places where people have to move or travel to the bigger cities to get work. Despite all the Lottery wins, there's not a lot of big money in the town."

In an area where property prices range from £28,000 to more than £600,000, there is a clear distinction between the haves and have-nots - which might explain the town's enthusiasm for gambling.

"We are pretty busy most of the time and see quite a few winners coming through here," said Nicola Rankin, deputy manager of Ladbrokes betting shop, one of the town's numerous bookies. "The locals certainly like a flutter. I think the most I paid out recently was £7,000. With the amount of winners we get, I'd say it was a pretty lucky place".

Lynne Mackin, a newsagent in the town, said that whenever there was a local Lottery winner, ticket sales soared. "We regularly get people winning small amounts up to a few hundred, but I suppose with the amount of jackpot winners in the area we should consider ourselves lucky."

Ms Mackin said that most of the Lottery customers, who often spend several pounds at a time on tickets and instant card games, tend to be women. "We get a lot of older women coming in here to buy their cards before they head off up to the bingo. Everybody dreams of winning the jackpot," she said.

For the town's latest Lottery millionaire, the "big win" is a dramatic change in fortunes. Two years ago her son Steven, then 25, died from leukaemia.

Mrs Ferguson, 51, who has played the same six numbers based on family birthdays since the Lottery was launched in November 1994, has vowed to stay in her two-bedroom council house in Hurlford, on the outskirts of the town.

"I'm not going to move, I like where I am, I like my neighbours and my wee house," she said. "There's no way I would move to a mansion or anything daft like that. I like it here among my friends."

That the town is a friendly place to live is confirmed by Terry Gilligan, a flower seller who has worked his pitch in the centre of what is now the town's pedestrian precinct for 19 years. "It is a friendly place and there does appear to be more money moving into the area. More people are moving out from Glasgow where the house prices are higher and buying here, which is creating a bit of affluence and confidence.

"However if there is a lot of luck around I'm not getting much of it," he said. "I've been doing the Lottery for years and, apart for the odd tenner, I haven't won much. Mind you, I met my wife here so maybe luck doesn't always have to mean money," he said with a smile.

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