Episode 4: Tenement life, with Ana Sanchez De la Vega, Tenement House and Allistair Burt, Camphill Gate

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy  

Hello, I’m Niall Murphy,  welcome to “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. Today we will be talking about tenements in Glasgow, and about what it is like living in a tenement now compared to living in one at the start of the 20th century. 

So Glasgow is a tenement city par excellence. And I imagine most of our listeners probably live in a tenement, this is why tenements are a core focus for Glasgow City Heritage Trust building repair grant programme. And the reason for that, is that the tenement is the traditional form of urban housing in Scotland, and has all classes of people covering the full spectrum of domestic life. As such, it helps undergird Scotland’s urban culture. So stone facades of tenements have helped define Glasgow streets since the 17th century. And nowadays roughly 73% of Glaswegians live in a tenement. A figure that was even higher before the 1950s.

 So what exactly is a tenement? Well, it is an idea of which dates to the Roman Empire and comes from the Latin word Tenementum or holding, which referred to Rome’s great insulae were multiple tenements were packed into these tall tenement like buildings, generating rent for the building’s owner. 

However, this image of the tenement only really takes hold in the latter part of the 19th century, and is a consequence of how our tenements evolved to accommodate the fast influx of people who after the Industrial Revolution, came to Glasgow to work in the city’s factories, mills and shipyards. During this time, Glasgow’s population grew from a quarter of a million at the start of Queen Victoria’s reign to 760,000 at the end of it, all those people had to be housed somewhere. And it had to be done in a way that prevented overcrowding, disease and epidemics. 

So this was done via a combination of statutory requirements laid down by various police acts, which governed things like cleanliness, ventilation, access to daylight and is the reason why we have things such as wally closes, which are easy to clean, and toilets and tenants. 

The turn of the 20th century were represented as a golden age of the Glasgow tenement, with the construction for rent of top of the line tenements, with all mod cons in middle class areas such as Pollokshields, and Hyndland. While the City Improvement Trust was also building model working class tenements in areas such as Trongate,  Cowcaddens and the Gorbals. 

Sadly, all this came to a halt when an incremental tax on property speculation and Lloyd George’s People’s Budget of 1909 to 10 put an end to tenement construction in Glasgow. Not only did this limited housing supply in an overcrowded city, unfortunately those problems were compounded by what happened in the First World War. 

So to combat landlords profiteering, while their men were out at the front, and 1915 under the leadership of Mary Barbour, Glasgow’s working class women went on a rent strike, which soon spread to other working class communities in the UK. So this resulted in the rents and mortgage Interest Restriction Act of 1915. Initially temporary, parts of this act were not repealed until 1989. So the unintended consequence for Glasgow, while this act was a good thing, the unintended consequence was that the cap on rents stymied Glasgow’s factoring profession, who collected rents and maintained the tenements for the owners. So the even though Glasgow’s tenements were very well built, this led to a cycle of neglect and decline over many decades thereafter. 

So by the 1950s, this neglect was coming home to roost. But rather than pay for the repairs, most owners decided to sell their tenements to their tenants, thus fragmenting ownership, and making the coordination of maintenance even more difficult. So in response to the poor condition of Glasgow’s tenements, the corporation declared 27 comprehensive development areas, with 40% of the Victorian city, including many tenements, then being swept away. 

So but by the 1970s, things were changing. So in the best example of this is Annie’s Loo. So Annie’s Loo was where Mrs. Annie Gibbon, who lived at 10 Luath Street in Govan, worked with her neighbours and students from Strathclyde University to show that it was possible to fit a bathroom into a bed recess. And when it was officially opened by Councillor Pat Lally on 10th of February 1972, this innovation caused the sensation and led to the birth of Glasgow’s local housing association movement, because it showed you could rehabilitate and refurbish the tenements. 

So on the back of this you then get in the mid 1970s middle class tenement areas such as East Pollokshields and Hyndland being declared conservation areas and suddenly by the 1980s Glasgow’s tenements are fashionable and desirable once more. So today, we have two excellent guests to talk all things tenements. Our first up is Ana Sanchez, Visitor Service Supervisor at the Tenement House, the Tenement House is a very special property owned by the National Trust for Scotland. So Ana’s role is varied, and she covers volunteer strategy and training to collections care and conservation. And she also plans exhibitions, events and special tours. 

The Tenement House is a red stone tenement, built in 1892, and is on Buccleuch Street in Garnethill. From the outside it looks like an ordinary middle class late 19th century tenement. However, when you step inside the flat, the four rooms appears to have frozen in time, and provide a rare glimpse into life in Glasgow in the early 20th century. It was rented by shorthand typist, Miss Agnes Toward who lived in the flat from 1911, until 1965, and who carefully preserved all her furnitures and possessions with the utmost love and care. So Ana, welcome to the podcast. 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Hi, Niall, thank you so much for having me. 

Niall Murphy  

It’s a pleasure. So first off, what can you tell me about the Tenement House? You know, from within, and what sort of tenement was the Tenement House? How common was at that time to have the facilities that it had, such as an indoor toilet and an extra bedroom? What can you tell us about that?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega  

Well, the Tenement House is so unique in the way that it represents a way in which many people lived at the turn of the century in Glasgow, but it holds very personal stories of its inhabitants at the same time, so we have that dual narrative in the, in the property. 

Of course tenements are still occupied today by a lot of people, I live in one myself, and so the stories that are happening in tenements are very much alive and I feel like new chapters are constantly being added to  that story. And the Tenement House is one of the most unique places in in Glasgow, I would say the best but that’s just me. And it is a very special property indeed for the National Trust for Scotland, it is in the centre of Glasgow as you  said, and it was built as an upper middle class tenement and for our records, we know that it was lived in by a professional working class. So the people that used to live in it in those tenements were working class, bankers, young families, we have a lawyer and a nurse at one point. And so it’s typical in its structure and layout to many other tenements in Glasgow, and it has many of the same quirks that tenements still shared today. 

In terms of facilities, I think given its location and and the people, and its inhabitants, it was already built with an indoor toilet and hot running water which is quite luxurious for the time. And, and it has three other rooms so we have a kitchen, a bedroom and a parlour, and it didn’t have central heating, but instead it had fireplaces and gas lights which are still in place today and give a really atmospheric feel to it and the rest of the original fittings are from 1892 as well. And we own four flats within the building. One of them being Mr. Toward’s flat, which is the time Capsule. 

Niall Murphy  

Right? Okay, well, well, looking back at what her life was like there. And you know, it’s it’s incredible that she kind of preserved this entire flat in aspects, as it were, you know, which makes it kind of such a tribute to what it was when she first moved in. But at the same time, you know, the city is going through all these vast changes. So you’ve got, you know, Garnethill in particular is, is, you know, you’ve got sections of tenements, or parts of it that are very recognisable that, but then it just abruptly stops compared to how it was so. 

So you know, how much has changed since Miss Toward lived in the tenement?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yeah, that’s such a great question. So Miss Towars lived in the Tenement House from 1911 till 1965. 

So a lot, a lot of things have changed since, she lived through lots of changes that were quite interesting. For example, she lived through the 1918 pandemic. So she was my age when she lived through that, which I think is quite interesting. Yeah, yeah. And her generation, and everyone that was living in that tenement at the time went through things like coping with uncertainty of a pandemic, after a war. I mean, they went to two world words while they were living in there. And it’s, which is such an example of resilience. And in terms of changes, they saw the Subway being develop, the Glasgow School of Art being built around, around the corner. And, and she saw the motorway’s changes specifically through Charing Cross, because that’s where we’re located, and completely changing the trams. And, and she also experienced a change where lots of residents of tenements were being relocated to other places and high rises, and due to the construction of the motorway, so the whole panorama changed, and but she also saw things like the Queen’s coronation on the TV. 

She has, we’ve kept in the property and amazing archive of all of the correspondence that she had, which gives us insight into all of these changes that were happening in the city at the time that she was living.

Niall Murphy  

It must be fascinating to be able to read that archive and kind of  what she recorded there. So there are other things as well that are worth teasing out from that?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yeah, I mean, her and her mother, so they are two women, basically. And they’re both working women, which I quite like, the mother was a dressmaker, she was a shorthand typist, and they never made any major changes to the flat, but also they hoarded all sorts of objects that we would normally thrown away. And so Agnes, there were both named Agnes just to make our lives easier. But Agnes the younger, she became a shorthand type is, which meant she often kept carbon copies of the letters that she sent, which is great, because you get both parts of the correspondence here. And, and it’s an amazing resource. Because, you know, that and all of the newspapers, magazines, receipts that she kept really helps paint a picture of the of life back then.

Niall Murphy  

It just sounds absolutely fascinating. So, you know, looking at that, then do you think that living in a tenement now compared to how it was during the first half of the 20th century? Is it very different?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yes. It is definitely, I mean, it’s, it’s, we’re so lucky to have modern commodities that have allowed our roles and structures and families to evolve. And, and in terms of things like hygiene, it’s a big change. And I can control the heating and the lights of my flat from my phone. Can you imagine people back that and like knowing this, and when they had to, like, not only like, light the fireplaces or the range, but use gaslights if they were to know, right, and so no more coal ashes to clean and no more clothes going through the mangle. I think we’re unbelievably lucky. 

But at the same time, visiting the Tenement House and living in a tenement can really help you understand the architectural design of the, of the buildings, and they’re still loved and lived in and sought after, because of these architectural features that are still quite handy for us today, like the borrow lights or double windows that you were referring before, and very much, but I wouldn’t like to share my toilet with all of my neighbours or a half of  the garden, so yeah, definitely. I think I prefer now. 

Niall Murphy  

Yes, yeah, I’ve been I’ve been there and done that, actually, for a wee while was living in a tenement in East Berlin. And this was in the early 90s. And we had a shared toilet or what Glaswegian would call a cludgie on the half landing of the stair, and you know, it was treated like a throne, that every everybody, it was immaculate and you never left it dirty. And to everybody lining the walls of all of this. It was all postcards that people sent the toilet from all over  the world, it’s absolutely hilarious. So all these kind of, you know, wherever you went in the world, yeah had to send the postcard back for the loo. So it was, it was quite fascinating to see, to see stuff like that. 

Okay, returning back to the Tenement House them. How popular is it with visitors to Glasgow? How many you know, before the pandemic? How many did you get every year? And how many volunteers do you have? 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

So I am very lucky, because I have a team of approximately 83 volunteers who cheer my days  with the best stories, many of them have either lived in a tenement or live in a tenement. And they share their love with our visitors about all things tenement and they are great, and I love them. And I’ve missed them terribly through this pandemic. 

And, and in terms of visitors on a non COVID year, and last year, we had, well, the year before Covid, we have 26,000 visitors coming in from all over the world and to see, you know, this place, because it’s so unique. When you visit a city, I think having the opportunity to really understand and see how people lived back then. Back then it’s, it’s definitely a joy. So we’re really happy to be able to share that with people from all over the world. We have some people specifically from Australia and Canada that are kind of like tracing back their heritage, and they want to see how their relatives used to live. So they’re always really interested in see everything tenement related. And then we have people who just come for the the signings, or maybe they are new proud owners of a tenement and want to understand the bed recess, or how it worked. And then we just have families as well, which is quite nice. And my favourite is the, the grandparents when they come with the children, because it’s such an interesting conversation, the grandparents have the knowledge of, of the tenement there and everything the way that they used to live, and it’s just so unique to see. 

Niall Murphy  

Yes, yes, I can  imagine. I mean, it must be quite difficult having to deal with that. I mean, I’m just trying to think, you know, I’m in my tenement at the moment. If I had 26,000 people through my door every year be an awful lot of wear and tear. How would you handle things like that? 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

So yeah, it’s, it’s like having when you have a party in your house, and then after you need to clean like that every day. And well, we handle that with the love and care of our staff and volunteers who help us keep everything right. People are really respectful of the tenement anyway. And so yeah, we love it, the more we do own four, other three other flats in the building, so four in total, so we can kind of like, you make the most of the space there. But yeah, it’s it’s a lot of people in a tiny tenement.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. Why do you think people love the Tenement House so much? 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega 

Well, I think people love the Tenement House so much because it’s so near to everyone’s hearts in the way that we passed tenements. If you live in Glasgow, you’ve passed a tenement every day. Or you maybe you live in a tenement, or maybe your granny lived in a tenement. So there’s something that is just surrounding us, and it’s there and it’s part of it’s part of Glasgow. 

And when it comes to the Tenement House, it has a very genuine voice, it’s, it’s something people can really relate to, because the contents of it, they’re not really expensive, they’re valuable tools because because of the stories they tell, but they’re not like amazing, it’s not an amazing collection of paintings or objects, it’s more about things that you would have in your own house and the collection of it makes a really interesting life. And so yeah, I just, I just think that our, that there are no barriers, it’s just nice and immersive. And and for me in particular, like I love it because it shows the story from a woman’s perspective, it was the home of two working women and that’s quite important as well so I just think people love it because they can they can connect with it.

Niall Murphy  

So did living in a tenement then, involved a lot more shared responsibilities such as the cleaning of the close so the rota for the wash house. 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yeah, it’s funny because I’ve been seeing lots of really wonderful stories about neighbours right now that through the pandemic have been getting in touch with each other maybe like revamping some of the spaces, the closes or the gardens and it really reminded me of the responsibilities that people share back then. 

In the Tenement House so the neighbours would have had to have a rota, like you said, to clean the close and making sure everything was like spotless and people really took pride in having a really nice, and look after the close and and also the turns for the wash house and drying their clothes and and I think there was a really like, an important sense of community back then that sort of like got lost in the way and it was coming back again and it’s just lovely. It’s just lovely to see those stories coming back and if anything good has happened from these lockdowns is that we’ve all been sharing more with our neighbours and just being a wee bit more mindful of them and like, you know, talking to them like like, like they’ve done on Camphill (Gate). So that’s always really lovely to see.

Niall Murphy  

Many thanks Ana, that was really fascinating. So now let me introduce our second guest Allistair Burt from Camphill Gate. Now Allistair has  lived in Camphill Gate, which is a tenement on the South Side of Glasgow for 16 years. So he has a background in architecture, working as a project architect for 14 years for a large commercial practice, and now works as an illustrator designer, under the name “Hole in my pocket”. Camphill Gate is a 1906 B listed tenement by architect John Nisbet and builder John McTaggart, it is located in Shawlands on the site of historic Crossmyloof Bakery on Pollokshaws Road, just opposite Queen’s Park and Langside Halls and because it’s located opposite the park and so it doesn’t have any buildings opposite, that means it can rise up to five storeys which is quite unusual in Glasgow, so it’s red sandstone, and has really good Glasgow style details on the building. So there are 12 shops along the ground floor and 24 flats above. And because it fronted onto a bakery, the building was the first tenement in Glasgow to be constructed from fireproof materials. So while it might look traditional, behind the sandstone, it is in fact of concrete construction. So as there was  no space for for a drying green, they had to incorporate it on the roof, hence the wonderful communal rooftop garden. From 2016 onwards, the residents started to investigate different ways to have the building repaired. 

So to help raise funds, they’ve done things like hold concerts, parties and yoga classes up on the roof. So in in 2017, the owners of Camphill Gate successfully applied to Glasgow City Heritage Trust for a building repair grant to help restore that tenement to its original condition. So repairs include renewal of the asphalt mastic roof, re-slating and renewal of lead clad finials and flashings to the source of dome roofs, repairs to external stonework repairs and renewal of  mastic and decoration to the windows, renewing the close entrance store and repairs to rear doors. So renewal of the cast iron rainwater goods and soil vent pipes, and repairs and repainting of the decorative cast iron railings on the top of the building. So Allistair. Welcome to the podcast. 

Allistair Burt  

Thank you for having me, Niall.

Niall Murphy  

That’s a pleasure, Allistair. So first off, this is a difficult question. How difficult was it to get everybody else in all the three closes in the building on board with repairs?

Allistair Burt  

It was it was tricky. It was tricky. As you see there’s 24 flat owners. And then there’s 12 business owners, 12 businesses, but not all of those businesses own the property. So then they are also the landlords of those properties as well to sort of navigate through the process. I mean, it’s been a long time coming. Most people have been fully supportive. There’s been one or two who didn’t want to be spending money on something and they couldn’t see the benefit of it. But I think we’ve managed to convince everybody, you know, have near unanimous involvement and thumbs up from everybody.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. No, it’s it’s, it’s, you know, I can appreciate how difficult that is, and how it can be like herding cats. And I have enormous respect for you and your fellow owners that have managed to come together and actually do that and keep working on it. Because it is, it’s, it’s a, it’s a big task over all those years to just kind of keep going and keep working through it. So tell us more about what you’re trying to repair and make better on the building?

Allistair Burt  

Well, as you said to your listeners, it’s quite comprehensive. There’s a lot of stuff needs done. 

When I first moved into the building in 2004, I noticed a few bits and pieces that were not looking their best. And with the centenary coming out for the building, so 1906 was built. So 2006 I was looking well there is any bits and pieces we could repair? And the railings were in a bit of a sorry  state. And we pay the company into wire brush down all the railings and repaint them. But actually they came out and they cut through the main supports of the railings, all the railings fell forward. And were hanging over the over the road. So for the last 16 years, 15 years, we have had temporary scaffolding poles in place to secure the railing so that they are safe for people. So that’s nice. Yeah, so that was the first thing that kind of brought people’s attention to the issues. But as we explored getting that done, it proved quite tricky to get everybody on board. And we were finding that maybe information that was being shared through the factors was not maybe directly being matched up per close, per close. So we started talking, talking together as a group. 

And we then hired the brilliant architect Fiona Sinclair, conservation genius, and she produced a detailed, a detailed report for us into what was needed. And the extent covers a lot of works that were previously repaired in the 1980s. When, as part of that major refurbishment of the tenements that took place.

Niall Murphy  

Yes, it’s something that we come across a lot in our work.

Allistair Burt  

Yeah. And as you as you will know that there’s, the work is not always done to the best standards.

Niall Murphy  

All done done up at once and in too much of a rush and nobody learning from each other’s mistakes because there wasn’t enough time to learn from each other’s mistakes.

Allistair Burt  

Yeah I mean and it was great they were giving you 90% grants for it so I’m sure everybody was delighted but a lot of the stuff… Fiona identified that a lot of details were changed that it shouldn’t haven’t been impacting us. So one of the major things is the rainwater outlets and the rain water pipes are all far smaller than the building originally tended to have so I think the gutters are a third of the size that they originally were really and they were supposed to have big hoppers as well but I only got i think i think is an 85 ml rainwater pipe on our, on our gutter so every single time it rains from the moment that work was done, it when it rains the gutters fill up, they backup and they get onto the slab underneath the asphalt and then find their way through until the top four flats yeah so.

Niall Murphy  

 This is a real issue in Glasgow because once you get the stone saturated it just like this acts like a big sponge, taking the heat out of the building. So that’s that’s a major issue around Glasgow.

Allistair Burt  

Yeah, so that that’s that was the kind of thing that really got us. Most of the things that we really noticing all the top floor flats have ceiling damage, some of the flats above have also got ceiling damage as well because the ones been getting in, but then it’s been running down the inside face of the stonework and then finding its way out the floor below as well. Yes. And so that’s, that’s been, that’s helped us kind of convince everybody it was a shame that it took until the ceilings were collapsing to everyone to be feeling  the need, but we got there!

Niall Murphy  

It’s very, it’s very difficult. Okay, tell me more about the the history of the roof itself as kind of a social space, you know, when did, when did you start thinking about that, and how is that evolved?

Allistair Burt  

Well, when I first moved into the building, the roof wasn’t really used, there was one other flat I think that used the roof. But in fact, when I moved in, there was a broken fridge an old bike without any wheels and a pile of rubbish and stuff laying on the roof. So I cleared it out, and then so we put some nice little plants and some decking down to protect the roof. And then slowly over the years more and more people have started to get to get used to the roof, it is the really unique thing that’s the big selling point of view is amazing. From there, we can see it across the whole of the West, and the south of the city. Unfortunately, the park just a little bit, we can’t see the East End, but we can’t have everything, we can see a lovely park. 

But that, that’s that has been a real benefit for the building because I know all the people not only in my close, but the two neighbouring closes because the building has over three closes that share, share the roof. And you would never know them. But quite often you go up there in the summer and there will be somebody sitting having a little barbecue or they’ll be somebody playing a little guitar and you can go over and join them and have a little chat. And it just makes it feel a special safer place. And yes, I can imagine, but it was the, we were kind of spurred on by the, by the problems of trying to get some of the repair was carried out previously. 

With all the information needs to  being passed directly through the factors, we found that a bit of a challenge, we started organising more regular meet-ups, and we’ve created a social media platform for us to be able to exchange things and that drove us a bit closer together. And we realised we were more aligned in terms of what we needed to get done than we thought. But when we realised we were going to have to get, we realised how expensive was going to be, we realised we’re gonna have to come to lovely people like your good selves to try to assist us, we thought, well, we need to be showing that we are trying our best to kind of improve and look after this building. So that’s when we started doing the more social events. 

Niall Murphy  

Sure, sure. So have you been collaborating with other organisations and companies, and companies you know, in order to kind of achieve these events? And you know, as a consequence of that, would you say that you’re now quite rooted as kind of an event space in the South Side?

Allistair Burt  

We are, we get, we get a lot of inquiries from people asking if we if they can use the space obviously it’s not open to, the to the public. And we’ve worked with there is a couple of  people living in  the building. There’s a lot of people living in the building who are connected through lots of different creative networks. There’s a lot of artists and writers and musicians and stuff who have lived in the building over the years. And we were able to call on some of them, including some couple of people have worked for the National Theatre of Scotland and they were able to use their connections to get quite a lot of famous people to come in and play, Kathryn Joseph came and performed up there. Not long after she had one album of Scottish Album of the Year. And that was that was quite a stunning event. She’s kind of timed her singing perfectly as the sunset and the horizon behind her. And we’ve worked with a few different, we worked with the Open House Arts Festival and we converted a couple of flats into exhibition spaces to put on a couple of gallery shows. With a couple of film showings as well.

Niall Murphy  

Yes, we used it for “Looking up and looking out” for our tenement event. So which is, which was good fun. We challenged  trying to find all the things around the roof for folk to do surveys. Yeah, it was great. And the flats as well were really, really helpful for that.

Allistair  Burt  

That was lucky because we had one of the, one of the flats had been empty for quite a while when you guys were looking to do that, unfortunately, it been relatively untouched. So people were able to kind of get inside and see a lot of the original features and, and pretty bad nick. It must be fair to say but that one that’s that’s been that’s been renovated by a young couple who moved there.

Niall Murphy  

Right. So what’s your plans? You know, once the repairs are done? Are you going to keep on doing these kind of events up on the roof?

Allistair  Burt  

I think what we will definitely be doing is we will keep doing the Doors Open Days we kind of feel we did Doors Open Days the last couple of years and we had like 1000 people came through the door on each day, which was kinda of nuts for a very, very tiny team of volunteers.

Niall Murphy  

It shows how much interested people are!

Allistair Burt  

Oh yeah, no people love it. We’ve had so many gifts. We had the great great, great great grandson and great great granddaughter of John Nisbet, who was the original architect, came out to the building. And they were really touched, because with that flat that you guys used in the first Doors Open Days that was empty and so we converted into an exhibition space. And we had one room that was full of original drawings of the building, one room had photos of the building throughout the history, because we managed to find 1906 photographs from an edition of the Architects Journal just when the building is brand new. So we’ve got a photo of the building and half the shops are uninhabited because nobody has yet moved into them, which is quite stunning. And then one other room we had kind of history of the the two main men that were behind the building, John was the the architect and John McTaggart, the builder. We’ve also had been in touch the great great grandson of Sir John McTaggart, who  is Sir John McTaggart Jr. Yeah, he, he very kindly wrote us a check. He’s quite a wealthy man. He wrote us a check for two thousands pounds, a very nice gesture. So we’re going to use his money to make a little plaque about the history and put it up on the building.

Niall Murphy  

Right an interpretation plaque, it is great idea. That’s that’s really, really interesting. That’s fascinating.

Allistair Burt  

Yeah. The idea is we’re going to do above the three closed doors. We’re going to do one about the before the building was there. So Neil, Neil Thompson, and the bakery’ s history and what he tried to do in the area, the middle one about sort, of the sort of McTaggart and John Nisbet and about the period where the building was built. And then the last one about what we have all been doing and the future of the building, because we’ve all be quite clear that like, we are just the merely, the people who live in the building, just like we own the responsibility for ensuring that 100 years time there’ll be another bunch of people who are trying to make sure that it’s repaired and looked after for the next 100 years after that.

Niall Murphy  

Sure, absolutely. So do you think having been through all this and it’s not over yet because the repairs are about to start on site? Yeah. That’s kind of that’s kind of acts as a real kind of cohesive thing that’s kind of brought together everybody is a group of owners. Are you more of a community now?

Allistair Burt  

Yeah, I mean, the, that we were supposed to start before the pandemic and the repairs have been dragged out for so long has has caused a little bit more strain on things and I think we had that, we had everybody lined up and we were kind of like, yeah, we’re going for it and then everything kind of went down in the pot a wee bit.  Yes, so now everyone’s really excited. I’m sure I’m not sure what, they’ll what they’re gonna make of living in a building site for a year we’ll see. 

Niall Murphy  

I wish, I wish you luck,  I’m sure it will be good. It would be like you know, Blitz spirit.

Allistair Burt  

But the intention as as well as doing those three plaques that we will probably do Doors Open Days for the next at least the next few years because we had so many donations. I designed some prints and mugs that we sold. All the people that came on those days are all “oh when can we come back and see when it’s finished?” So we want to do it for the next few years at least once it’s done. We’ll have everyone back for a bit more of a celebration. But make them all wear their slippers or something just to make sure the roof is kept in perfect condition.

Niall Murphy  

I have to say I can’t, can’t wait to get back and be up on the roof again. Once we can do safely,  I’m very, very much looking forward to that. When did you come up with the idea of coming together as a group?

Allistair Burt  

I am that was that was post the centenary year really, that was when the first starting threads happened. But it took a long time to kind of build into something. We tried to get the railings repaired over several years. But we kept failing, couldn’t get everybody on board. And then we tried to get the railings and the cupolas repaired because of the glass cupolas started…but each of them had panes of glass ball down the stairwells. So they needed, they needed some urgent repair. Yeah, that was a large bang in the middle of the night that went over the next morning, imagine. 

Yeah, and so that kind of made us realise we needed to be, we needed, because it’s, there’s a lot of pressure from the factors, you need to do this, you need to do that. And I think that we all need to take quite a lot of responsibility for it as well as like us, the factors are doing what we asked them to do. And if we’re not all speaking together with one strong voice, and giving them clear instruction, then the there is,  it makes it harder for them to do stuff for us. So that was kind of 2011- 2012 probably it is when we really started kind of having proper regular meetings and discussing getting Fiona involved. 

Man, it’s a long process, man, it’s probably 10 years in the making of us getting to the stage where we are, fingers crossed, starting on site and the not in a so far future. And but yes, probably 10 years ago is when we started getting together. But we’ve got more and more. We’ve got more and more close. Like we all we all went for Christmas dinner. Not last year, but the year before we booted out the Bella Napoli restaurant and we all went down there was like 14 plus.

Niall Murphy 

That’s that’s really impressive. So therefore, do you think that having such a good relationship with your kind of fellow co-owners has made lockdown easier?

Allistair Burt  

It has I mean, it’s, it’s there’s a lot of people in the building, and we’re very cross section of society. 

So there have been, there are a couple of people who do not believe in any of it. Yeah, it’s been it’s been fun, but then having the outdoor space at the heat of the lockdown at the very early stages. 

I mean, I don’t know if we would have managed to survive without the roof garden to be able to escape. Because we could all go out there we all… because normally we’re all kind of go to the same rough areas like three or four spaces all sit together communally. Yes, but because of that, we, because we couldn’t really do that everybody kind of sat in their own little spaces. But you could go and stand there because it’s because there is big there’s lots of room to be able to stand back. Pretty much yeah, so we didn’t have any communal barbecues this year, which we usually do but we decided that was a bit unsafe this year. But there’ll be back we’ll have a big celebratory one to which we’ll invite you all too. As soon as the building is repaired.

Niall Murphy  

That would be wonderful. So okay, but if I can bring Ana back in again. So I have a final couple of questions for both of you to kind of consider and the first of these is what parts of your tenement and the surrounding area would a person who moved in when it was first built still recognise? So Ana, do you want to go first there?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yeah, sure. So what parts, so I think from the inside everything because it’s the time capsule isn’t it? 

So Agnes would feel like at home However, if she visited any of our other now owned flats within the building where we have exhibition space, and they’re all modern, she would obviously be baffled, I suppose. Just by, the, by the insight of it. And, and I know that many people, many of the residents on our building have converted the recess beds into like a small kitchenette and turn their kitchens into a bedroom so I think they will find that quite interesting and in the, in the inside and then in the outside, everything has changed it hasn’t it ? Like with the motorway and Sauchiehall Street and the rest of it. And yeah, quite a bit of time travelling isn’t it?

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely isn’t it just. Okay, Allistair, what about you?

Allistair Burt  

It will, as I’ve seen the exhibition we have the photos of the building through the years we’ve got these really beautiful 1850s aerial shots of the surrounding area so you can actually see what has changed or rather what has not changed. And I think from the, from up on the roof, I would love to have seen photos of the view from the roof because I imagine the view well for a big part it would not have changed too much. Because when you, when you’re standing on the roof and looking out you can just see all the mountains and the hills in the distance meaning you can see Ben Lomond on a clear day. And that will not that will not change not much anyway. But there are a few new things like the same Science Centre Tower is there and stuff. But other than that, the view from that side look, you know…

Niall Murphy  

It’s probably changed more since the 1960s to the early 2010s because you’d have had, I mean Glasgow at that point had more tower blocks above twenty stories than  Moscow did so and then you know so many of them have disappeared since then. So that actually has been quite a significant change in Glasgow but it’s, it’s, it’s weird because it’s returning to what it once was. Yeah. So it’s kind of a low rise city so which is quite intriguing. Yeah, definitely. Okay, so final question. And this is the loaded one. So what is your favourite building? And what would it say If its walls could talk? Ana?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega.  

Yeah, sure. I think in Glasgow we’re spoiled by choice, like Niall  that’s the hardest question ever I obviously..

Niall Murphy  

This is why is loaded, we always want to know what the answer is we ask everyone that comes to our office this question.

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

I think see for me I know it’s going to sound quite obvious that I quite like the Tenement House but it’s just because I quite like this message that everyone’s story matters and you don’t need to be royal or a celebrity or a famous person for your house and your way of living and your life to be like to matter and for your heritage to be told, and that’s that’s our whole message at the Tenement House and, and I quite like the universe preserving its stories and and like if walls could talk well I hope that I hope that they tell like the story of how it began with the women and then over time is now loved by so many other people in Glasgow which is amazing so yeah, and then if I had to kind of like chose one it would definitely be that one but it’s so hard you see you have so many good ones like Holmwood House is amazing as well like how can you choose ,don’t let me choose!

Niall Murphy  

Told you it was a tough question, Allistair you want to have a go?

Allistair Burt  

Yeah man, I’m the same the easy answer. The one, the one that’s yours, the one you live in ’cause this is my favourite building, it might have my favourite one in the in the city I would say the roof garden is perfectly a building space so if there was this building it would probably be like Oh, please make sure you stop the water coming through my head. Thank you. What’s the name of the rebuilding in the city centre that was almost got burned down last week cuz that’s always been a little favoured of mine.

Niall Murphy  

Oh the the wee British Linen Bank.

Allistair Burt  

That’s a gorgeous wee building, such a charmer and I suspect that as along with a lot of our buildings and the city they are saying please don’t let me burn down. It’s probably what they would say!

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, yeah, it’s got you know, it’s got dry rot, wet rot, you name it. So it really needs some TLC so yeah, it’s one we’re working on with Civic 215 the organisation’s kind of use it as a meanwhile space in the ground floor. So yeah, we’re working with them and Page / Park architects lead team. So fingers crossed that will go somewhere because I really want to see that one safe because it’s just so charming.

Allistair Burt  

I’m glad I brought that one up there.

Niall Murphy  

So thank you very much both Anna and Allistair. That’s been really, really fascinating. And everybody else if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share and follow the hashtag #IfGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. Thank you. 

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

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Episode 8: There is nothing more beautiful than potential, community ownership and historic school buildings, with Martin Avila, Kinning Park Complex

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk”, a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy  

Hello, everyone, I’m Niall Murphy and welcome to If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk, a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. 

In this episode, we’ll be talking about historic school buildings, why there are so many and how the community can get involved in their preservation. If you’re listening from Glasgow, I’m sure you have a historic school building in your neighbourhood and possibly more than one. 

Have you ever wondered why they are so many old schools in our city? Well, the high number of historic school buildings in Glasgow has to do with the Education Scotland Act of 1872. This law made Elementary Education compulsory and free for all the children in Scotland between 5 and 13. 

The Scotland Education Act took inspiration from the Elementary and Education Act that passed in England and Wales in 1870. Although this act is considered the foundation of the Scottish modern school system, unfortunately, it played a big part in the repression of the Scottish Gaelic language. The effect of this reform has been described as disastrous and contributed to destroying Gaelic communities and culture. 

However, before 1872, 40% of Scottish children, so that’s around 35,000 children of compulsory school age, did not attend school. So under the new Education Act, approximately 1000 large purpose built schools were created to accommodate new students. Poverty was not accepted as an excuse to avoid attending classes and help was provided through the Poor Laws. in Glasgow 75 new schools were built between 1873 and 1918. Each school accommodating between 800 to 1000 pupils, the cost and the upkeep and preservation of these massive Victorian and Edwardian school board buildings has been a constant challenge for the council, the pupils and communities. 

Some of these buildings, such as the handsome B listed St. Denis primary school, built in 1883 by James Salmon & Son, or the internationally renowned A listed Scotland Street School Museum, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and soon to be a school once more, are still in use and enjoyed by their communities as places to learn. 

Sadly, some of these historic school buildings have met a quite different future, one characterised by uncertainty and dereliction among these unlucky buildings, we can find in Pollokshaws, The Sir John Maxwell School designed by John Hamilton in 1906, or the B listed Haghill Primary School. Unfortunately, both these handsome schools have fallen into serious disrepair since they closed for good. 

So what can the community do to save these buildings? Are they salvageable or even worth saving? 

In Glasgow one of the best known examples of a community taking ownership of historic building and saving it from certain demolition is Govanhill Baths. One of the pioneers in community ownership in Glasgow, and I must declare an interest here is I am also the chair of Govanhill Bath Building Preservation Trust who are working on the repairs just now. 

So the Campaign to save Govanhill  Bath began in January 2001, when Glasgow City Council informed the community and users that it was to close the bath on 31st of March that year without any local consultation. In response, community members occupied the school from 17th of March to 7th of August that year, so at 140 days, it remains the longest occupation of a public building in British history. Govanhill Bath is now a thriving grassroots activist based organisation delivering a wide range of health, well being, arts, environmental and heritage projects. Another great example of a community taking ownership and repurposing historic building, in this case a school, and it’s the focus of this episode is Kinning Park Complex on Cornwall Street, which overlooks Plantation Park.

Kinning Park Complex is an independent multi use community space in the south side of Glasgow. Providing a variety of great activities in a place that brings people together, helps reduce isolation, builds friendships, and creates a real sense of community. The complex is well used by local organisations, dance and sports groups, artists, musicians and community projects. 

Kinning Park complex is located in an old red sandstone building, built in 1916 as an annex to the Lambhill Street Primary School. In 1976. The building was converted into the Kinning Park neighbourhood centre run by the council. However, local residents and supporters had to fight to keep their much loved Community Centre open when in 1996 was threatened with closure due to council cuts for 55 days and nights the group stayed in the centre 24 hours a day. That determination and passion are the reason why Kinning Park Complex exists today as an independently run organisation where the community can flourish.

 Their vision is for the Kinning Park complex to be owned by the community, providing facilities and services developed and governed by the community for its community. So today, our guest is Martin Avila, director of Kinning Park Complex. Originally with a background in non formal education and intercultural learning, Martin became involved in social enterprise early in his career, leading him to become director of the Kinning Park Complex, where he became more involved in community ownership and community led regeneration. Martin is currently a board member of SURF, Scotland’s regeneration forum, and treasure a community land Scotland a membership body for community landowners in Scotland, and the voice of Scotland’s land reform movement. So welcome to the podcast, Martin.

Martin Avila  

Hi, Niall.

Niall Murphy  

It’s good to have you here Martin. So we’ve got some questions for you. And the first one is, what was the original motivation for saving Kinning Park neighbourhood centre back in the 1990s?

Martin Avila  

You know, it’s a really good question as well now. And I think most likely, it’s probably going to have been a confluence of a whole range of different motivations, because everybody brings their own, you know, ideas to the table, I think one of the strongest kind of collective motivations, would have been the need to keep the services running that ran out of the Kinning Park Complex. 

I think there was a lot of after school services and services for local children. And they were really key in providing the support for working parents, you know, especially working women to be able to continue to bring in an income for the families, I think that was part of the motivation, and also, one of the main drivers within that occupation. And certainly, within the early years of the Kinning Park Complex, was a lady called Helen Kyle. And she had kind of own motivations behind it as well, she really wanted to show that small self governing entities could play a role in wider society. And I think she had a bee in her bonnet around the representation of Scotland on the European stage. And she wanted to show that just because something was small, and not necessarily part of something bigger, it didn’t mean that it wasn’t viable. And so that was her kind of own personal motivation, but I think a lot of the motivations or folks were around keeping the services going, that we’re running from the Kinning Park Complex. Right?

Niall Murphy  

Okay. So other people who started the process, are they still involved?

Martin Avila  

No, not at all. Actually, I mean, that process was over 20 years ago. And they, I would say that’s probably been maybe, you know, three generations realistically since then. And we’re probably just about to embark on a fourth generation where maybe some, you know, some transition periods in between so Helen was really key  as part of the sit in, and alongside a whole range of other people who play the leading role. And and she was involved in running the Centre for the first 10-13 years of its existence. 

And then Helen moved on, and a chap called Lindsay Keenan came in, he had spent some time as the head of campaigns for the Nordic Region for Greenpeace, and wanted to come back and do something about more grassroots after having been involved in and starting a national campaign, such as don’t drill in the Arctic, which was eventually successful and secure a moratorium for drilling. 

And then there was really myself coming out alongside a lady called Rachel, who became the operations manager. And that was that at least for the folks that were in the leadership positions, the folks that have been in the committees have changed over the years. And then those folks who’ve played driving forces, you know, even if they don’t can have any official position within the organisation. And I think that is really one of the main challenges also, actually, as a community organisation, which is responsible for, you know, a piece of built heritage, because that’s going to go on, you know, hopefully built heritage should have much longer lifespan than anybody’s one role within an organisation. So trying to deal with the transitions between, you know, generations, let’s see it as I’ve tried to bring folks in and give them space to have their own ideas and their own ability to shape the future, whilst maintaining a link to the heritage of the past, as you know, as one of the challenges.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. So is it still very much embedded in the community in the sense that your volunteers and the people on the board, they’re all people who are based in the local community,

Martin Avila  

It is now, but it has not necessarily been the case? I think there’s there’s been a kind of transaction  alongside also the kind of use of the building. And so when the, you know, and also there are certain things that we don’t necessarily have historical records and I’ll probably talk about that a little bit later on. When you ask when the questions that I think you may ask about favourite buildings, but in the end, The, I think that, you know, the building really deteriorated over a bit of time. And so, you know, at one point, actually, before Lindsay came, and after Helen moved on, the building really wasn’t in a fit state, I don’t, you know, it came close to being closed again, because of the state, you know, they were able to secure money for the windows, but because of the issues around the lease, and, you know, if we talk about community asset transfer later on, it’s something that I can come back to, but because of the issues that around the lease, it wasn’t necessarily something that we could secure capital funding for.

Niall Murphy  

No, no, I totally understand that. Yeah, that’s a major, major issue that.

Martin Avila  

Yeah, and so for a long time, the building wasn’t really in a state that people could really use, you know, until it became less and less and less usable. And so as that happened, I think less and less, you know, services that appeal to local people were running from it and it started to become mainly used as a kind of underground venue, you know, for fringe arts and fringe politics, and a little bit more left field. Those kinds of initiatives are more drawn toward ungoverned spaces, and a certain extent, that’s what kept it going. 

So, you know, when Rachel and I came in July 2015, essentially, we thought that our first job was going to be securing a 25 year lease secure a million pounds for the building renovation. And actually, you know, that changed for a couple different reasons. As I said, I’ll come back to later on. But also one of the first things that we realised is that building wasn’t really serving local people anymore. You know, there were some dance classes, but the majority of folks didn’t know what happened in the building, the majority of folks that were involved and running the building went from the local area. Well, that’s something that’s changed now, where the majority of board members live within five minutes walk, the majority of members being drawn from the local area as well. And also, as we are starting to get some energy in terms of not diverting all our energy and making a building, which is really difficult to maintain, you know, stay operational, we are then left to wonder on the day to day basis and thinking about what else has happened in the neighbourhood. And we’re getting a good bit of traction with something called the Local Place Plan, which is something which is  something that came in after the planning act.

Niall Murphy  

Yes. Some something I’d like to touch on on later on. Yeah, it’s interesting, because I can see a lot of parallels with what’s happened at Govanhill Baths. So I mean, for instance, and this, this happens with other organisations too, who are, you know, working out in historic building, which needs maintenance, those budgets, obviously, getting the money to do that is not straightforward, particularly, according to your lease situation. 

And so that was one reason why the Govanhill Baths Community Trust, who are the actual people who do all the stuff with Govanhill Baths, everybody knows about set up the Building Preservation Trust to deal with the kind of the capital repairs to the building, because it meant that there was a group that could focus on that alone. And it didn’t detract from what the mission of the organisation actually was. So and I think, I think that’s quite important. But yeah, definitely recognise where you’re coming from. So for instance, before we ended up having to vacate the building, which we did about 18 months before we actually started work on the building itself. And that was just because it got to the point where it was so cold and damp, because didn’t have a heating system. And what for what the Community Trust had done was they basically built themselves a wee hut inside the building that was a proper insulated hut, because you’ve got, you know, these huge bases where the pools are, which are really, you know, they were open to the elements, essentially, with broken windows, etc. So they went into that wee hut to keep warm during the day. So it’s not exactly an ideal situation, when you’re trying to, you know, carry out your everyday jobs and responsibilities. So some people do have to think about. 

Martin Avila  

It is about making it an inviting space for the rest of the community to come. And we will do exactly the same except our hut was built in. And you know, when I became a bit of a joke in the winter time you know, waiting to go, It’s like a cabin trip in the summer in Scotland, when you’re trying to figure out how long you can get away with going without going for a pee. And, you know, it kind of turning to your comrades and  say like, listen, folks, it maybe take some time, you know, not really sure if you’re gonna make it back because from the trip for the toilet. 

Martin Avila  

Yeah, absolutely. I totally understand how you feel about that. Okay, so how do you keep staff and volunteers motivated and enthusiastic about Kinning Park Complex’s vision and mission? How do you go about doing that?

Martin Avila  

You know, I think it probably requires a few different things. It requires some really special people to be involved in the first place. You know, so the the staff and the volunteers that were involved in the Kinning Park Complex, had a lot of motivation for the sort of things that we were wanting to do and requires a lot of energy from from a leadership team, who really, you know, you really have to have somebody coming on board, at least during those times of, you know, essentially crisis, who who’s gonna live and breathe the building and take real responsibility for that. 

It’s also maybe why governance structures has to change as you move out of those kind of places,  because having more command and control structure, let’s say, or, you know, more streamlined governance works well, within those those, you know, those, those times of difficulty, where there’s actually in the long term, we want a much more distributed leadership model. 

I think also, right, it’s, it’s about the stories of what the building does. So if I think what really motivated the staff to deal with the challenges that we had as because some of the things that happened, and the Kinning Park Complex, you know, I can’t I imagine that this is a as true, but in different flavours, in other community owned buildings, some of the things that happened in the Kinning Park Complex just wouldn’t have happened and other spaces, you know, apart from maybe somewhere like Govanhill Baths actually be fair, because that can heady mix of locals that have lived there for a long time, new Scots who have not long, you know, made their life in the city, and, you know, folks who are, you know, intrinsically interested in creative projects, which involve community and folks that are interested in arts and folks that are interested in community development, you know, that kind of heady mix of things, that we had a kind understanding that you’re, all you can realistically do within the world is probably two things right? Make a decent impact on one individual. And we know for a fact that there are individual stories there, that the Kinning Park Complex has really helped people, you know, whether it has had a big impact on their life. 

So a certain extent in that micro level was changing the world, and also create what I would describe as these little bubbles of beauty, you know, like these little bubbles of magic, these transitory moments, they exist in one event and one interaction, and one project and one programme and one weekend. And after that they go, but realistically, think about actually, in the grand scheme of the universe, that’s probably the highest thing you can ever really do. So I think it’s, you know, it’s given them space, it’s getting the right people, it’s given them energy, and it’s doing fantastic things that then give you the energy and the drive to deal with all the challenges.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely, I really do recognise that from from Govanhill Baths as well. And it’s something that really inspires me about the community trust there, and how effectively they’ve tried to work to do that, within this community. And I think, you know, in many ways, you can see how that’s been very central to the regeneration of Govanhill as an area and has kind of made it desirable for artists and people like that to move into. So I absolutely recognise where you’re coming from there. 

But there’s another issue too, which I think is quite interesting, too, in terms of, you know, how do you manage to shift away from what was you know, a campaigning organisation that was trying to look out for this kind of big, big historic building within an area? So you have to shift, it’s a culture shift from being this campaigning group to something that is actually managing what is basically a major municipal facility. How did you guys go about doing that?

Martin Avila  

I think sometimes you just have to change the people if I am being honest you know, like an organisation shouldn’t be overly reliant on one people and sometimes you need different skill sets or for different, different situations, you know, Helen Kyle was the community development worker and you know, and you know, no regimes or no, you know, regime is an extreme word, but, but no sort of leadership group is as ever gets everything right. But, you know, Helen was very much motivated with community development principles, right. 

And then as the building deteriorated and as it became a much more difficult situation in terms of interacting with the council in terms of firefighting and managing the problems within the building, Lindsay Kenaan was absolutely the right guy there right, you know, both he was an incredible practical person, right. And so he could actually do, because he done everything from fight the council to change the light bulbs, right, which in the Kinning Park complex at that time, it was a mission. 

And so because you’re you’re trying to get the right bulbs that there were far too high in the required, you know, ladders and sometimes scaffolds. And so and the fight with the council, you know, Lindsay was somebody who grew up and, you know,  he grew up in terms of vegan and vegetarian and environmental activism, in Glasgow, from being what he would probably describe as a skinhead boy, himself, and then moved on to shutting down Russian mining operations. By getting that people absolutely down, right. And so like if you had a problem that required a sledgehammer, and you know, I asked a whole load of black and white photocopied leaflets to get people’s attention, Lindsay was your man, but eventually,  Lindsay bummed out, you know what I mean?

Niall Murphy  

I can totally understand.

Martin Avila  

And so and he moved on and it requires a different skill set. And also, you know, I think now, again, as we move back into the building, it’s time for change, and I’m actually gonna move on as well, this is one of the last things I’m actually going to do.

Niall Murphy  

Okay, that’s very interesting, too. But I’m conscious of this, because it’s, you know, Govanhill Baths is kind of going through that same process, too. And it’s like that shift from the campaigning organisation, organisation, which is incredibly useful. But I’ve been there, there have been times, you know, when we say, everybody’s anticipating, we’re going to get regeneration capital ground funding, and then we didn’t, this was several years back. 

And everyone’s kind of instant reaction was great. That’s it, you know, we’re going to go and park our tanks on the lawn in front of the city chambers, we are going to give them hell, and it was like, might not be the best way to go about it. You know, maybe we actually, you know, we have to think this through. And, you know, maybe there were other organisations in Glasgow, which just because of where they are at the moment, we’re more worthy in this particular round. And sometimes you find that these things that, you know, you’re in a queue, and that sometimes other people are prioritised. And there’s not a lot you can do about it. That’s just politics. And maybe the best thing to do is to work on building our relationships with the council and figure out how we can overcome this problem. And that maybe actually going to having a dialogue with them rather than a fight might be better. So I don’t know those those those issues, you have to think about.

Martin Avila  

Definitely Andy Milne, chief executive at Scotland Regeneration Forum, he was the director there, and he was quite good. There was a few times when I wanted to push nuclear buttons. And he always was like, listen, you know, first and foremost, you know, you have to remember that, you know, that, you know, for example, big articles in the press is not necessarily going to change your situation. But, you know, you’re gonna have to deal with the fall out tomorrow. And you’re also maybe going to see people on the flip side, and it’s also quite easy for people to caricature community organisations. 

I mean, I totally bristle at the way that a the way that community organisations and community projects are depicted, to an extent love the word community, but I hate when the word, oh, it’s a community project, you know, because for me, that’s a byword for underfunded, secondary, and whole load of other things when used pejoratevely and in the wrong, wrong way. 

And sometimes I’m like, Okay, what’s the difference between the community sector and the private sector? Okay, one’s massively inefficient and wouldn’t survive without state subsidy. And then the other ones, the community sector. And so a, you know, I think we have to, we have to be very careful. And so, yeah, so, for us, it’s about change it up again and saying, well, for us as an organisation, my own personal belief is that you really needed somebody like me, who was really at the centre of the drive and the direction and this is what we’re going to do. And we’ve only got so much time to do it, we need to save this building within five years, because the heating  and the water ingress is getting worse, you know, at the minute, none of the services work, but the walls and the roof are fine. How long is that gonna stay? 

Afterwards, you don’t need such, and we also had this situation where we had to really completely change the way that the venue was seen, you know, it was like, anarchist book fairs and underground punk concerts was essentially the majority of the stuff that was going on KPC now get no truck with either of them. But you know, that is not necessarily also serving the widest sections of the community.

Martin Avila  

Yeah, it can be a bit niche. And you gotta become, you gotta be conscious that because you’re there serving our broader community.

Martin Avila  

Big time. So yeah, so well, that’s the changes that we’re going to go through as go go, more distributed leadership model. Yeah. 

Martin Avila  

Sounds like a very, very similar journey. Which kind of this brings me on to my next kind of question, which has to do with the main challenges involved with dealing with funders to secure the monies that you need for the for the repair and refurbishment of the school complex. You know, what have those been?

Martin Avila  

First and foremost, realistically, you know, people give money away all the time, right? And so that’s probably from my mind, three times that you’ve got to think about right, your legitimacy. So people, how people view you in terms of your legitimacy, right? And so the legitimacy as they think you can use this money properly, have you got somebody on here that’s been involved in a project which is similar to this, you know, what’s your track record of delivering the things that you have done and people need to trust you? 

Because you know, I think those are… I think there’s a general feeling sometimes is that you can view funders like dragons sitting on a big pot of gold, you know, that actually want to guard, they are definitely not like that. What they want to do is to give money to well run projects to achieve the aims of that funder. And actually, they want to give the money away. So first and foremost, they need to, they need to think that you can carry out this project and spend this money properly, because the main thing that they don’t want is for the whole thing to go wrong, the next thing is about relationships. 

And so again, you know, funders are not big dragons sitting on pots of gold, they also really motivated fantastic people, getting to know them, build those relationships, understanding them as a human being. Listen to their concerns, not just pushing back on, when somebody says, I’m not really sure that your business model is going to work, then, you know, you can take that as what do you know, or you can take that, as you’ve probably seen 400 business models, maybe I should try to understand what my business model is concerning, you know, in like, and then I think off the back of that, you know, realistically, it’s also just a game of balancing plates man, and it is really difficult. 

And it’s really difficult to a certain extent really, you’ve got to have somebody who is able and ready to spin a lot of different ways, and to a certain extent, then that, you know, somebody that can spin six plates is never going to french polish something, right. Because if you are worried about the fine fine detail, you couldn’t do like the six plates thing, you wouldn’t, you would be too freaked out by it.

So again, you have to be behind that person, you also have to have another team, of folks that actually, you know, a lot more conscientious and focused on smaller details that can, that can temper the excesses, or the person who’s you know, that big big shark can convince folks that things are a good idea. So you need a team that have all these different aspects. So I would say it’s about the legitimacy. It’s about the relationships, and it’s about the team of folks that you’ve got.

Martin Avila  

Okay. What would you say to other organisations who are in a similar situation?

Martin Avila  

It’s one of those things that you’re you don’t want to put people off, and you don’t want to, you know, you don’t want to bring them in naive as well. And so I would say, ultimately, it can be done at the end of the day, you know, but it’s going to take a long time. You know, I think if you take however the long you think it’s going to take, you know, maybe double or triple up. So if you think it’s going to be two years, you know, I mean, I mean there are parts in Govanhill Baths that are like a 20 year projects, you know, like, yeah, absolutely, yeah, there are very few people, you know, that have stayed that length of those projects, you know, and so, you know, if we could get one or two of those folks, then these are successful and you’re very lucky. 

But this is going to be a long project. And it is a wee bit Martin Luther King, you know, like, know that the promise land is there, but not everybody is necessarily going to make it together. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to have to go for it. 

So you know, I think first and foremost, be clear of why you’re going to do it and what it is that you want to achieve. You go out and see what others have done. Because you don’t have to tread the path alone, folks like Govanhill Baths folks like Action Portly over in Edinburgh, folks like the Kinning Park Complex, folks like the Pyramid in Anderston. 

Get involved with organisations like Community Land Scotland, that have supported all those people on and do this. And think about staging in your journey. And think about what you’re going to do, if you cannot get to where you need to get to. Because at some point, you may well need to build yourself a little insulated hut, and the middle of the winter and you’re going to need to come in that and you will need to come back day after day after  day. For all that, you’re probably going to be able to do some really special and amazing things because there’s nothing more beautiful than potential and to certain extent, you know, coming into a space like Govanhill Baths is tremendously inspiring. 

Now it does get to a stage where you’re sick of people telling you what you think you could do, you know, because people come into the space of what you know, you could do here. And eventually, you know, you might start telling them well, you know, what you can do, because like people have got lots of ideas, but not that many people stay the course. But if you start telling people what they can do, when they feeling you, you know what you could do, then it’s probably time to change and get somebody else to take the next leap forward. 

Martin Avila  

Absolutely,  I’m really acutely conscious of the whole People Make Glasgow Communities programme at the moment and all the campaigns that are going on with the various libraries around the city. And when I’ve spoken to people who’ve been involved in that I’m trying to stress to them, you know, this is not a straightforward thing. Think very carefully. You know, it’s one thing saying, I don’t want to see that library shut or anything but it’s another thing, having to sit and run that as a facility and look after the building and the people who are using it and run you know courses and and, and, you know events from that building. That’s it’s quite a different thing and try to point out things, Govanhill Baths, you guys, as well, look at the length of time that is taken to get together, these are not things you can turn around in six months. 

And it is about relationship building, and you’ll have to build relationships with the council and be acutely conscious that council officers are the gatekeepers. And these, these, these processes, so you have to think through those things. And, you know, you have to have a positive relationship with them, rather than denigrating them. Because they’re dealing with loads of people that are like you that are hammering at their door and want something out of them. So unless, unless you kind of do that in a positive way, you’re going to get, you know, kickback from it. So it’s, it’s about how you handle all of that. 

Martin Avila  

And, you know, community run spaces shouldn’t be communities, it’s community run spaces or nothing, you know, like, to create an extent  where the community organisations step in, to take over something that’s going to shut. And a wee bit, I would say, it is a sign of failure, if you know what I mean, a there’s also as no, it’s not necessarily going to be easy. And sometimes it just don’t need to be privatised. Because also, you know, one of the things about community organisations is when you a overly it starts to bring a commercial pressure into to the organisation’s very, you know, and, and, you know, we need to have spaces within the city that are completely free from commercial pressure. 

Now, community organisations should be able to carve out a local small place, because realistically, a lot of what the Kinning  Park Complex does, it’s about providing low cost affordable space, you know, and there’s also something great in there because we were also able to look at something right. 

So, just within my time, I’ve seen probably a few different things that have came through, you know, probably about four or five years ago, maybe a little bit less, you started seeing a lot of younger folks coming together, and really starting to, you know, organise themselves around the idea of non binary identity, right. So these were kids whose own identities were either non binary or transexual, and, you know, a, and they were really starting to come together and be like, you know, what, man, like, we need to have spaces for us. We don’t necessarily, you know, all fit in as easily and traditional LGBT, joint like spaces, which tend to be, you know, revolve around alcohol, they still tend to be male dominated spaces, you know, when we go out in more wide stream spaces, actually, the levels of violence, that folks that are transsexual face are like astronomically high compared to, you know, other members of the population as well. And so we were able to turn around and be like, you know, what, we really believe in this, and all if it was something like a, they’ll I can’t even remember, you know it’s their right, like to turn around and be like, do you know what? Yeah, here’s, we’re gonna be, like, actually, like, we don’t necessarily like one corporate pride, like, sponsored by McDonald’s, whether or not I can understand that, like so. 

So when we get into politics, like that, it’s difficult for the council to gather those spaces, right. Because when you’ve got like a big, huge, monolithic organisation, the bigger your organisation is, the tighter your policies have to be, or else it just becomes a mess. The smaller your organisation, the more reactive and responsive you can be. So within, you know, a diverse ecosystem, we have to have community controlled spaces, in my opinion, but we also have to have decently funded public services. And it’s a false dichotomy, you know, and it’s a dangerous path, you know, and a road to perdition as far as I’m concerned of making all the spaces within the same spaces which are, you know, run by small community organisations, because those organisations, and I can say that, you know, as, as a leading light as the Kinning Park Complex collectively within that movement, right, as that, you know, they tend to be romanticised. 

You know, everybody likes a story, you know, not everybody likes to turn up on a cold and wet Tuesday and deal with the puddles and all that, right. And that can rise and win. And, you know, you need  the Council for certain things you know what I mean?

Niall Murphy  

I’m in complete agreement.

Martin Avila  

It s difficult with this Glasgow Makes Communities, but we have to make sure that that things are because the community want to take them over, not because they feel it’s the only option.

Niall Murphy  

Yes, yeah. Yeah, that, that, yeah, that does worry, me too. And it worries me that you will get some communities that are capable of stepping in and taking on the services from, you know, local facility, but you’ll get plenty of others that do not have that capacity. And, you know, building up that capacity in a community is not a straightforward thing. It will take time. 

You know, once you, the council is able to do that somehow because I think that will help with kind of grassroots communities, or community organisations, I should say. But I think it’s a long journey, and it will require a real degree of patience. So It’s, it’s it’s a, it’s a really tough one, you know, I think any of these kind of things, they can’t be imposed from the top, they have to be bottom upwards, somehow, and how you kind of foster that? I don’t know. It’s difficult. And I can see kind of both sides of the problem. But it has to come it has to be sincere, and definitely grassroots based.

Martin Avila  

And it’s not going to be cheaper, necessarily, you know, it’s not necessarily, necessarily straight away, you know, and it shouldn’t be done with the idea, because all of a sudden, you’re like, all these problems around health inequality and social inclusion, and a whole range of other things that the council couldn’t fix. Right. So now you’re going to see that smaller community or less will be funded or resolve this, you know, very good. 

Yeah, but I think, you know, if I, if I take it to a microcosm level, as I said, we’re going through this transition as an organisation to have a more distributed leadership, in the Kinning Park complex essentially, I’m moving on, and there’s a question there, so you  go out and recruit another director?  And what we are looking at doing is saying no, actually, there is two parts of what the director does in the Kinnning Park Complex, there is a strategic and there is the operational. And a lot of that operational stuff, we want to kind of try and chop up and spread across a range of staff positions. And a lot of the strategic stuff, what we want to try and do is work towards being an organisation that takes the strategic direction, not from any one individual, but from its wider membership rate, that’s going to cost us money in the  long run, you know, it’s not just a case of Martin is going, I think folks have to look at it now, at the end of the day, if we’re in a situation that people are truly engaged in the institutions and active within their institutions and playing an active and participatory role within their communities, and they feel that they can do that. 

And there are also spaces which are more representative of the communities in the long run, that’s a good thing. But that’s going to require, that it requires investment, it requires investment, and, you know, reform of the way that our local democracy, a reform of our public services, and investment in both our communities and in public services as well.

Niall Murphy  

Okay, that will, that touches on the whole future of Kinning Park Complex, so can you can you tell me something about how your plans are going for the purchasing and renovation of the building, how all that is progressing?

Martin Avila  

I mean, that it’s been, you know, it’s, it’s been a mega job, especially during the COVID. You know, and so, I mean, as I say, things just take a little bit longer, it wasn’t necessarily easy, going through the community asset transfer stuff. But that’s, you know, part of that is just got to do with how complicated these things can be, you know, it wasn’t necessarily clear around to, you know, if you look in Glasgow, Glasgow doesn’t actually necessarily know what it owns, you know, and it doesn’t necessarily…

Niall Murphy  

I am well aware of that, fascinating problem that one!

Martin Avila  

Yeah. And, you know, so and, and, you know, I think there are also like, competing demands, you know, so, at the end of the day, if you look at the offices, of City Property, right, you know, they are from a commercial property development background, right. So, they are not necessarily used to a situation where somebody is going to come and put all their cards on the table, and be like, how you doing Niall I am Martin, here’s my agenda, this is what I want, or that, what do you want out of it, let’s draw that down the middle, what they are used to, it’s smoke and mirrors and deception and commercial negotiation, for everything, for every pound I win, you lose pounds, right. So, so there’s a cultural change there. 

There’s also, then there’s a whole range of things that community organisations don’t necessarily understand, about, you know, what’s convincing, and what’s involved and, you know, how evaluations agreed, and a whole range of other things. That’s just around the lease. So that took a bit longer to get there, you know, we thought that we would come in for a lease but, the ground move beneath our feet, and suddenly Community Empowerment Act meant that you weren’t going to get a couple of million quid off the back of your, 25 year lease anymore. It was only a few. But we got there. 

And we’ve, we’ve set up a membership organisation. In order to do that, to a certain extent, we probably went a little bit backwards because in an ideal world, you would have set up the membership organisation, though consensus around that, and then went through the community asset transfer in a slightly less ideal situation you’d went through the community asset transfer, set up the membership organisation. But we can actually set up the membership organisation without there’d be a whole load of folks involved in it, you know, when I say a lot folks, there are maybe 40 Folks, when is actually, you know, and a smaller nucleus of folks really driving it forward. Because we got the land fund money, you know, so and now we’re starting to look back in that and say, Well, how do we really go our membership organisation that serves its local community, we’re going through a local place plan as part of that, we’re going to lead a transition towards what it truly means to be membership led. So those are the kind of governance and operational stuff kind of going on in the background, and it’s progressing. You know, again, it’s going to take time and sort of thing that you seat down in your, like 18 months, but actually, the Kinning Park Complex, I think they really go through that, like, we’ve got a real process for how we bring a wider constituency of folks together to make informed decisions, requires so much transparency around decision making, and require so much understanding of power dynamics and the decision making process, and requires transparency around finances so that people can make the contextual decisions around where money should be invested where it should be not. And so I think this is going to take like another five and another five years. And it’s going to require a new generation of folks to to really take that forward.

Niall Murphy  

I suspect you may well be right. I mean, it’s been interesting, we, with the Govanhill Baths hat on, we didn’t go down the community asset transfer route, only because I’d been kind of a cell mechanism already established before that came in. And so we were advised to stick to that, rather than do the community asset transfer. But it’s been such a massive learning curve, and not straightforward. 

Our legal costs, the budget is eight times what it originally was, we way under budgeted for it. Yeah, because it’s a bespoke agreement between us and the council. And we did initially we’d wanted to use as a template, one of their other ones that they’d done with Glasgow Building Preservation Trust, but the council wanted a bespoke agreement. And that has been really, really expensive for us. 

And haven’t, because I asked the project director, if I could attend some of the discussions to kind of hear about this. And that was an eye opener, I mean, it was, you hear these kinds of lawyers, sitting having these arguments, but how many angels are dancing on a pin head, and you’re just sitting there thinking, oh, my God, all this is, is that, you know, the gradually over the counter is going up. And it’s that that was a real eye opener. And, again, this comes back to the People Make Glasgow Communities, I really hope the council learns from that. Because you can’t put every community organisation through that you have to streamline the process and have a proper template that is readily adaptable, for you know, the scenarios that they come across. So definitely, when, when I when I speak with other organisations about that, you know, I advise them to watch out for that was, that was a trap we fell into, unfortunately.

Martin Avila  

Yeah, that’s a shame, that’s the thing is, is you just go through many hidden pitfalls along the way. And that’s why you’re right to say, don’t get into this unless you’re ready for a long job and so on. 

I mean, I can bring back to a more practical point, as is that the building blocks are going well, you know, we’ve been really lucky. And they have, you know, I mean, we had big plans for expanding the building by building a new office block next door, and to create a co working space, essentially, what we wanted to do was to create and intersectional co-working space, right?

 To say that actually, the challenges that we faced, you’re not going to be able to tackle unless you’ve got academics, campaigning organisations, community groups, social enterprises, you know, all on the same place. Because, you know, how you get beyond, you know, like a think tank coming up with a good idea. How do you get like folks engaged in that, you know, think tank, they need something that’s got folks in the ground. And so that’s kind of where we wanted to go. 

But we were supposed to be a, you know, putting the last of the funding together with that in March 2020. Right. And so, and we were supposed to, we were supposed to be signing the contracts with our contractors for the main building in March 2020. And, and then overtime, and to certain extent, we were quite lucky. Because, you know, I was just listen by the way, the first thing we need to get over this idea, this new building, because one, we’re not going to get any money for our new office building anytime soon. And two, like we don’t know where the costs are going to go in the main building, and the length of time and all that. 

So if we just, let’s just know that, you know, we had half a million and somebody lined up for an ask for the other half a million for the building next door. And all of a sudden, I was like, listen, we need to get another idea. And what we’ll have is half a million pounds over what we think it’s going to cost for the main building, you know what I mean, and then we’ll be in a  decent position to kind of go on and do some of that stuff. And so yeah, and that’s, that’s the way that it’s worked out, and actually, that’s meant that as time has crept up and cost has crept up, because it’s been a much longer process, then we haven’t necessarily had to worry, if you know what I mean, we’re hoping that the building’s gonna be open in September.

Niall Murphy  

I totally understand, it’s the same for us. I mean, we’re, we’re conscious of things on the back back of the pandemic, and Brexit as well, that costs for everything are going up through the roof at the moment, you know, basic kind of construction materials, everything’s kind of spiking up. And of course, our plans are all based before all this happened. And you’re getting this inflation spike, as a consequence of all that, and it’s how you, you know, we may have to accept, we’re either gonna have to do more fundraising, or we may have to accept there are certain things which we initially thought we would get, which we might not get now. So that’s, you know, that that’s a problem in itself. 

But okay, you’ve talked about how that affected your plans. But what about what did you guys do? In terms of, you know, what role did Kinning Park complex play in assisting the community during lockdown? Can you tell us something about that?

Martin Avila  

Yeah, we were really lucky to a certain extent we had gave up a bit, we done the same as you. You know, this happened in  March and we were out of the building in October. So we we kind of  said that way, you know, so that mean that we were already out of a building. And so we will use that a lot, a hall, which was not very well used at the time called Clyde Community Hall. And we were in there, and we had our a cafe run in two days a week over there. And so we already kind of had our base, and that’s gonna be much smaller place. And we were quite lucky because straight away, we sent folks home about a week or two, before lockdown, because  there’s a contact case with somebody that we are pretty sure that that at time had COVID, because they’ve been doing, they worked down at the Uni, and they had all the symptoms, and so on. 

And so that kind of made us start to think about all that stuff. I thought maybe before, and what we kind of said to myself was listen, let’s just throw everything out the window, and let’s just like put letters through the boxes of everybody in this neighbourhood like 10,000, 10,000 letter boxes, and be like ” Listen man, are yous all right ? Do you need anything? Or do you want to get involved? And so actually what happened is that a lot of the folks came back and said, they wanted to be involved. And then a whole further they start to get in touch being like listen, I’m struggling for food, you know, and do you think that these folks are necessarily not struggling before, but all of a sudden, maybe they can’t get out cause they had or go to the local food bank, go into a community meal, go into x and y and Zed. 

They were all going man. And they were like, listen, man, I’m stuck in the house, trying to live out of three quids a day, and it’s not really happening. Or I’m going to the supermarket. I don’t speak English, I’m going to supermarket and there’s nothing there. And I don’t know, like, I like, I only really know how to cook couscous like, and I have like, I’ve got no idea what the heck I’m supposed to do. 

So all of a sudden we can have pivoted and there was we set up something called the A-OK project, right? I thought it was like acts of organised kindness.

Niall Murphy  

I thought I was brilliant. So inspired!

Martin Avila  

And so I was just like, You know what, we don’t need that random acts of kindness right now. What we need to do is to get super organised and marshal everybody to look after ourselves. 

And so, you know, we started putting out food packs, and I think they must have done like, over like over the initial first set of  things, about 20 tonnes worth of food.

 And we ended up with a support list or about 200 people that were getting called every week. Some of them for as long as you know, 30 minutes to 40 minutes. Some of them just for two minutes. How you doing? everything all right? Do you have food? Okay, cool, right? We’ll give you a shout next week, because maybe they had like a family, like five or six of them. And they were alright, they were like, we are cool, we just need some food. But you sorted us out last week so we are grand. And so all the folks who are like, super struggling do you know what I mean, like, no strong relationships, lived on their own, had exhausted mental health problems, like and so that kind of support project got set up and off the back of that we were also like doing up people’s gardens, sending out toys and art packs for kids and, and walking dogs and all that sort of stuff and that’s really, you know what we did then for the next six months, and we were super lucky because we had a grant from the Scottish Government and pretty much within a week they were like, listen, see whatever you think you are supposed to be doing. Don’t bother and just do whatever you want with the money that you’ve got. Just make sure that everybody is sound. 

Martin Avila  

That’s good to hear that they were that accommodating? Yeah, absolutely. 

Martin Avila  

Scottish Government were revolutionary in that kind of aspect, you know, and I wonder how much that will get get looked at again. And I guess it’s difficult, right? Because, you know, at that point, it was really easy. There was a set amount of folks who already had money, so it was easy to go, we trust you, you’ve all got the money anyway, you know, that’s not going to work. So just throw it out the window. And community organisations were able to do what they want, but we kind of made the decision that we’re going to do that, then the Scottish Government came, came on board and actually, you know, like, there was a lot, it was all revenue sloshing about, we were able to really look after folks in a way that, that was probably needed in the first place, but wasn’t. 

And so, you know, I think probably my proudest moment of our team in the whole thing, as I guess you’ve got a mega and a macro. There was like one of our staff members supported somebody who didn’t have any family and relationships, man and ended up with a cancer diagnosis through this right, and was like, away into the hospital. And like, he just went through this and in the pandemic alone, if it wasn’t for, like this staff member, and I think like, four or five of us, alongside the guy’s brother turned up from another country. Were the only folks that this guy knew man? And I was like, you know…

Niall Murphy  

Right, right.

Martin Avila  

I don’t know what it feels like yet going out of this world right? I’m going to find out at some point. I hope not yet. But it seems to be that, you know, both knowing that somebody who had to make that journey, did the journey and did it knowing that they weren’t doing it alone, and that somebody cared about them, was tremendously important for that person. And it was, you know, as difficult as it was, I think, inspiring for the staff to be like, do you know what, if we didn’t do anything else, that’s it, we did that job we’d like. And then I think that is, again, a micro level. 

And in the macro level, we were able to support migrants led collective that had never really had more than a couple of 1000 pounds before. They were like, well, like I said, I get in touch with them. It’s like the Scottish Government  do you know anybody that needs money? Because you’re the community anchor organisation? If you ask those folks, if you need money, What is that? It’s 100 grand, and I spoke to them, and I was expecting them to be like, you know, you need a couple of grands? And they were like, I can’t like I just like, we need 75. I said what?  We need 75 and then they turned around, and they were like, listen, we’ve got like, 500 folks that we are providing support and I was like, straight away. I was like, actually, there’s no organisation in Glasgow that I know that, that’s providing that much support to that many people, and in that  difficult circumstance. And so we ended up going, we’d already kind of linked up with GalGael and Sunny Govan Radio and the local Baptist Church and some other folks, and we need some money ourselves. So you know, half the money went between those organisations, and the other kind of 50 grands went to this migrants led collective that had never employed any staff before. 

And then when we kind of said, What do you want to do? Do you want to  give out food parcels or vouchers? And they’re like, No, we want to give people money? And I was like, Are you mad, you know what I mean? Do you think like, there’s a chance that you’re going to be able to go and be like, Listen, this group that have no track record, they got 50 grands, and they just want it to handle in cash. And they  fired back to us with two things. 

First of all, I don’t know about you, man. But it says within the Scottish Government’s independent panel on poverty, that food dignity principle, say that you should be giving cash on the first basis, man. And I actually know, that is why we need to support the small shops that are providing culturally appropriate food. Because if we give everybody money for Asda, well Asda is going to hoover up that business, and they are not going to be there, just like yeah, and these shops are not going to be there. And like we are dealing with folks who have got no choice whatever in  their life, they don’t choose the kind of work, you’re not allowed to work. They don’t get to choose where they live, they didn’t get to choose whether they stayed at home in their own country. They don’t get to choose, you know, whether they stay in close contact with their family. You know, sometimes they don’t get to choose a whole range of things. And they’re like, the only thing that we can do for them is to give them a choice, and we’re going to give them choice by giving them money. I was just like, man, thank you so much for schooling me because, you know, like, I have been taught very valuable lessons in here. 

And so we write them back and we said, you know, to the government like listen, this is what these guys want  todo? Here’s your, your food principles, and you’re like, Yeah, no worries, man. I was like that. And so I was just like, I don’t do anything else in a year, here is something that was done right. 

Niall Murphy  

Yeah. Great. Alright, so you were telling us earlier about your Local Place Plans initiative. Can you tell us something more about that?

Martin Avila  

Yeah. So you know, where you don’t want to bore people too much. There’s a plan. So, those generally who makes the plans for, like, who controls planning is obviously the council and statutory officers, and they create these development plans that happen, you know, once every 10 years, and they don’t have many links in the community, they’re very well intentioned, folks, but they’re not very well resourced, they’ve got more work to do, then, then then they’ve got the resources to do. So what generally happens is, is that they’ll put out like a consultation, nobody will engage with it apart from, you know, well funded private property developers who can then have an undue influence, you know, by having the loudest voice within this situation, within the filing process. 

And also, there’s a whole load of sensible decisions that everyday engage with folks within the local community, just like don’t put there mate, like don’t put that there because this is going to happen, then something gets put there and that happens, right. And so is you know, the, the latest Planning Act had something called a Local Place plan within that and that local police plan basically means a few as a community organisation, some are trough the Scottish Land Funding ,the community asset transfer if you’re constituting community body, the constitute the community body can put together a local place plan. So essentially, what we think is an organisation, and that gets lodged with the council right. And so we you know, I’ve been up and before that can actually sprung and been had been up and Papa Westray, which is like the most northerly are the Orkney Islands, and up in Papa Westray, they have got like some amazing community development work going on. 

They’ve got, you know, a couple of trusts that can interact with each others, one runs a youth hostel, the other one runs an art space, they are facing, like, massive population decline for them. You know, I mean, 15 people left the island, right, and you’re like, yeah, 15% in two years, and so their school was going to close, so they done all that work and they kind of say to me, like, listen, you know, the best thing that we did was, we had this kind of like that, community development plan, like what we want to do over the next 10 years. 

And so we, I was like, you know what, we should do that at Kinning Park Complex. And we did that. And at the same time, actually, the local place plan sprung up, and I was like, we really need to do this local place plan. That’s what we need to do. And so we ended up bringing in a guy called Nicky Patterson, who’s our new community development officer who is, you know, stand up guy, fantastic politic and an amazing community development practitioner. And he say, like, listen, we need to go further than just the Kinning Park Complex, putting together a local Place Plan, what we need to do is we need to create a community wide blueprint for what this community is going to look like we need to go in and we need, there are no other community organisations within this community, really, other than the Kining Park complex, we need to go and work with other organisations, help other nascent groups, and help them form and develop their own ideas and their own aspirations and support them. And we need to network them, and we need to bring them together. And we need to get this whole down in paper, and we  need to put it in the council and be like, This is what’s happening in this local area. 

And so it’s not really two stage primary legislation, which means the Scottish Parliament passed something saying that needs to happen. But the secondary legislation, which is the point at which… yeah, yeah, that’s how it’s going to happen. And right. It hasn’t been passed yet. So it’s kind of still up in the air. 

But the Place Plan is bringing  together. You know, it’s bringing together a bunch of young, young skaters, who hung about  underneath the motorway  setting up like a skate park there. It’s bringing together…

Martin Avila  

I’ve got down to see that… it’s, it’s quite something that. Yeah. I walked through it last week. Yeah, that’s brilliant.

Martin Avila  

And setting up a Friends of Festival Park group because Festival Park it is a very under utilised space in Glasgow,

Martin Avila  

It really is. Yeah, yeah. that would that would be, that would be worthy of doing something about,  great park. Totally overlooked. 

Martin Avila  

Yeah, you know, and so and  like that is the problem. And so that’s, that’s one of the questions there,  Yeah, and under severe developmental pressure by the developing buildings and everything that’s going around it.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, I’m really not not fan of that scheme. I don’t think it’s turned out good. Anyway.

Martin Avila  

And so you know, I digress. It’s gonna create more traffic problems, x, y and z,  like, it’s again, I want to go radical on it right. The forces of developmental capital are more organised and have a clearer purpose and better resource. So what for them probably make perfect sense…here there is a bit of under utilised land which is you know, we are very well connected to x, y and z. We could build some million pounds flat instead and do a turn. 

And so the, you can get it so, as a minor realistically that’s what we’ll do. And we are kind of saying like, okay, it’s all right for the Kinning Park Complex to be here, to be this anchor institution providing services, but actually, if you are not uplifting our communities are really worthwhile. Yeah. So that’s kind of what’s going on. Yeah. It’s called “Because we say so” –  www.becausewesayso.scot

Martin Avila  

Nicky is a  Pollokshields boy, and you know, and so you know, and so he’s, you know, he’s kind of, you know, he’s definitely guided and motivated by, because you also have to understand how those  fights get there, like, you know, a lot of that clearances, you know, essentially right, so, let’s face it, you had folks that were kicked off the land, they were brought into the urban slums, like in terrible working conditions. Worked till he dropped, and then they were cleared again. And fired out to schemes somewhere else  like, I wonder how come you get problems with drinking drugs? You know, I don’t know, man. I know generations of collective trauma, maybe?

Niall Murphy  

It’s where it all gets personal because my partner is actually and it’s just, he was he was brought up just along Cornwall Street. Yeah, from the Kinnng Park Complex. So you know, where you’ve got the tenement right next door to you to the south. Yeah, his tenement was directly beyond that. And is now under the M8. So, So when, when you look at, when you look at the maps of the area, and this really fascinates me about Kinning Park, so Plantation Park opposite, they’re all tenements, you guys would have looked straight out into tenements. And it was a big church as well, all that completely bull dozed as part of all kind of not just the M8, but it was a comprehensive development areas. And the change in the area is phenomenal. Just absolutely shocking. And everyone scattered  around…

Niall Murphy

What is your favourite building in Glasgow? And what would it tell you if its Walls Could Talk?

Martin Avila  

Kinning Park Complex, Kinning Park Complex is my favourite building in Glasgow and it always will be!  Like I think like, I thought about this when I came in. And I thought, well, you know, well with that one, and what would it be? 

What building has provided the greatest influence on my life and why? And he says, you know, it’s totally, the Kinning Park Complex, for all the happy moments for all the personal developments. 

And I guess, you know, what I would love to know, as that’s the history of the place. You know, I’d love to know more stories about the kids that went there and what they went on and done. I’d love to know, the stories of the, you know, the different projects that happened there, and what folks have went on and done, the small changes that the building made within its life, I’d love to get the other side of the story for you. Wether there’s been, you know, folks that have came in and went out and we don’t even know, I’d love to be able to create a more recorded history. So I think that if we’re coming back to if, you know, one thing that I would tell groups that we’re doing, right, because at the end of the day, if you are going to listen to one thing I would say is record it, record everything that you’re doing and create a decent archive at the start, create a list of folks that were in and out, you know, start in the exit interviews. But even then, you know, you’ll never get more than a 1% of the stories that your building could tell. And I wish that the Kinning Park Complex could tell me some stories. I’m sure there are things that went on in that building that actually, maybe that should probably just remain between the people that were there in the building as well.

I was married in the Kinning Park Complex as well, man. So like, I have to choose the Kinning Park Complex  as as my favourite building.

Niall Murphy  

Of course you do.

Martin Avila  

Like not just like I am under threat or punishment, but just like how I could choose somebody else?

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. Why not? Yep. Okay, Martin, that was an absolute pleasure. And thank you very much for talking to us. That sparked off lots of ideas in my head. So very, very much appreciated. And to our audience, if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don’t forget to follow the hashtag. #IfGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. Thank you very much.

The following message was submitted by a member of the public, if you want to  leave a message about your opinions, memories and thoughts about Glasgow’s  historic built environment have a look at our website to find out how.

Govanhill Baths is my favourite building, if its walls could talk, It would say thank you to the amazing community who saved it from demolition or conversion into flats. It is very excited for people to swim in it again. It is also crammed with memories of the area’s history and there are a lot more stories to be found!

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

Episode 9: Much more than just football – historic stadiums and Football Memories, with Robert Harvey, Football Memories Scotland

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk”, a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy  

Hello, I’m Niall Murphy and welcome to “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow.

In this episode, we will be talking about football and its social importance, and also about how much stadiums shaped and influenced Glaswegian lives across the centuries. 

Football in Scotland goes back almost 600 years. And just like nowadays was enjoyed by monarchs such as James IV and Mary  Queen of Scots and commoners alike, did you know that the oldest existing football in the world, dating from around 1540 and made of a pig bladder, was discovered in the Royal Palace at Stirling Castle? Scotland can also claim to be home to the world’s first known Football Club, founded in Edinburgh in 1824. 

One of the most interesting aspects of football is undoubtedly its social value, football clubs, for example, are historically known to be one of the main forces through which collective social identities are created and reinforced. Very often, and particularly in Glasgow, football clubs and teams enable communities to know themselves and to reinforce boundaries. People and social interactions are at the core of football, just like stadiums, and all the other venues linked by a sport, such as pubs and clubs. These spaces constitute an active agent, in shaping Glasgow’s collective memory, stadiums and sports venues can be considered as one of the most ancient forms of urban architecture. Think about the stadium at Olympia, or the Colosseum in Rome. These venues continue to shape our cities and attract millions of people year after year through the centuries. 

Glasgow is home to a few iconic stadiums, whose history is deeply intertwined with the history of the city and its people. One of the most famous being  Ibrox Stadium, which is A listed and is located on the south side of the river Clyde. Ibrox is the third largest football stadium in Scotland with a capacity of 50,817. It opened  as Ibrox Park in 1899, but sadly suffered a famous disaster in 1902 when a wooden terrace collapsed, causing the deaths of 25 people and injuring more than 500. 

Another important Glasgow stadium, and Scotland’s national stadium is Hampden Park. The present stadium is the third to be called Hampden Park, and it first opened its doors in 1903. Up until the 1950s, Hampden was the largest football stadium in the world. The current Hampden Park is also a historic venue for both Scottish and European football. The stadium has hosted six European Cup finals and holds various attendance records. In 1937 the first all ticketed Scotland match attracted an attendance of 149,415. The British record for any match as Scotland defeated England 3-1. 

What these two stadiums have in common is the fact that they were both designed by the same Glasgow born architect,  Archibald Leitch, who lived from the 27th of April 1865 to the 25th of April 1939. And who is most famous for his work designing football stadiums in Scotland, England and Ireland. As a result of the Ibrox disaster of 1902, Leitch’s reputation was certainly damaged. And yet after the disaster, he somehow managed to be hired again to build a replacement stand. After this episode,  Leittch’s career continued to be successful, leading him to be Britain’s foremost football architect. In total, he was commissioned to design part or all of more than 20 stadiums in the UK and Ireland between 1899 and 1939. 

A few months ago in Spring 2021, an archaeological dig commenced in Glasgow to uncover the site of the first Hampden Park known as the most significant footballing site in the world. The first Hampden was home to Queen’s Park, the oldest association football club in Scotland, and the national team from 1873 to 1884, when it closed due to the building of the Cathcart Circle Railway line. According to Archaeology Scotland, the first Hampden needs to be preserved for future generations as it is the site where the modern passing game was created, setting the template for every subsequent football stadium. 

The exact location of the first Hampden has been lost over the years, but it was rediscovered in 2017 when Graeme Brown, the Hampden Bowling club Secretary, discovered a railway map. 

Hampden Park is also famously home to the Scottish Football Museum. This great museum exists to promote the unique football heritage in Scotland to build and maintain a national football collection, and to educate and inspire future generations. It holds various collections of football related objects, among which are the FA collection and the Hampden Park collection. 

Back in 2009, it was in this museum that Football Memories Scotland started. So Football Memories Scotland is a project, which aims to provide football images, which allow people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia to reminisce. The project also involves Alzheimer Scotland and Glasgow Caledonian University. Scotland Football’s archive has 1000s of images from the history of the game in Scotland. These images can act as memory triggers for people with dementia, and can assist with short term memory recall. The website enables groups throughout Scotland to access the digital collections of the Scottish Football Museum in order to facilitate reminiscence activity. 

Our guest today is Robert Harvey, volunteer and area coordinator in Glasgow for Football Memories Scotland, Robert had hosted hundreds of Football Memory groups to help trigger memories. He says that this is much more than just football and we definitely agree. Robert is an ex football player and in the 1970s, played for Clyde FC. He played in all the old grounds and stadiums around Glasgow in a golden period for Scottish football. His debut as a schoolboy was at the National Stadium, Hampden Park, and he scored a goal from 20 yards. It was a Roy of the Rovers moment that lots of school boys dream about. So Robert, welcome to the podcast.

Robert Harvey  

Good afternoon, Niall. Thank you.

Niall Murphy  

It’s a pleasure to have you here Robert. So first off, what can you tell us about Football Memories Scotland? How did it start? And what is your mission?

Robert Harvey  

So I should, as you rightly said, it’s been going now since around 2009. It started with a gentleman called Michael White, who was a football historian with Falkirk and he was doing this at his local care home in Stenhousemuir. He was doing a football reminiscence session with some old gentlemen, many who had dementia, and he, and he and he had photographs, football photographs, and he was intrigued by the fact that they could recall on many occasions, 7-8-9 players names quite easily. And that intrigued Michael, and also in  that group was an old gentleman who was sitting on his own, didn’t really take part until one of his friends called him across. A nice gentleman turned out to be one of the inspirations for football memory Scotland. His name was Bill Corbett, and Bill, Bill played, he actually played for Scotland against England, an early 40s at Wembley and he played with Celtic at that same time, but it was the war years and he also played with various other clubs including Falkirk, but a half back line that day at Wembley for nothing each draw was Mark Busby. Famous name, Bill Corbett, and Bill, Bill, Shankly so he used to say “not a bad half, half back line son” which is right right, you know, fantastic. 

Anyway, Bill, Bill, this sparked something off with Michael, Michael went back to the historians meeting at Hampden, and he reported back what he had seen. He managed to get as you rightly says, he got caught a couple of historians in Aberdeen and in Edinburgh to run much the same kind of exercise. Again, they get the same results. This was quite a simple process. They got it evaluated with Caledonia University, then something in these gentlemen, these people are remembering things of it not just football, about their life, about the social life, about their families. And from that, that’s how it spawns. So it’s much more than football, Niall. Sure, it’s more than just working with folks with dementia. And before, you know when we actually open to anyone, but say, we seek a lot of folk who are socially, alone or isolated, come along to the meetings. And it couldn’t be a more perfect time in history. When this pandemic eventually stops to use these things, to use these things around the city.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, very much. I couldn’t agree more with you. So do you think that there is a particular event or place that sparks the most memories of the people you work with it Football Memories Scotland?

Robert Harvey  

We’ve got access to 7000 images from the Football Museum at Hampden. So there’s a huge collection there and you can customise any, any session. Being in a care home, being in a football stadium, being in a community setting, you can customise it to the people who are there. 

So for example, if have you had someone, and this is, this is a real, real example, we had a gentleman who was a cardiac surgeon, in a care home, big big Motherwell supporter. So we customise the session to Motherwell for him and his family who come along. We’ve done it for many times for different people. So you can customise it the sessions, as we go along with this, and it’s not, it’s not just photographs we use, we used memorabilia as well new and all sort of  football memory boxes, which are things like all smelling salts, and carbolic soap, and, and things. So at least these types of things help to generate memories. 

But the place where most memories are would probably say its Hampden Park and the event that gets the most maybe it triggers the most for the gentlemen, the age groups we see is probably the European Cup final with Real Madrid and Frankfurt which was, it generates, all sorts of stories. 

I mean, my dad, my dad was at that game, but so was half a Scotland and to this day it is still the biggest ever crowds  for a European Cup final, 127,000 people and not just not far from good, I’m setting just know. The referee was a gentleman called Jack Mowat, famous referee in Scotland, he actually got the train to Hampton, and referee do this famous European Cup final. So that’s a big, big event. Yeah.

Niall Murphy  

Sure, absolutely. Why do you think that, you know, this does kind of trigger these these memory cues with people?

Robert Harvey  

Because it’s so deeply ingrained, it is part of their life, you know, it’s a big part of people’s lives, the social life, it’s not easy Niall, and essentially just trying to put a photograph in front of someone and expect a reaction, you’ve got to work at it as a volunteer. And the key thing for a volunteer, you don’t need to be a historian. You don’t need to know a lot about football, you do not need to be smart, and just throw a lot of figures and facts that people ask the last thing you want to do. What you’re looking for all the time as those triggers and listening to the answers. So that’s the key thing for the volunteer. Because when you think about it, this is such a privilege. When everyone in Glasgow has got a story, every face that you see has got a story. And it’s such a privilege for us to be allowed, for example, to get into a care home, you’re actually going to someone’s home. So to sit there, you’ve got to treat everything with total respect, and listen and work hard to find the image. And many teams image will not be football, that will be something surrounding, and maybe the weather and make the school, it may be a building, it can be 101 different things.

Niall Murphy  

Right. Okay. Going back to football, how much do you think that as a collective experience? When you’ve got all these people being grouped together shaped people’s lives in Glasgow?

Robert Harvey  

Wow, definitely. The answer to that, a lot of folks; lives are shaped by that. This collective thing really appeals to me. I’ve seen it time and time again, this collective experience. If someone is struggling a little bit, you know, someone struggling at a meeting for whatever reason, someone beside them may know something, and they will join in, and they will become part of it and they will help people along to help them remember. So the collective side of  this is powerful. And every, every football memories meeting is a collective experience. It’s not a host sitting there telling you about football that’s not what it’s about. It’s the collective group, you know, sharing, sharing and helping people and there’s nothing. Everyone needs a badge of honour in their life. Every person you talk to needs to be known for something, he is good that history, he is good. She’s really good at baking a cake, whatever it may be Niall, everyone needs to be known for something and one of the biggest compliments you could probably gets helping collective thinking would be Oh, he’s a football man. He’s a Rangers man,  he’s a Celtic man, he is a Clyde man, certainly in Glasgow it happens. And if you think about it, for example, where Clyde is down at Shawfield there, that whole area was the Gorbals. Yeah, and they were flooded with fans who supported their local teams, and it also happened into other places as well.

Niall Murphy  

Right. That brings me straight on to my next question, which has to do with identity and how much do you think people’s identities in Glasgow were shaped by identifying or belonging to a specific team or club?

Robert Harvey  

I don’t think you can get away from me from that question. You’re, you become, you become part of your surroundings.  And you certainly become part of the social group you’re involved in, your social group in football tends to be with people who, who support the team you support or vice versa. 

So, Glasgow is. I mean, there’s a lot of cities across the world obviously with this huge fierce rivalry, you know, you think you’re either or Milan or Buenos Aires or whoever’s, and  football is a serious business when you think about it. We’ve had examples in the world where a good example would be Pele’ who actually stopped a civil war in Nigeria for three days for he was playing football in Nigeria. 

And yes, see, the yeah, when the team Santos of Brazil went to tour in Nigeria, in the 60s, there was a civil war going on. But the war lords decided to have a ceasefire for a few days to go to the football. 

I mean, I don’t, I don’t remember a ceasefire in Glasgow to be truthful, but I can understand how it’s not just Glasgow, it’s other people have this fierce fierce loyalty to the teams.

Niall Murphy  

Okay. Do you think that kind of that influence and that loyalty is deeper in Glasgow than when compared to other cities? And if yes, why do you think that might be the case?

Robert Harvey  

No, I don’t think so. I mean, that so it’s very polite, we all know the political and religious connotations in Glasgow,  we live here, can’t avoid it. You can’t avoid it, you can’t swing a cat without someone having an opinion on it a strong opinion on it. But I do see that but the same in many other places around the world, Niall, you know as I said earlier on some people just take things to the extreme you know we there’s lots of examples of that you know we know of players in South America you know being killed for example after World Cups because they scored a wee goal, you know yeah, we know that the 1938 World Cup final Italy was playing and they got a wee note from Mussolini, basically saying “You better not loose this World Cup Final” and I think for the players, you know it is a serious business.

Niall Murphy  

You just have to see what happened in the other day with, with the England- Italy match in Euro 2020 Yeah, the reaction on social media to the players score in the penalties or not penalties as the case may be. Yeah…

Robert Harvey  

So social media has changed everything the world has changed because because of that, do you know Yeah, unfortunate.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, yes. Yeah. Okay, turning to the actual, the architecture and the buildings. How much do you think, that the stadiums as buildings contribute to the atmosphere and excitement as this kind of collective experience of a football match?

Robert Harvey  

100%!  They contribute to the game, there’s nothing worse for a football or if you’re played on an area with nobody in the stadium, the terraces are 50 yards away from you, there is a big space round about it, that, that’s that’s, that’s good for no one, the other side to that is you know, you have the closer you get the fines to the, to the to the actual pitch, the better the atmosphere, you hear some professional players will send the big games that the noise, the atmosphere you know the amplification right about the stadium dependent wherever they are, can add a yard of pace to the game, so that can add, that can actually influence the game on the pitch and make and make players quicker and of course you get you get things like you know, you don’t want spaces around the corners of stadiums and noise get out the way you want to all enclosed as best you can. You probably want to good fan zones where you can really get a focus you’re gonna see examples of that in Glasgow obviously we are that’s that’s what all the noise comes from. 

And of course, Glasgow had the famous Hampden Roar in order for you look at the shape of the old Hampden, you know it was said it scared people, are scared players and that’s documented. 

So that, that really that, that shape contributed to that and the shape of the stadium. And even, even, nowadays Niall  what you can do. If you were starting tomorrow, you’re going to build a new stadium along the road from where you live, you can go into UEFA website and there is a 100 page document now on how to build a modern stadium and all the things to consider. So 100% it contributes to the actual game itself.

Niall Murphy  

Right. Okay. Okay, next question is kind of loaded. So, as I am sure you are aware, Irish historian Ged O’Brien, who’s the founder of the Scottish Football Museum is on a mission to prove that Scotland invented football, with a campaign which is #ScotlandFoundedFotball. What is your opinion of it?

Robert Harvey  

I hope he’s successful. I hope he’s very successful. Ged has actually came to, he actually spoke at one of our meetings for us and tremendously, well researched, very passionate about it. I think he’s done so much as other people have as well. To kind of bring that to the fore, get that story out there. Even get folks starting to think about it. And as you start to think about it, who knows what is around the corner for us? But yes, it’s an important question to, to answer, actually, and and there’s nothing worse if you get to, you know, fake news about where the origins of football are, which maybe, maybe some folk think that some of the things I’ve heard recently have been fake. So yeah, I absolutely wish him every success. I’ve done the demo the tours myself to Hampden, I have taken lots of friends, though. So we’ve walked around, everyone has kind of taken aback by the story. And not that mile of Glasgow it is just something special. 

Niall Murphy  

Sure. If Ged could prove it, that Scotland was were football invented? What would that mean to you?

Robert Harvey  

As someone who’s a great lover of football, I think it’d be a great thing for Glasgow, to be, to be recognised globally as a home of football it is such a big thing to have that. I would love that a define something there that really, really makes the argument null and void. It’s just there. Yeah, I think I think most football lovers would like  him to be successful and what he’s going to do here.

Niall Murphy  

Okay, right. Well, the other big thing that’s happening just now is the archaeological dig is happening in the Southside of Glasgow to uncover the site of the first Hampden Park, the original Hampden Park and the world’s first purpose built international football stadium. 

So to give some of our listeners some background to this, the first Hampden Park was opened in 1873, and was the home to Queen’s Park Football Club, and the Scottish National Football team until 1884, when it closed for the construction of the Cathcart Circle Railway line. So and it was this stadium, which witnessed some of Scotland’s greatest victories, such as Scotland’s 5-1 win over England in 1882. And all that is recorded, if you look at the back of Hampden Park bowling club, as the train passes, you can see this fantastic mural, which records all of this. So my question to you on the back of this what, what did you think could be the most amazing object they could find in the dig?

Robert Harvey  

Oh, what the question, you know, I bet imagine he could run riot with that question. Oh, my goodness. 

I think you probably, probably a foundation stone, you know, a foundation stone, it would say something like the home of football, you know, something it’s, you know, been inscribed with some engraved or something like that. 

But I’ve also, I mean, they’re going to hopefully find things like, maybe part of the original plane surface, maybe the lines, maybe the old team bath, maybe maybe there was 12,000 people at some of the games across there. So you might find all sorts of interesting artefacts thrown about that. 

Maybe a bit nice of the found something from the English, that says, acknowledging that Scotland is the home of football, that would really kill it, really kill the argument. I think I’ve been a bit optimistic there. But I’d love something like that. And I also think it would be nice given. 

I know that the time you’re talking about here was was the reign of Queen Victoria, and she she was a great she was a great wordsmith, she used to write daily, lots of, thousands of words. And I would love, I would love if they could find maybe a letter from Queen Victoria. Just the acknowledging Scotland as the home of football.

Niall Murphy  

Well, we’ll have to see for that one. Yeah. Okay, kind of related. Then if you could travel back in time. Which Scottish match would you like to attend? In which stadium and why?

Robert Harvey  

Yeah, I’m going to give you two here. I’m gonna give you quickly. You mentioned that later on. I played my first game as a football player at Hampden Park. I was a schoolboy. So I would love to get back to that because all happened so quick. Was just just a force just for me. I was basically given, it was New Year’s Day, I was given a phone call by the manager to turn up at Hampden with my boots. I turned up at Hampden with my boots, I was playing the game and as you rightly said, I scored very, very early with that without without quite a long shot. So I like to see that again and be there because I don’t remember too much. 

Maybe Secondly, I would like to go back to 1955 I would like to go to the Scottish Cup final Clyde against Celtic, that was the first day Cup final it was televised in Scotland. There was over 100,000 people at it a the referee was amazing Mr. Charlie Faultless, which is a great name for a referee I think Charlie Faultless. And the last, the last minute, in the last couple of minutes of the game, Archie Robertson scored a corner kick to equalise, you know, that’s the only time a corner kicks are in score direct in a Scottish Cup final. And Archie was actually, a big influence in my life when I was younger. 

So I’d like to go back and see see him play,  that game finish one each. We meet many, many men from Glasgow, who we were at that game who also went to the replay on Wednesday at Hampden, a wet Wednesday. But there’s only there was only 68,000 at that game, only 68,000. And they can remember as clear as day so I would like to see.

Niall Murphy  

Okay, two very interesting memories. And the first one being particularly personal as well, I can totally understand why you’d want to relive that must have been such an amazing experience. Okay, so we have a final question for you, which again, is a completely loaded question. And we ask everybody who comes to our podcast, this question. So it is what is your favourite building in Glasgow? And what? And what would it tell you if its walls could talk?

Robert Harvey  

That there’s going to be too quickly here? My first one is a building it’s as half in Glasgow and half in Rutherglen. Okay. And Shawfield Stadium still up to this day, yeah, I love the the old gates the Art Deco steel gets a lot the whole parameter right on the river Clyde, I love the old building beside it, which is Art Deco. And if the walls could talk about it, I’d  love the walls to tell us what Billy McNeill who was one of the most famous footballers of his generation  

across Europe, why he thought the first night he walked on the training pitch the Thursday night, and the dogs were just starting the racing.

Niall Murphy  

So okay..

Robert Harvey  

So that’s, that’s true. That’s what used to happen. So Billy would have, I don’t know what he thought… it’s a long way from Lisbon to Shawfield.  

Niall Murphy  

Okay, thank you. Thank you very much for sharing that, Robert. That’s very, very much appreciated. And thank you as well for being such a great guest and such a good sport on the podcast as well it is ,it’s, it’s really very much appreciated. And for our listeners, if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don’t forget to follow #fGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. So thank you very much again, Robert. It’s been very much appreciated.

Robert Harvey  

Thank you very much.

The following message was submitted by a member of the public, if you want to  leave a message about your opinions, memories and thoughts about Glasgow’s  historic built environment have a look at our website to find out how.

One of my favourite memory of going to a match in Glasgow is walking up to Celtic Park with my oldest son for the first time. My mother and my best pal were also with us to make it even more special.

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

Episode 10: Entertainment makes Glasgow, with Judith Bowers, Britannia Panopticon and Gary Painter, Scottish Cinemas Project.

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk”, a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy

Hello, I’m Niall Murphy and welcome to If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk, a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. In this episode, we’ll be talking about Glasgow’s entertainment industry of the last few centuries, and in particular, we will be discussing music halls, theatres, and cinemas. 

Given Glasgow’s population size and density, across the 19th and 20th centuries, it has been home to a huge number of music halls, theatres, and cinemas, which served and entertained that population. During that time these spaces occupied, and many still do a significant role in the social and architectural life of the city and in people’s memories. 

The history of these places is intrinsically linked with the changes in the entertainment industry, and new inventions such as the revolutionary introduction of cinema and television that saw theatres struggling to retain audiences, forcing many to close as new sources of entertainment captured the public’s imagination. If we look at the number and variety of historic cinemas, musicals and theatres, Glaswegians were definitely spoilt for choice. Among the most famous and still active of Glasgow surviving historic theatres are the Theatre Royal, which is A listed which is the city’s oldest theatre and the longest running theatre in Scotland. The Citizens Theatre which is B listed, which has the most complete working Victorian theatre machinery in the UK. The King’s Theatre, which is A listed, which is in Bath Street and built in 1904 and famously described by Billy Connolly as like performing inside a wedding cake. 

And finally, the Britannia Panopticon music hall, another A listed building and the focus of the first part of this episode. This amazing building is located at the corner of Trongate and New Wynd Lane. The music hall started in 1857, in the midst of the Victorian era, and the Industrial Revolution, the Britannia Panopticon had a very long and successful life, day after day entertaining audiences over 1500 people with singers, dancers, comedians, acrobats, and also a carnival freak show, and a zoo!

 This amazing space survived the First World War, the 20s and the depression of the 1930s. But by 1938, after 81 years of service, the Panopticon could no longer compete with a new form of entertainment and it had to shut its doors. It was then sold to a firm of tailors called Weaver to Wearer, who refurbished the whole place, hiding the balcony and the auditorium behind the suspended ceiling. The balcony was left untouched and uninhabited until the late 1990s. 

So today, our guest is Judith Bowers, founder and director of the Britannia Panopticon music hall campaign. Originally an archaeologist, Judith switched to social historian in 1991, when she established the Spirit of Glasgow walking tours, during this time she discovered the Britannia Panopticon, and made it her mission to raise awareness of the building’s plight. In 1997. She gained access to the music hall and has been running the building and the campaign ever since. So Judith, welcome to the podcast.

Judith Bowers  

Thanks Niall, thank you for inviting me.

Judith Bowers  

It’s a pleasure to have you here Judith, it is always a pleasure to hear you talk. So Judith.  First question is, when did you find out about the Britannia Panopticon. And how did you get involved?

Judith Bowers  

Well, in 1990, I really first came over to Glasgow. And at that time, I had a workshop in the Virginia Galleries. I don’t know if anybody remembers the beautiful old Tobacco Warehouse.

Niall Murphy  

Oh it was wonderful, yeah, much, much missed.

Judith Bowers  

And I had the privilege of having a workshop up in the Virginia Galleries and I love that building anyway, my lunch breaks were taken up by walking the Trongates, and I found it a fascinating area and the Merchant City, which at that time was not what we see today. You know, it was a lot dirtier, a lot grimier,  Liz Davidson saw a lot done a lot of work to clean up the Merchant City along with, of course in recent years. The Glasgow City Heritage Trust and people involved as well. I mean, it’s a different area. And the Britannia Music Hall as a building always stood out to me with its its blue facade. It’s peeling blue paint.

Niall Murphy  

I remember. Yeah. Yeah.

Judith Bowers  

It’s very ornate and so different from everything surrounding and then I was researching to do a ghost tour in the area, I had a company as you said, Spirit of Glasgow, and it was walking tours. It was one of the first walking tour companies in Glasgow, and my ghost tour involved that building because I found out about the freak show in the attic. That’s what started my interest in the building, which included the freak show in my ghost tour, you know, because you had the headless man and the man who had the world record for fasting and the lion headed girl and it just fitted in with the ghost tour and then one of my ghost tour operators actually he was on the murder tour with me. Steven Duffy, he said to me that he was at the time was at  the Academy, the Royal Scottish Academy, the Conservatoire as it now it is, and his, one of his lectures was on music halls and how they have seen photographs a slideshow of the interior of this musical and how Alasdair Cameron one of the lecturers at Glasgow University had also seen the inside of it and was trying to campaign you know, we put a theatre trail up up raising awareness to it and we, one day I’m walking along I look into up at the building and then I go into the lane to the side of it, the pens the covered bit, not the new lane, and I see Alisdair Cameron’s little plaque which was the theatre trail and had a cross section of the building and said the Stan Laurel debuted there were that was it. 

I needed to know was anything surviving of this old music hall because I’ve been told by Steven they’d seen pictures of it from the council. None knew anything about it. They knew that there was a historic building, they knew is listed inside now A listed inside and outside. 

And I just tried to get in and I couldn’t get in. I used to go upstairs. It was the Leather Club at that point. And it was ladies downstairs, gents upstairs, and I used to go upstairs, false ceiling obscured the music hall itself or the balcony level, but I could see the sloping ceiling of the balcony. 

And after many, many, many attempts at trying to get in, in on February the 23rd 1997. I was walking past the front of the building, I looked up besought facade was still peeling all that beautiful detail was crumbling,  my heart was breaking for the building, and then suddenly someone is knocking on the window furiously, furiously knocking on the window. And it was the window dresser for what was now which was amusements, and it was somebody hadn’t seen to the days of the Virginia Galleries, right? So she’s like, come in for a coffee. And we’re sitting having a coffee. 

And down comes the owner of the building then with the lovely Mr Alam. And I just fluttered my eyelashes. I said, Can I see your darkened areas please? I kid you not that is exactly what I said. He said yes, of course. I’d love to show. It’d be lovely to show the old music hall upstairs. 

So I went upstairs, up this old staircase,  this  twisting spiral stone stair up onto this fake platform, which it turns out was the roof of a toilet that had been built above the stage, pushed aside all these cardboard boxes full of coat hangers and I painted it out with torches it was pitch black and painted out and torch light and saw that the entire balcony, the projection room. A gents toilet, it was all still there. In fact, there was even bottles, beer bottles, but half a dozen of them sitting in about up to their necks in in pigeon poo and chicken poop. They’d obviously been left there in 1938. Right, amazing. 

Well, all I wanted to do was see the interior. But basically, I ended up going back the next day because Mr Alam wanted me to take his kids on a ghost tour. And then he took me upstairs again with councillor, .John Molyneux. And then he contacted me again because Historic Scotland wanted in and then I thought I need.. I can’t do this. I have no idea how to do this kind of thing, he is getting me involved in something. So I went to Liz Davidson at Glasgow Building Preservation Trust. And she said, What do you mean you’ve got inside the building? I said, Well, they’ve offered me an office and everything from the Ghost Tour. She says if you can get in that building, you damn well stay there. Do it.

Niall Murphy  

Do it. Yep, absolutely. And I’m  there.

Judith Bowers  

And I am still there, there you go. That’s the short version.

Judith Bowers  

Fantastic stuff. We’re particularly interested in that kind of collections of objects that you found in the music hall. So which ones do you think are the most interesting? And what is that? What is the story behind them? What does it tell you?

Judith Bowers  

Well, you know, famously, Niall, the what the objects that people get most fascinated by are the fly buttons. Archaeology is a wonderful thing. You take the objects left behind by the past and you put them together and you basically create a context for those objects one way or another. And it seems and it isn’t just us putting all these fly buttons found in this one area together and saying it’s prostitute corner. The evidence goes with it because of how that corner of the balcony is actually referred to in journals like The Quiz. You know, there’s a wonderful Quiz cartoon about you know, what a shame it is for the masses to take their duties up into the balcony, which is why we don’t abbreviate my name to Judy. Because they refer to prostitutes as Judies.

Niall Murphy  

I did not know that. Right, there you go, you learn something new every day.

Judith Bowers  

So, you know, we know that, that darkened corner of the balcony was notorious even by the 1880s. 

You know, but my favourite objects, my favourite objects, are a little bit more poignant. We actually have a wedding band, and it’s made from a copper penny. Now, of course, in those days, people didn’t have the money to buy a gold wedding band. These were the poorest working class people of Glasgow, that works the industrial revolution for the city, you know, made the city the great place that it became. And they didn’t have any money. And so they would take a penny minted that year, the year of their marriage, they would take it to the shipyard and they would have it pressed into a wedding band. And this one even has the date inside of it of 1897. Right. So that to me, is very poignant. That is somebody’s wedding band. How did it end up under our balcony floor? How did it end up there?

Niall Murphy  

I really don’t want to think.

Judith Bowers  

But I have another favourite, I have another just to go with some poignant and more about music hall and more about comedy. And I think that First Bus should bring this back. 

We have a collection of tram tickets. You’ve probably seen them. Niall, when you’ve been in. We have put them in a perspex frame, some of them. We’ve got hundreds of them. And on the back of some of them are jokes. And one joke that we’ve got, which I think is absolutely marvellous is from 1923. And on the back of this tram ticket, he says, “Why is a compliment from a chicken regarded as an insult? Because it uses fowl language.”

Judith Bowers  

Oh, dear, that’s really dark,  these, were these, were they printed on tram tickets with the tram tickets? Yeah, so there was like it was like a Christmas cracker.

Judith Bowers  

Yeah, I remember being the old lollipops, the wooden stick used to get a joke on it. Same thing with the tram ticket, but in the 1920s. That’s amazing.

Judith Bowers  

So Glasgow Corporation had a sense of humour basically.

Judith Bowers  

Basically then, yeah.

Judith Bowers  

That is so weird. Because otherwise I always thought they were quite paternalistic, but they wanted to entertain the people while he took the trams. That’s lovely.

Judith Bowers  

At least during the 1920s. 

Judith Bowers  

Possibly. Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so touching on that then, who were the people that went to the Britannia Panopticon, in its heydays?

 And who are the people who go to the Britannia Panopticon now? And do you see any similarity between the two?

Judith Bowers  

Well, the smell is a lot better of the audience today than it was back then. On occasion anyway. 

The audience is well, let’s think about the audience, see Britannia Panopticon was a music hall, not a theatre. And that was a very different species, because music halls were not just, there was no theatre productions, you didn’t see plays, you saw variety. And you also got your news, your current affairs of the day, you know, this is where people petition for striking or not to strike, or the temperance movement or suffrage movement, you know, everything basically was in the music hall, it was TV for the day for the masses. And as a result, it was the working class masses that went, it was cheap. It was cheap entertainment. 

Now, if you think of the living conditions and working conditions of these people, these ordinary working classes in the factories, the mills, the coal mines, the shipyards, they lived in hell, particularly in the 1850s, up to the 1880s, before the Housing Improvement Trust, it was awful. You didn’t want to go home to those conditions, you went to the music hall, if you had the money, and that became your living room, you laughed, you blew off steam, you got rid of the frustrations of the day. And you were in company with people suffering the same things as you. And of course, if an act did not satisfy them as a result the act on stage certainly got to find out about it. 

And is the audience the same today? Yes, it is still people that are still working class, but they are not in the factories and mills necessarily they’re working in Tescos or Marks &Spencers or they’re working on phone lines, you know the telephone lines and things like that. But we also have the widest variety of audience. We have children coming in with their grandparents to see musical shows, you know, and we have all sorts of people coming in for all kinds of different things because we do a lot of cinema, silent movies with live band music hall shows, drag shows, variety shows. And as a result, it does bring in quite a cross section of audience but a lot of them come by bus, or local, you know, or tourists.

Niall Murphy

Yes, yeah,  It is fascinating thinking about the difference between kind of at 1857 and nowadays, particularly when you look at things like the Ordnance Survey maps and you appreciate just how dense that part of Glasgow was. And kinda little lanes and everything and all the people that were crushed into them. And again, the contrast between 1500 people in that space, and what must be a fraction of that nowadays, you know, it’s still a significant number of folks coming in and seeing it, but how dense it must have been and how kind of hot and damp and moist and the atmosphere in that place must have been so intense. Absolutely smoky, very much smoky.

Judith Bowers  

Very smoky. I mean, one of the great, one of my favourite reports from the Glasgow Herald in about 1898 was there was a riot in the Britannia Music Hall last night, because the smoke was so thick that the audience couldn’t see the act on stage. I mean, imagine sitting in that kind of environment, and then you’ve got the absolute animal poo that they used to throw, and the whelks that they used to eat and the smell of sweat, because people didn’t have indoor showers and bathrooms, or toilets per household, you know?

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Judith Bowers  

Of course, they used to urinate where they stood because they couldn’t get to the one urinal or that was installed in 1893. By the way, girls, we got a toilet in 1922.

Judith Bowers  

Progress, is that outrageous. I mean, it’s still, it’s really fascinating. When you consider the number of theatres, musicals that burnt down in Glasgow, all of that smoke and people smoking and plus what they were lit by, that it survived full stop. So given all of that, and then is is this incredible survivor, it’s really hung on what what do you see as the future being for the Britannia Panopticon?

Judith Bowers  

More toilets. First of all, now, I think really not too many toilets. Now, what we were well, I mean, this is something that will come out in the feasibility study again, which the Panopticon Trust and Friends Trust and myself will be working on hopefully in the next year or so. 

Sure, but it’s always been my dream to bring Britannia Panopticon back to life as this incredible music hall,  she is the last original surviving musical hall intact. It would be criminal to turn her into a variety theatre, it really would, what we’re going to do is celebrate this early history of variety, which only this building can actually encapsulate. So turning her back into a musical and doing the things that we already do the music hall shows, cinema, the variety of entertainments they used to have in this the modern version of it, too. You know, so we’ve got modern variety entertainment, the modern version of music or sitting against the old experience of a Music Hall. Yeah, yeah. 

And have the pub back on the ground floor. Not some little thing with little displays on the wall, but a proper experience of a real, what a Victorian pub would have been like, you know, with the staff all dressed up and Can Can girls or singers or comics spontaneously appearing like the old free and easy. Yes, and having things like the exhibition back in the attic, you know, so you can see what a waxworks and a freak show and a carnival was like, you can play the electric rifle range or see the automatons again, give people a real experience of what life must have been like at that time in Glasgow, as well as given the benefit of having one shows, and for the local population to and it’ll be great visitor attraction for the city.

Judith Bowers  

Very much. So the Britannia Panopticon, it’s an A listed building. So can you take us through the changes that it’s been through since it was first built in 1857? And, you know, after it closed its doors in in 1938. Can you tell us something about that? 

Judith Bowers  

When it was converted in 1857, because the building was already expanded, but when it was converted into music hall in 1857, initially thought a department store, but they converted it into music hall because that’s what the area needed at that time. And they obviously put in their first music hall at that point, which we think although we don’t know for sure, because it takes a bit of theatre archaeology. And we haven’t got to that point yet. But we think that the original balcony probably came right up to the back wall of the auditorium, right, and there was a small clamshell stage underneath it, a very small stage. And that got adapted around about 1868. When the Rossborough took over, that might be when that changed and they put bench seating in. So that was the first adaptation was putting in bench seating, and also a proscenium arch. So it shortened the length of the balcony and it gave a more theatrical look to the building by giving a frame for the act on stage of proscenium being the arch in front of the stage. 

And and over the years little adaptations have been made, for example, because of the gasoline,  is being put in incidentally to burn off excess cigarette smoke, they had to actually put in ventilation in the ceiling. So we have this latticework ventilated ceiling in the middle. Because if they didn’t vent the gas fumes, people were suffocating, you know, basically suffocating in these places. Then, you know, and then in 1904 they bought in health and safety for the first time in these buildings, and they had to put in a fire exit as a result. 

Then, of course in 1896 actually, they had to put in the electric lights, and that enabled us to show cinema for the first time on August the 25th 1896. In fact, Picard when he took over in 1906, added a staircase to take you up to the attic and turn the attic into the rooftop carnival wax works and freak show. And he also converted the basement at extraordinary expense underneath the pub into a zoo and Hall of Mirrors. 

So these are the kind of adaptations that we’ve had over the years. And of course above the stage. The racking system was replaced by a pulley system we think in 1923 after a fire on the stage. Right, so those are their main changes. Other than that is pretty much the same old Victorian music hall that was installed by a bunch of shipbuilders back in the late 1850s.

Niall Murphy  

Okay.

Judith Bowers  

Yeah, oh yeah. And don’t forget the toilets, the toilets! The toilets were put in 1893 for the gents, one urinal, one cubicle. And ladies we got one cubicle in 1922. Obviously our clothing would not have accommodated the cubicle before then the big skirts and the big bustles it wasn’t going to happen.

Judith Bowers  

Yeah. Okay, so if you could travel back in time, what show would you like to watch at the Britannia Panopticon and why?

Judith Bowers  

Well, because it was music hall shows. It was variety and the bill changed every week. There wasn’t actually a show like you know, saying that you could go see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Mary Poppins. But there are certain artists I would have liked to have seen and obviously, the one I would love to travel back in time to see is Stan Laurel doing his debut at 16 years old. You know if I could travel back to that moment in time. Another moment in time I would like to travel back to though, is the very first time they showed cinema in the building people’s reactions to it. Having never seen anything like that before.

Judith Bowers  

Oh my god, that train is gonna come through the screen!

Judith Bowers  

Well except they had a slightly different thing, they didn’t have the train thing. In films. No, no the first films there was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, comics scene in a restaurant, a blacksmith forge, soldiers marching or parading, a lynching scene and a cockfight.

Niall Murphy  

Charming.

Judith Bowers  

I forgotten the Mexican jewel.

Niall Murphy

Of course. Just just for good measure. Bizarre, when you think these things up it’s it’s really, cinema in its infancy is really quite fascinating. So which handling up brings me on to our next guest.

So Gary Painter, is one of the creators of the Scottish Cinemas Project website. So the Scottish Cinemas Project is a volunteer led nonprofit site dedicated to recording and archiving Scotland’s historic cinema architectural heritage. At present, there are around 1140 cinemas included in its digital database, with 800 photographs covering more than 250 different places around Scotland. 

So Gary got interested in old cinema buildings in the mid 1990s. While working at the Odeon Cinema and the Theatre Royal in Glasgow. Gary is also a full time though now furloughed, stage doorkeeper at the Theatre Royal and occasionally at the King’s Theatre. 

Cinemas in this country have had and continue to have a tumultuous and ever changing history. 

By 1914 around 20 years after the first films were shown in the country, there were 4000 venues in existence. A very high number of the new cinemas were built between the 1920s and the 1940s, particularly as the talkies, that’s films with sound, took hold. 

Cinemas were seen and experienced as social and meeting places and were part of the everyday life of  thousands of people in Glasgow. From a postwar total of 4700, the number of cinemas fell to 3050 by 1960, and to 1971 by 1965 as televisions popularity grew. They suffered again in the early 1980s, with the invasion of home videos. Today, in 2021, there are 843 cinemas in the whole of the UK. Unfortunately, the high number of cinemas built in the space of a few years in the early and mid 20th century is linked to the high number of historic cinema buildings that are being demolished nowadays. Among the most remarkable historic cinemas in Glasgow we have the Glasgow Film Theatre, which is B listed and which was Scotland’s first art cinema, and that opened in 1939 and is still active today. 

We also have the B listed Govanhill Picture House, built in 1926, and famous for its unique Egyptian style facade with columns and a moulded Scarab above the entranceway. It’s one that’s really much loved in the South side of Glasgow. 

So at Glasgow City Heritage Trust, we certainly love all things cinema. And so we’re very excited to have Gary here with us today to discuss various aspects of old cinemas in Glasgow. Welcome to the podcast Gary!

Gary Painter  

Thank you for having me. Very glad to be here.

Niall Murphy

It’s a pleasure, Gary. So first up question for you, why are you so fascinated by cinemas and why do you think they are so interesting and important?

Gary Painter  

It started when I was working at the Odeon. So I had a student job. And like Judith, I studied archaeology. I was studying archaeology and Scottish History at Glasgow University. So I needed a student job and I got one a friend who works in the Odeon  and Renfield Street. 

So I got a job there in December 1995. And I was a popcorn wrangler, so I worked mostly in the shop. But usually that meant you had to work the bar. So upstairs, there was a, a bar which on a good night, you know, you were lucky if you made your wages back. It wasn’t terribly atmospheric or popular, so you just be sitting there reading a book sometimes and one day an old  projectionist, a man called Frank, he’d worked in the building on and off since the late 1940s, and he wandered by and he showed me a magazine which had  photographs of the building as it was when it first opened, and I was fascinated by this, because it looked nothing like that at the time. 

It had been comprehensively subdivided in the 1970s, and then again in the 80s. So that at the time I started work there, it had six screens, which were  really just one. 

So the archaeologist in me  started twitching and looking suspiciously at ceiling voids and hatches and wondering what was behind them all.  So you know, I I would come back to my break covered in dust, where’ve you been? I was, I was just looking up this hatch and crawling around into this void to see what I could see. But it was very fragmentary, there wasn’t much left. So that was kind of how it started. That was how I got interested in this aspect of cinema, it was by working there and talking to staff who remember that as it was.

Niall Murphy  

Sure, fascinating. So did that basically, was that were the kind of,  the point of origin for the Scottish Cinemas website. Is that where it came from?

Gary Painter  

Yeah, kind of a, you know, I was just sitting idling at University on day, googling Glasgow cinemas to see what’s coming up. And the website popped up. And it was very rudimentary, it had six cinemas or something on it. And it turned out it was another Glasgow University student who made it he was just practising his web skills to see if he could build a web page. And he lived near what was the Ascot cinema in Anniesland, okay, at the time, and it was it was, the auditorium was being demolished to build flats behind the retain facade. So he took a few photos of that, and he put this on the website. 

And it kind, his two interests for him at that time was website design, and it was old cinemas, which he realised at the point, that at time that he quite liked, so I contacted them and we met up and you know what, that was about 2001- 2002. And ever since then, we’ve just been building this website. And so you know, we’ve become more formally involved in these kinds of things. 

There’s an organisation called the Cinema Theatre Association, which is a kind of British body who, they’re all volunteers, mostly, and they promote the history of cinemas and cinema buildings and all aspects of cinemas. And that can, is what does it. We’ve become the Scottish caseworkers for them. But also, also we sit on the committee. So we started informally, you know, objecting to planning applications that were going to ruin cinemas, and then we started doing it formally under the auspices of the CTA.

Niall Murphy

Right. Okay. So how do you go about populating the website? Is it by submission? Or is this just all your own research?

Gary Painter  

It’s a mixture of both really or, I mean, I should say at the moment, we haven’t had time, when we started this, you know, we were young pups in our mid 20s. Young, footloose and fancy free and we were able to devote lots of time and energy to it, now you know, now we are in our mid 40s, people look when people meet as they used to say, you’re much younger than we were expecting, but they don’t say that anymore. 

Niall Murphy 

Alas, this is you and Gordon Barr. 

Gary Painter  

Yeah, so  now we are in our 40s, we’re not really, nobody expects us to be the same. But um, yeah, so a lot of the time it was just asking building owners can we come in and take some photos or, you know, when we put it up, people will submit photos  or leave us to do it. 

So we haven’t ,we haven’t updated now  for a long time because life basically has gotten in the way. And it was always an entirely free time thing done completely for the love and then you know, nothing we were getting paid for. So it is a little bit out of date now, but, but it’s a complete mixture of things that people have sent us and things we’ve done. And, you know, things that we’ve bought on eBay over the years, a vast archive, you know, I’ve got a cupboard full of things that I’ve bought over the years from cinemas and theatres all around Scotland.

Niall Murphy 

It is a fantastic website. I love going on it, because there are particular things I’ve got, I’ve gone and checked on at various times. And it’s just it’s an amazing resource. I mean, things like the, you know, the John, John James Burnett for Athenian Theatre. 

Yeah, and you know, what happened with that? I mean, I know it’s Hard Rock Cafe nowadays, but for years, it was closed. And all the information was there on your website, I was really lucky to, to attend one of the last performances in there. But you know, what a fantastic space, which is kind of at least it kind of survives, but you know, it’s not, not what it once was. But to have those resources is is fantastic.

Gary Painter  

Yeah, I mean, that was one of the early things we would end in. So it was the Athenian Theatre, it was still very much readable as a theatre, which is not so much now. It’s kind of hard when you’re standing there to think this was a theatre. But yeah, I mean, I was only ever in at once when I was, I think I saw a pre fame Harry Hill in there, many, many, many years ago. And it was the only time I was in as a theatre. 

But yeah, I mean, it’s just, as a topic I think it just, there’s so many aspects of cinemas in theatre history, you know, cinemas that you’ve got the technology, you know, it all came about because of technology, you know, people messing around with this thing that they didn’t even know what the use for it was. Was it a science thing? Was it recording things? Was it entertainment? 

So you know, people messing around with that, and the camera technology, suddenly, we have this ability to commonly project for film. 

So you’ve got that and then you know how that technology changes over the years changes the buildings as well. You’ve got invention of talkies, and then colour and then widescreen formats, 3D. And nowadays, you get 4DX, where you set and get water sprayed in your face and stuff like that, as you’re watching film. And then you know, of course, digital now as well as changed the way cinemas are built and operated. So you know that there’s a technology aspect. 

There’s also the business aspect and also a lot of people who are quite interested in it the people behind the cinemas and the companies behind the cinemas, the chains like like Odeon, and ABC. 

ABC actually kind of got Scottish roots, Glaswegian roots. And that was a gentleman called John Maxwell who started ABC. He just kind of gathered up little chains of sort of variety theatres, round about the  West of Scotland and eventually merged them and eventually  became ABC cinemas, who ended up  running a film studio as well. So ABC has Glaswegian roots.

 

Niall Murphy

I didn’t I didn’t know that because of course, there’s the Green, the Green family as well. Yeah. Incredibly powerful.

Gary Painter  

They were Yeah, they were. So they were show people originally and they were really important in the early cinema. So because it was the sort of travelling showman who did take equipment around little halls, or around Scotland, or they would take it around fairgrounds. And they went on to develop quite a lot of the first permanent cinemas. So you know, the West of Scotland, and the Greens and the Singleton’s as well, as Singleton’s who helped because more than GFT they started off taking a screening equipment around little hall,  they got the first one out and Hamilton.

 I think it’s just, it’s just as a topic, I think it covers all these kind of things for me, you know, you get a cultural history, you know, both high and low are coming to the most unlikely places. You get the social history as well, you know, I mean, these buildings were mostly commercial ventures and people, you know, you get very nice commercial buildings, like banks and things like that, but people don’t think of them as fondly as they do with cinemas. Because it’s, you know, they’ve got memories of going there as a kid or, you know, they went there with people who eventually became their partners or you know you know, sort of first dating. So people really think of them fondly much more so than a lot of other commercial buildings.

Niall Murphy 

Very much. Yeah, I mean, just thinking of things like, Earthquake in sensurround how are these, how they were all kind of pushed, and it was all the innovations and all kinds of experiencing that must have been fantastic at the time.

Gary Painter  

It was an it’s extraordinarily fiddly things, cinemas were always reinventing itself and it’s always revisiting old ideas to try and bring them up to date with modern technology and also you juggled around in a 4DX and you think, Rollercoaster and Earthquake. We’re doing this in the 70s You know, they were putting speakers under your seat to make 3D of course, try to make a comeback about 10-15 years ago, now that you didn’t need the sort of coloured glasses. 

And you know, the buildings themselves have changed to these values, or the early cinemas were just thrown up whatever they could be. Even shops, converted factories, churches, halls, the Victorians and Edwardians. Are fine for building halls. They didn’t they did like the gatherings. So they just used those spaces and existing theatres and musicals, of course, as well. 

And then in 1910 a piece of legislation comes in the Cinematograph Act, in response to safety concerns about film, the film at the time was nitrate, and it was really highly flammable. So that brought in legislation when local authorities could licence cinemas and so a lot of the older conversions kind of drop off, because it’s too expensive or too tight because you have to be they have to be purpose built after that. Right. So after that, they have to be  purpose built So then you have architects sitting down thinking, what on earth is a cinema so you know, they’re starting from scratch having to design the cinema with fireproof projection rooms and stuff like that. So that’s when we see the sort of first custom built cinemas.

Niall Murphy 

Yeah. We’re looking at people like Thomas Baird at the moment. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Who is a fantastic cinema architect from Glasgow who did really interesting work.

Gary Painter  

Yeah, and yeah, you know, things like the Salon in the West End, you know, being built entirely over Hennepin federal concrete. Yeah, as a response to it directly to that legislation. Yes, yeah, very much. And then, of course, you get the World Wars coming out, and the kind of, you know, between the World Wars and the first cinema buildings, and sort of the second kind of gap after the First World War, because materials are scarce, and then they start looking to America and building bigger and better ones. And then and then after the Second World War, they’re all knackered, so yeah, this is sort of nobody really built cinemas again for years after that. But then, but then the older buildings start changing, they start adapting, you know, by being subdivided. And then you start getting multiplexes. And a lot of the older ones, of course being changed, they became bingo hall. So a lot of the other ones have been, have been banged up still around. They’ve been bingo halls for far longer than they’ve been cinemas. So it’s really really faddy the entertainment in general.

Niall Murphy 

Very much. So do you think that’s perhaps why so many old cinema buildings have been demolished in the UK? And do you think that’s something that will will either improve or get worse? Because of COVID?

Gary Painter  

Yeah, it’s a tricky thing, because they always were really difficult buildings to adapt, this large single volume space. So when they stopped becoming a cinema, what do you do with them that sort of doesn’t compromise the architectural integrity of them too much. But they’re also incredibly fragile. Because you know, the minute you lock the door, water starts getting in, round it back, essentially, these were brick sheds with asbestos roofs. Yes. So you know that you close the door for 10 minutes, and suddenly there’s a a root in, the ceiling is down. Yeah, yeah. quite fragile, really, really quite fragile. And also they are built of staff that kills us, like asbestos. Yeah, things like that. 

So that, you know, people don’t want to touch them. So we do end up losing quite a lot of them. Because of that, but and also the, you know, traditionally the site for them was on the high street so that really valuable real estate as well. So becomes much more lucrative just to sell them off for redevelopment. Whether that involves keeping any aspect of them more commonly not just getting rid of them. Sure, but with COVID as well, we’re seeing you know, things like a lot of the bingo companies have closed a lot of bingo halls during COVID and have said they’re not gonna bring them back. 

So things like the Mecca, in Rutherglen at Main Street, right, which is one of the Singleton’s Vogue cinemas and then became.. they’ve announced that’s not reopening. So that’s one we’re gonna have to accept.

Niall Murphy 

That’s a great shame. Right. So what are your top three favourite cinema buildings in Glasgow?

Gary Painter  

I think one’s probably in the Gallowgate. In East End, it was called The Orient. And it was a few doors along from what’s still a sort of prominent 1930s building nearly Bellgrove Hotel, right, in a working man’s hostel. A few doors along from that was this Orient cinema and it was really, you know, externally had this kind of Ziggurat thing on the outside. But when you went inside, it was built in what they called an atmospheric style. When it had all these wee miniatures of buildings along the walls to make it seem like you’re sitting in some exotic courtyard. You know, the escapism wasn’t just about the film, you’re watching on screen, it was a bit where you were watching it. It was as if you’re watching this in a location, almost as exotic as what you were watching on the screen. So I had all these we minarets and sort of Disney Castle spires and things at the side. 

And a wonderful cinema was built by a man called Albert Gardner, who was a slightly eccentric architect who specialised in cinemas. And he specialised in atmospheric cinemas, another sort of architect who did that was William Beresford Inglis who designed the Beresford Hotel, yeah, the two of them between them designed most of the atmospheric cinemas in Scotland.  And I think The Orient in the Gallowgate would have been an absolute knockout to see on this day but sadly it was demolished about 15 years ago. Right. 

Another one is probably the Hillhead Salon which I mentioned. It’s just, it was a little knockout in its day because, you know, it was using technology to respond to this issue of fire safety. So it was built entirely of concrete but not without beauty as well. You know, you go inside and it’s got these little ribbed concrete arches on the vaulted ceiling which have got plaster work directly applied to them. So even though it’s now a pub, you know, there’s still vestiges of it there that you can go in and see. 

And the last one, it’s a bit of a tough one. The last one, it was a toss up between the Salon in Sauchiehall Street, which was this fantastic Moorish tiled cinema, which sadly, the building itself was adapted that it was very short  lived cinema was only there between 1913 and 1923. But it was very short lived. And it became a kind of retail sports shop. And then it became all sorts of businesses. So one of the last things in there was a rooftops disco. And that was lost in the first of the Sauchiehall street fires a few years ago. Right. Right. So it was a toss up between now the absolutely wonderful Lyceum in Govan which I love, the Lyceum, the Lyceum opened just before the World War Two, and it you know, it was influenced by the Empire Exhibition, just along the road. So it was an ultra modern streamline architecture. And it was vast as well. It’s at something like 2300 people, it’s.

Niall Murphy  

It’s wonderful, and it is enormous.

Gary Painter  

It’s enormous. And it’s absolutely just sitting there dying for some viable use. And so. So yeah, those are probably my favourites.

Niall Murphy 

Right. And if you could go back in time to see a demolished theatre or cinema in Glasgow, would you like to go? Seeing what show? And why?

Gary Painter  

Yeah, I think I’d love to go see something at Odeon where I have worked, which is now just the foyer block that survived, which has a tower block behind it. I think I’d love to go see that in its heyday, when there was a big show, something like Bill Haley or the Beatles who played there. Yeah, absolutely. It had full stage facility so it would be fascinating to go in and see how it all worked there. Because you know, there were remnants of these dressing rooms, music rooms and stuff there when I worked there. But I’d love to have seen it all in its heyday, when it was all working and, you know, had the  departments and staff of hundreds. And it would just be nice to see the people inhabiting the space where I inhabited, doing their jobs, and what it was, like years ago, so I walked by the Odeon in Renfield Street the other day and I looked up and there’s somebody sitting at a desk typing away because it’s just offices now. Well, I’m one of those ghosts now as well myself because it was yes, you have been 20 years ago, I was sitting at that very window, you know, fiddling the disparities in stock. When I was doing my stock count on a Thursday night and I was sitting making up wastage figures. And I thought, I wonder if that person ever thinks about me. Someone else who was sitting there in the past?

Niall Murphy 

About the former uses of the space? Yeah, I wonder I wonder. So you told us that you work as a as a stage doorkeeper at Theatre Royal and occasionally at the King’s Theatre? Do you think your position is one of those traditional roles that stayed the same during the last century?

Gary Painter  

I think it is because I found a few articles online about stage doorkeepers in the Edwardian and Victorian period. And it does seem to be remarkably similar. You know, but back then the described as a position that was usually reserved for gruff men. Well, I’m pleased to say we now employ women so we have our own gruff women there as well. But as quite an unusual job I tell people that  I work as a stage door keeper, 95% of them just kind of screw up their eyes and look at me, what the hell is a stage  door keeper. 

But yeah, you know, you’re essentially just the guardian of the stage, you know, that you sit in there like a little troll in your broom cupboard, stopping people from coming in, who aren’t allowed, then answering mail and stuff. So you know, the only real differences are things like fire panels, which are much more modern these days. Sure, but yeah, we’re still little trolls who sits in cupboards.

Niall Murphy 

Okay, I want to bring Judith back in at this point, because I have a couple of final questions for both of you. First off, do you think that Glasgow was or is a special city for entertainment? And if so, do you think it is the people? Or is it a form of escapism? Was it to do with the city’s industrial past? What do you think?

Judith Bowers  

Do you want to go for as Gary or shall I go? 

Gary Painter  

You go Judith, I’m sick listening to myself now.

Judith Bowers  

Well, sweetie, I love listening to you, I can listen to you for hours. The thing is with Glasgow is that entertainment was really illegal. It was illegal for a long time from the Reformation in the 16th century, up until what the 1790s. And ironically, if you were caught in any way, drawing public attention to yourself by singing or dancing or anything like that, you’d be publicly punished for it. 

And that was the only legitimate entertainment in Glasgow was public executions and punishments. I always think that explains the Glasgow audience, to be honest, their attitude. But I think that Glaswegians have had a really rough deal, particularly during the Industrial Revolution, right the way through the Victorian era. Really, right up until the 1950s Glasgow had a rough deal, the working population, the ordinary working classes, it was tough. That’s why they need entertainment, you say escapism. So, basically all of the above, I think really Niall.

Niall Murphy  

Okay, Gary?

Gary Painter  

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, all the things we’ve touched on, you know, had to do with population density and the difficulty of work and you know, Glasgow in the 20s, 30s had a population of a million in a much smaller area than it it is now, you know, people needed space and you think about the theatre or the cinemas you know, it was relatively cheap back then there was none of this 8 quid a seat nonsense. You know, a few pennies, you could go ahead and sit in a cinema. Someone else was paying for the heating, it was probably probably slightly more lavishly furnished than your own house, you know, some, you know, I like to think of cinemas as the dogs of the architecture world you know, they come in so many shapes and sizes and degrees of lavishness and scruffiness.

Niall Murphy  

You know, you can cosy and comfy somewhere yeah.

Gary Painter  

You could go and sit there. Yeah, you could you could sit there for you could sit there all day be heated watch the film, you know, you didn’t just watch a separate film back then you sat there trough a whole programme and you could just stay there pretty much as long as no one didn’t kick you out you could stay there as long as you could. 

But also there’s privacy as well you know everyone living on top of each other in their houses you know the cinema or theatre with someone you can go sit and have  about privacy you know, sit at the back Yeah. And at big spaces, Yeah, absolutely what with or without your significant other you know, it’s up to you if you wanted just peace and quiet to do whatever you did in the peace and quiet.

Niall Murphy 

Sure, sure enough. Okay, next question. And final question, and this is a loaded question for both of you. So what is your favourite building in Glasgow? And what would it tell you if its walls could talk? Who wants to go first?

Judith Bowers  

I think we know what my favourite building in Glasgow, it is the entire reason I live in Glasgow? Well, my favourite building in Glasgow is the Britannia Panopticon, where there any doubts about what was my favourite building in Glasgow? 

Niall Murphy  

We could never have guessed that one.

Gary Painter  

I was gonna go for the just along the road from where I’m sitting just know the factory in Polmadie but Right. But I realised you know it’s a factory so it’s well it’s probably didn’t hear very much so you know, what kind of building hears and sees something much more interesting is a hotel so I’m thinking the Beresford Hotel you know, back in its heyday when it first operated as hotel and it must have seen the height of glamour you know, what went on in its rooms? I think it can tell us quite a few good stories.

Niall Murphy 

Definitely. Well, that’s where that’s where John F Kennedy made his first public speech. So so there you go. Wonder how many folks in Glasgow know that? Interesting stuff. Okey dokey. 

Well, thank you very much. That was extremely enjoyable to have both of you on as ever. Always a pleasure with both of you. So to our listeners. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share and don’t forget to follow the hashtag  #IFGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. Thank you very much.

The following message was submitted by a member of the public, if you want to  leave a message about your opinions, memories and thoughts about Glasgow’s  historic built environment have a look at our website to find out how.

When I was four and a half, in 1941, my mother had another child, now she was taken into hospital prior to this, as she was ill, and she was ill even after she came home. So because of this, my maternal grandmother moved in to look after us, and my maternal grandmother had a cinema habit, she liked to go to the pictures, twice every week. 

But unfortunately as she wasn’t the most pleasant of people and didn’t have any friends, and the family were reluctant to accompany her, from the age of about five, twice every week, I was volunteered to go with my grandmother to the cinema. It was a cinema in Parliamentary Road, so from an early age I was watching all kinds of, really inappropriate unsuitable stuff for a small child…censorship was different in those days, I realise now. And I just have this memory of being quite frightened of some of the films I’d seen.

But I didn’t care because I loved going to the cinema and even though my grandmother was really unpleasant and not really nice to be with, I didn’t care because by the time I was about 7 I was a complete cinema addict.

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? 

Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

Episode 7: Splashes of colours around the city, with John Foster, City Centre Mural Trail and Ali Smith, Art Pistol

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy  

Hello everyone, I’m Niall Murphy and welcome to “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow.  In this episode we’ll be talking about Glasgow and its amazing murals, and who are the people and the organisations behind them. 

The word mural, originates from the Latin word murus, meaning wall. So we can define mural art as any artwork painted or applied onto a wall. Although very often we think of murals as something contemporary and edgy, it’s important to highlight the notion that murals have been around for literally ages, with the earliest ones dating back to 30,000 years ago. 

You can find the modern murals ancestors in, Egyptian tombs from 3150 BC on the walls of Pompeii, and in numerous Minoan palaces. 

Winding the clock forward to more recent times, we see murals assuming an increased political meaning, in the 1930s when artists like Diego Riviera used this medium to express solidarity, freedom and hope during the Mexican Revolution. Street art and murals in particular were, and continue to be, the most accessible form of contemporary art,  often influenced by political and social issues. 

Murals can change landscapes and influence and inspire communities to do better and strengthen their identities. As powerful representations of society murals can often be political, sometimes controversial, and very often not to everyone’s taste. Examples of the political and social implications of this form of art can be found in murals created in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign, and the numerous murals in Northern Ireland depicting past and present political divisions, or the murals painted on the Berlin Wall displayed at the East Side Gallery, the world’s largest open air Gallery, and finally in the super popular artworks by Banksy, with its famous razor sharp portrayal of society. 

During the last decade, mural painting has flourished in Glasgow. So murals can be found almost everywhere in the city and cover a huge range of topics from saints’ lives, to flying taxis, pelicans and poems. 

In January 2021, Glasgow City Heritage Trust launched a social media series exploring these great works of art around our city. And this has proved a wonderful opportunity to see Glasgow’s magnificent historic built environment through a different lens and learn new things about the artists and the meanings behind them. 

Glasgow City Council played a big part in giving various artists the opportunity to enrich Glasgow’s urban landscape. Glasgow City Council’s Mural Fund is a scheme which offers support towards the cost involved in creating and delivering new inspiring murals in the city centre, helping to enhance the look of the area, adding to the experience of visitors while also contributing to local regeneration. Glasgow City Council is also behind the Mural Trail, a free resource that features the diverse range of art in the city centre. The trail is downloadable for free at City Centre Mural Trail, which is all lowercase .co .uk. On the same page, you can also find the map and audio map and information about the different murals. 

So our first guest today is John Foster, Project Officer for Glasgow City Council and project Lead for the City Centre Mural Trail initiative, as well as a number of other activities such as Dressing the city, the Glasgow Begging Strategy, the Wayfinding Strategy, and the District Regeneration Frameworks. Over the years John has been involved in some major capital programmes such as the East End Regeneration Route and the City Deal funded Avenues programme within the city centre. So welcome to the podcast John.

John Foster  

Thanks very much, Niall. Very happy to be here. 

Niall Murphy  

It’s a pleasure having you here, John. So first off, when did the City centre Mural Trail start and why? 

John Foster  

It got an interesting background. So previously, Glasgow City Council had an initiative called Clean Glasgow, which was all about environmental improvements in the public realm. And as part of that, murals had been introduced as a way of mitigating against instances of urban blight and graffiti and so on and so forth. Whenever the City Centre Regeneration Team, so that goes by, Clean Glasgow goes back to about 2008, whenever the City centre Regeneration Team, of which I was an officer, was an officer was set up in around 2012. Our group manager had come from Clean Glasgow and one of the the aspects of that work that, that she wanted to maintain going forward because she thought it had been effective was the continued use of of street art. 

So it was then those elements were then brought into the City Centre Regeneration team and the City Centre Mural Trail and the City Centre Mural Fund were formally launched. Back in 2014.

Niall Murphy  

Right, yes, the first ones I can really remember which really made a massive impact on me was the swimmers under the Kingston Bridge. Yeah, on either side, the Kingston Bridge, because I remember that being a real kind of site for graffiti, and then suddenly these kind of hugely impressive swimmers appeared. And I always wondered whether, on the other side, whether it’s quite on the south side of the river next to the huge court building with there’s quite an awkward junction, whether anyone ever got distracted by these amazing swimmers, you could see kind of, you know, slicing through the Kingston Bridge. It was a really impressive scene. 

John Foster  

Yeah, I mean, it’s that the swimmers actually predates my involvement with the City Centre Regeneration Team. So I’ve been joining CCR since September 2013. By which point in time the swimmers had already been installed. So that that’s one by Smug. I think  it dates back to sort of 20,  2012, 2011 maybe it’s one I think it’s one of his first ones for this.

Niall Murphy  

Right. I assumed it was in the run up to the Commonwealth Games.

John Foster  

That was part of it as well, there was a few that had been done. Obviously, there had been the murals installed by Guido van Helten. So they’ve got the three at Partick, just at Partick train station. Yeah, that is a hugely impressive, yeah, yeah. And then obviously, the one in the city centre is Badminton.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, the badminton player in in the height of the Merchant City. Another  hugely impressive one. Yeah, just the scale of them. It’s quite something. So How popular is the funding? How many applications do you get per year?

John Foster  

I probably refer to inquiries rather than applications. And the reason why I say that is because we try and keep the process as informal as possible. So the paperwork, if we get that far with an inquiry tends to come at the end of the development process. 

So what tends to happen is, say, will receive an email from from someone interested in doing a mural through the City Centre Mural Fund. And then we’ll just go through the process in terms of this is what’s involved, these are the boxes that we have to tick off. So the actual paperwork, the actual and inverted commas, application as a sort of formal process, takes place, right at the very end, whenever we’ve essentially agreed that, that a project can take place and that we’ve sort of jumped through all the hoops, and we’ve agreed a sort of price and what avenue, sort of the the actual application itself, comes at the end of that process. 

And during that process, many inquiries will sort of fall by the wayside for a number of reasons. So I would, I would imagine, because it’s kind of difficult to keep track of this, emails are fair enough, because you can, you know, you can go back through your records, and you can see exactly how many emails have been received from people making inquiries about, you know, getting involved and the murals in the city centre. But if it’s through phone calls, and what have you, it’s a wee bit more difficult to, to capture that sort of level of data. 

So I was thinking about this, I reckon maybe somewhere between 50 to 100 inquiries a year, right, from people interested in either creating murals by directly themselves or being involved in the creation of murals. And in fact, if you’re waiting the scope to just inquiries about the project itself, you’re probably talking hundreds of the year, right, 

Niall Murphy  

And how many of those actually can convey through into a finished mural?

John Foster  

We tend to have probably, at the most maybe two or three a year, for every for every mural project to be successfully complete. There is maybe about a dozen or so that we just couldn’t get across the finish line because ultimately, at the end of the day, the murals, the City Centre Mural Trail project relies on two key stakeholder groups that we have no control over, number one artists or, or creative people, people who come to us saying listen, I want to do a mural. So there’s that element. So we can’t control that. 

We can’t control how people are interested in murals or  you know, that level of engagement and then the second key stakeholder group is landlords, because obviously every mural needs a landlord to provide permissions for the use of the property.  

So basically, the entire project is controlled by a lot of people. Really we just provide project assistance and support and some annual funding just in order to, you know, to grease the wheels and allow activities where they can proceed to take place. So it’s very much that the entire project is really a work of, of phenomenal goodwill from other people. 

Niall Murphy  

Yes, absolutely. So are there any limits in terms of areas in Glasgow, artists, or anything like that?

In terms of, you know, who can apply? 

John Foster  

I mean, anybody can apply, any interested party can apply. And then obviously, there’ll be, determinations made, based on the relative merits of the proposals, I mean, that our project guidelines saw, the City Centre Mural Fund, which is the funding mechanism that enables murals where possible to take place, and then once a mural has been installed, then it becomes part of the City Centre Mural trail. But you’re looking at things like you know, in terms of guidelines, and we try and keep things as accessible as possible. 

But the actual, the artwork concept, the mural  content, so we try and keep things light. So as from our point of view, we don’t want anything that’s, that could potentially impact negatively either on the city or the council. So what the general rule we have is, you know, no religion or politics, no football, you know.  So that’s that in terms of geographical scope, there, the activity is limited to the operational City Centre area, because the funding is done through our team, it’s our project, and all our activities are limited to that area. So we can’t go beyond that boundary. 

So a quick guide, the sort of nominal operational area of Glasgow is defined by these boundaries, so High Street to the east, river Clyde to the south, and then the M8 motorway to the west and the north, there’s a wee bit of  bleed round those areas, but that, but that’s it, and then again, depending on on the the nature of the application, you’re then looking at other criteria. 

So for instance, if it’s an artist who has made an application are there any, you know, other any, other operational factors, you know, is this  mural going to be, going to require the use of plant. So like a scissor lift or a cheery picker, if so, does the artists have the requisite and qualifications, you know, what the permits, and what have you, are they insured, do they have access to to this site, because there’s not only do you need permission from the landlord, but you also might need access from an adjacent landowner to get close enough to the wall to actually apply the paint. 

So and then obviously, those, those elements just like the budget itself, so there’s no a huge budget for the, for the city centre, mural activity. So whenever the budget is spent, you know, in any given financial year, then that’s the end of the activity. That hasn’t happened to date. To be fair, we’ve never, you know, exhausted the budget, which is relatively small. Simply, because as I said, that are these challenges to getting a mural installed in the first place. 

Niall Murphy  

It’s interesting because two of my favourite ones are actually out in the East End, which is the, the giraffe, which is kind of out beyond Parkhead Cross, which I think is very good fun. 

And there is another one by this, these two women artists I really admire, called Good Wives and Warrios, which is on, it’s another one in Parkhead. And it has all these fantastic symbols of the city in it. Right. And I think that was done for the Commonwealth Games as well. But it’s probably one of the lesser known ones, but it’s so intricate, I can’t not help admire it. So is the City Centre Mural Trail, Is it popular? 

John Foster  

Well, again, this this is I suppose this is part of the difficulty, it just in terms of getting accurate data of site visits, because how can you, how can you measure effectively how many people will stand next to a building or look at a mural, that is on it. It is very, very difficult to capture that level of data? I mean, you’re you’re basically relying on anecdotal data, you know, or through other means. So.. Instagrammable something is.. 

Yeah, so for instance, obviously through the web app that you  very kindly plugged in, promoted earlier on. We do have access to anonymised data. So obviously, anybody who accesses the web app those, those data sets through that, you know, how many visits, what’s the sort of the average sort of visit time the duration of visit on the web app and what have you. And of course, because the web app also has a sort of GPS element to track your progress around, around the murals, we can also collect sort of various matrices, you know, what, how many metres travelled and what have you. 

So before, knowing that I was, I was going to be involved in this activity this morning, I have asked my colleagues to have a wee look at the web app just to see what sort of data so that there’s two site key sort of data sets I suppose I would, I would point to so since lockdown there is been apparently, there is been approximately three and a half thousands users, right, have accessed or used the the web app. And the total number of meters that those you know, whoever it is, that’s been out on site, sort of looking at the murals, it’s just under 2 million metres. Wow. So so just under two, two kilometres, is that right? So 2000  kilometres, yeah, have been travelled within the city centre. So. So it’s something obviously we do promote the Mural Trail. 

Certainly, you know, last Summer, we were promoting it as a possible lockdown activity, and given the changing sort of distancing restrictions. And then, you know, that was a sort of a primary factor behind the development and introduction of the audio map. So again, is to provide a virtual guided walking tour of, so you can go round the site, you can have that on and you can listen to my dulcet tones, as if I was there of thing saying, you know, so if I was there doing a guided walk into, this is effectively what you would hear. 

So not only does it provide that additional layer of for the activity itself, but it also means that people who just were unable to travel to the city centre could also, you know, partake in a  virtual guided walking tour, and again, anyone with either mobility or sensory impairments can still get at least get a flavour of the murals through through access. And in using the audio markers. We also we’ve tried to make it as user friendly as possible. And we’ll continue to look at ways and how we can improve the the offer of the murals overall within the city centre. 

Niall Murphy  

Sure. And do you think the murals enhance the city? 

John Foster

Yeah, I mean, again, going back to what we’ve seen about Clean Glasgow, that there were very definite operational reasons as to why the street art was introduced to the city by the Council. 

So you know, you’re looking at things like vacant and derelict sites, you’re looking at mediating or mitigate against urban blight, graffiti, fly posting, that kind of thing is well, so I suppose the thing you have to bear in mind is that for us, obviously, the council is not a cultural organisation. And by that, I mean, we’re not like Creative Scotland or we’re not even Glasgow Life, you know, so what, so, we can introduce activities based on what we perceive as real operational issues or challenges within the City Centre. But then from there, they might take flight and become a good thing indefinitely. 

So for instance, if.. I made a quick list here about some of the wider benefits, or outputs, that  we think that the murals achieved within the City Centre, so for instance, the murals can be a catalyst for wider strategic environmental enhancements. So they help to underpin efforts to encourage the positive use of space, and they Inspire the active participation of local stakeholders to help change how a place is perceived. And secondly, they can encourage a visit or footfall to areas out with the principal retail areas. So what we can then achieve is we can increase customer catchment areas with those kinds of income benefits for local businesses and the communities that they serve. Again, obviously, at the end of the day, we are essentially creating freely accessible art installations, which can become local landmarks,  cultural touchstones, they tend to draw upon local historical references, and they embed themselves in a traditional area identity. So again, it’s that sort of community benefit that can.

Niall Murphy  

Definitely it’s kind of like, you know, this, it’s successful in some ways, because there are sites in Glasgow which would otherwise be regarded as kind of unsightly, and that, that has, you know, what you’ve done in terms of an environmental improvement has, you know, allowed people to kind of feel better about that? 

John Foster  

Yeah, again, it’s a lot of what the council, the council only exists to support the city, the council exists for no other reason than that, to support the city. And then you say, Well, what does that mean? 

And it’s this, you know, it’s making sure it’s making the place looks as presentable as possible. It’s using the resources at your disposal as effectively as we possibly can. But again, a lot of it is trying to foster a sense of civic pride, you know, this is your city, you live here, you work here, you visit here, there’s only so much the council can do to present the city in the best way possible. But from that, many great things can then flow. Again, just very quickly, some of the other things I’ve managed to sort of note down here here. 

So again, the active travel element, if we can encourage people to go out and actually see the murals. Again, you know, the 2000 kilometres sort of travelled again, active travel supports the City Centre’s healthy living strategy. 

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, I very much during during lockdown, it was ironic and where I am on the South Side and Pollokshields ended up because I was doing a lot of walking around here, but I ended up going into the city centre to do my walks, because actually it was much quieter in the city centre, and  again, see just as much kind of interest there, including the murals as you were in the Southside, where it’s actually started getting really congested, because so many people are going out and getting their, you know, daily daily walk. 

John Foster  

Yeah, I mean, that this is, again, I suppose that that’s what sort of things can then flow. It’s like, it’s the classic sort of analogy, you know, you drop a pebble in a lake, and then the ripples come out. Yeah, and the same sort of idea, there is various kind of some are benefits. Some of maybe, you know, maybe, maybe not so, but then you try and steer these after effects in the best way possible. 

So, again, hopefully not bore anybody, but again, some other sort of benefits that we consider, another obvious one is, is giving aspiring artists, you know, an opportunity to instal what care very much effectively on the grandest scale, when in some of the most high profile locations in the country, especially individuals who may have a background in graffiti. So this is an opportunity for them to legitimise you know, the evident talents, working with the  local communities, and that sort of thing helps to promote partnership working and community engagement. It’s, you know, if this is, the the first time you’ve really engaged with the council, then it may change your perception of what you believe the council is, and what the council does as well…So very much we got a positive outcome like that.

Niall Murphy  

Have you, I mean, to look at the flip side of it, as a counsellor had been criticised for any of the murals, that you decided to fund?

John Foster  

Well, that’s interesting, because overall, the, you know, the reaction to the City Centre Mural Trail has been overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly positive, not just, you know, within the city, but but further afield. We’ve received, you know, positive responses, both nationally and internationally as well, you know, again, some, some of the inquiries that we’ve received have been from, you know, America, you know, New Zealand, Australia, that kind of thing. 

I actually had a meeting a few years ago, with someone who was looking to establish a similar activity in Sand Diego, I think, right. And it just so happened that this, I think, was an art professor. She had, she was in the area. And she asked, you know, whether or not I could have a quick meeting with her just to, you know, again, explain the background, and you know, how it tends to work for those and what have you. 

So, and that’s a conversation that I’ve had with loads of different organisations across the UK and further afield, because people see what’s happened and happening in Glasgow, and you think, I think that something like that, not necessarily the exact same shape, but something like that may work really well in our own locality. And we are happy, you tell people, you know, this is what we do. This is how, you know, this is the background. So we think it works. 

But yes, that there are people who just don’t like murals, you know, and that’s just the way of it. So, but what we’re trying, we would not put a mural, we would not install a mural,  we wouldn’t progress a mural if there was any sort of significant pushback. 

So and part of the process, you know, is engaging with stakeholders and engaging with local communities, just to make sure that we have the necessary permissions before we can progress. That’s a pivotal test. So we wouldn’t progress a mural, if there was any sort of notable or significant sort of push back to it. And that’s happened, that’s happened in the past, we maybe got the landlord’s permissions. But those maybe been people roundabout adjacent stakeholders who felt no we don’t want to hear so we just we haven’t done it. 

Niall Murphy  

Right. That’s it’s, it’s interesting. I mean, particularly when you’re talking about San Diego, there was a really interesting article in The New York Times yesterday about how the impact of COVID on city centres in the United States, and liveability in city centres is something that they are really aiming for. And it’s there were many parallels with Glasgow City Centre that I could see in that article. And it was quite fascinating because it was like looking at places like Boston, which is something like 80% was offices. And there was next to no people actually living in the city centre, and San Diego was the exact opposite was far more people living in it. But that’s a real challenge, obviously, for the city as well as to how we re populate the city centre and murals do actually really assist with liveability? 

John Foster  

Yeah, it’s, again, if you look at the City Centre Strategy, which is around the team sort of guidance document, a lot of what we do comes from, well, everything that we do is evidence based, so the District Regeneration frameworks, the city Centre Living Strategy, you know, the Retail Strategy, you know, with, people may see we’ve actually got far too many strategies that were strategy heavy. And that’s, you know, a relatively reasonable assumption, I suppose. 

But we look at the same way that people make come to Glasgow and look at the murals and think, Well, that’s a good idea, we could do something similar. Back down the road, we’re always looking at examples, you know, the different  strategy. And what happens is, also, we’re looking at the best examples around the world, to see whether or not we can, you know, improve the city, you know, for us, for our team, it’s restricted to the city centre, but again, that the entire purpose of the Council is to support the city to make sure the city is the best that can be at any given moment in time. 

So and that’s, so all these things that you mentioned, there, these are all these are all being discussed, they are all being progressed, and in a way that fits Glasgow, because although somebody may have a good idea they might have, they may have introduced that in a particular way, because that works in that area. So we can take the essence of that idea and try and bring it into Glasgow, but we’ll maybe have to tailor it in specific ways. Certainly, because of sort of local factors, wherever they may be. 

Niall Murphy  

Sure, sure. So who owns the mural? Is it the artists property, the building owners property, the council’s? citizens?

John Foster  

 Yeah, it’s an interesting question, a sort of conundrum. And it’s come up a few times, you know, something because people ask questions,  you know, that sort of thing. It’s sort of, it’s one of the ones when somebody takes, you know, can, ask for permissions to go into a photograph of a mural that that kind of thing as well. 

So my understanding and again, just just for anybody who’s listening, who is a lawyer, I am not a lawyer, so I’ve been reluctant to go to deep and end up digging a hole for myself, but my understanding is that the legal possession of ownership and intellectual property rights surrounding murals are as follows. So, number one, the landlord ie the building owner, they own the physical mural, the paint has been applied to their property, therefore, the person who owns the property, owns the physical mural itself. Number two, the artist retains intellectual property rights in their creation. So they have a right to basically, commercially profit from the use of images. So if you see anybody with an image of a mural, or like a mug, or a t shirt, or what have you, really the only person that can do that is the artist or through his or her licence to someone to then create products based on that intellectual property. 

And then third, Glasgow City Council has a licence to use images of City Centre Mural Trail because we have local agreements with the, with the artists. So when as part of the formal sort of end process in terms of you know, the application, the formal application process, we will enter into a sort of a commissioning agreement with the artist based on that particular mural. And part of that as you know, GCC wants a licence to use images, again, it’s within agreed parameters. So we would only use images of the murals that have been created through the project to either promote the project itself, the City Centre Mural trail and, or the City of Glasgow. So we would, we would never use an image of any of the murals for any other purpose. And then finally, you’ve got you know, the legal possession regarding private individuals taking photographs, etc. 

Again, my understanding is that they own the copyright and that image, but the  are then restricted and how they can use that image to again, they couldn’t take a photograph necessarily of a mural and then make, you know, cups and T shirts. Yeah, that is an artist’ intellectual property rights. So that’s my understanding. But listen, people could, you know, I’d be happy to hear from anybody who knows these things better than me, you know, so…

Niall Murphy  

Thank you, John. So, a lot of the great murals which were created thanks to the City Centre Mural Fund a created by Art Pistol, an artists led group and pop up gallery who create, curate, and collaborate in public and private spaces with Scotland’s top visual artists. 

Art Pistol created some of the most iconic murals in Glasgow such as the Charles Rennie Mackintosh mural by artist Rogue One. The good as gold mural, the Shadow Hand Puppets mural in Cowcaddens, and the Billy Connolly murals, just to name a few. 

I’m very happy to introduce you to our second guest, Ali Smith, co founder of Art Pistol, gallery, Director of Art Pistol projects, and creator of “The Portrayals: Painting Scotland’s Climate Story”, a nationwide visual storytelling project exploring climate issues, through art created in areas on the frontline, this project aims to strengthen the connections between people and the environment, and to inspire positive change in alignment with the UN climate change summit, COP 26, which is happening in Glasgow in November 2021. 

So welcome to the podcast, Ali, it’s a pleasure to have you. So first off, can you tell us how did Art Pistol start?

Ali Smith  

Many, many years ago, almost, I guess it sort of became a dream, you know, actually the  Art School did a project on establishing an online space for artists. So that was over 20 years ago. And yeah, through various things in between then and now. 

We set up Art Pistol in 2011. And we actually came out of Glasgow School of Art and seem to hit a wall all those years ago, you know, and we sort of adapted and fell into, into, into other things almost too easily. And, you know, started to drift from what was maybe we saw as a purpose, certainly as a passion. And kind of think, why, you know, why should ? Why should? Why should every artist that’s perhaps lesser known, or, you know, just coming towards the end of their studies, why should they take further, they have spent all this time, you know, showing a talent, so, we started doing pop up galleries, and cool and interesting locations in 2011  with a focus on working with unknown artists and guys who deserve to make a living from it, and also helping recent Art School graduates, you know, people that deserve the opportunities and try make a go of it. And yeah, and sort of evolved into various things. Ever since then.

Niall Murphy  

So how did you get involved with Glasgow City Council and the Mural Fund?

Ali Smith  

I still remember the conversation of that meeting fondly. In  2011 I think Glasgow Clean initiative was going gone very well. And we just wanted to get involved in some way. And try bring a new perspective with the different artists we’re working with. 

Yeah, just just really do the best and, and representing the guys we’re working with collaborating with, and we would speak to everybody we could. We still try to do that. So the conversation developed over time, and we’ve got a great opportunity. The fresh mural we did with the council to transform a bit of an eyesore building on Clyde Street facing the river. We were hooked up with Rogue One in 2012.

 And he did his magic and an amazing scenic Look at the Clyde and I guess, I don’t know if you if you recall it, but yeah, elephant, elephants, divers. And, you know, thankfully not not shop, shopping trolleys. And we went and there was, you know, there was there was a focus in the early days, certainly of tackling the eyesores. Regeneration was sort of top of the list. And it’s now evolved into this, you know, beautiful and amazing thing that people love and come to see.

Niall Murphy  

Sure. So what are the main challenges in developing any of your murals in Glasgow?

Ali Smith  

Well, I think John’s probably outlined a lot of the complexities and just to show that you know, there’s there’s so many elements to project, artists, concept, landlords, tenants, permits, all sorts of stuff. So it’s never is never straightforward. 

But I think, you know, everything just needs to be balanced and everyone should be happy. And you know, we try to work towards that. I think the biggest challenge is probably, that put an artist by themselves, you know, to produce something that shines or exemplifies their practice and connects or, you know, or entertains or engages in some way. All other technical and logistical stuff can always be overcome normally, mostly. Yeah. So yeah, it’s the creative, what’s going to be the piece in the wall that shines that people want to stop and look at and talk about and engage with? I think that’s the, the heart of it.

Niall Murphy  

So presumably, it must involve a great deal of kind of patience and tenacity on your part to, you know, create something and see it through to the finish from the initial ideas.

Ali Smith  

I think, I think it can, people always ask how does a project work? And there is no kind of straightforward answer to that. Because number of variables, every project can be very different. But yeah, it’s just, I guess, having faith and we are going with it, and faith in the people you’re working with. And ultimately, everyone just wants to create something that looks beautiful, or engages in some way. And that’s sort of everyone’s in it together. And normally, normally we get there. But you know, John’s highlighted the complexities of it. And, you know, sadly, a lot of things do you fall short, but, you know, well, we’ll keep on trying, and we stopped coming out all the time. So it’s good.

Niall Murphy  

So can you tell us a bit more about your, your project for COP 26. Climate Change Mural Project? And do you think that public art can be a catalyst for change?

Ali Smith  

The Portrayals it’s been a project several, a long time and coming Obviously, last year, the pandemic altered the course of many things, one of which was the schedule of painting, to align it with with the conference, which was during November last year, in November, this year that is coming. 

So basically, we were going out to across Scotland’s, Highlands and Islands in between, and we’re looking for the sort of intimate stories around how climate will be affecting these different locations.

So you look at Uist and the surrounding islands so sea level rises, this is going to have an impact there. And you imagine a painting in that beautiful setting, but you need to be sensitive to the locals, to be sensitive to the, you know, the, the landscape as to where you’re going to do it. And what you’re going to do. 

So there’s, you know, there’s a level of engagement that we’re having in every location, and with all the stakeholders as well, because we’ve gone out and have basically sought private sponsorship from, from various companies that are equally kind of green minded. So, you know, again, it makes a project work. And that’s another example of it’s a slightly different path for us. But again, we’re all in it, trying to create something that’s going to strike a chord with whoever gets to see it, and be that in person or online, you know, in the papers, wherever it may be. 

So, yeah, so we’re working towards that this year with plan to start. End of August, start September and take us up to the conference in November, and we’re just finalising a lot of stuff. Just now, but it’s going well and great. Certainly a lot of, a lot of desire to see the project fulfilled and recognising that.

Niall Murphy  

There is not a a risk that something like that can only just be a distraction, you know, from what the real issue is?

Ali Smith

You know, street art is often used as, you know, social commentary political protest, you know, rebellion as kind of surrendered so I think it’s the perfect tool you know, medium to discuss this you know, we can look at Scotland’s national visual efforts, national visual, storytelling project. 

So, we’re getting stories from all different walks of life and, you know, some really interesting things coming out. So it’s, you know, it’s, it’s really connected to all the locations it’s happening. So there’s there’s real integrity about the project. 

And, you know, art can elicit powerful emotions and reactions and on a basic, you know, on a basic level, people will look at it and think about it, maybe take a photo share on social media, you know, it’s all very casual, but that content starts to evolve and perhaps pals engage. The media picks it up and so on. So one person’s photo can make quite an impact. 

And then you add in the stories that we are portraying here and hope the whole point of this and there’s another layer of wonder and scrutiny. You have this, this powerful tool and, you know, I think it’s Yeah. Certainly, there’s that there’s one and there’s a desire from everyone we speak to about this to do it. And it’s just presenting the climate narrative in a different way. And I think it’s going to be a very, very striking thing.

Niall Murphy  

No, it’s absolutely fascinating. I’m really looking forward to seeing what emerges from that. So with regards to kind of the work you’ve done today around Glasgow, do you have a particular favourite piece that Art Pistol have created for Glasgow City Council?

Ali Smith  

There is lot of amazing stuff, you know, not to to single anything particular but favourites of all was Rogue One’s Hand Shadow Puppets at Cowcaddens, always loved that. 

There was a great, a great kind of visual we’ve got of about a week before we were due to start that there was a burst water pipe, and the whole tunnel was submerged in water, which is which is pretty bad, right? And then yeah, a bit later so talk about before and after photos. That was quite quite the example. 

But the girl at Renfield Lane, the more recent one, another Rogue One’s piece, a girl playing with bubbles. It’s a beautiful piece. The Good as gold in Springfield Court by Conzo and Globel. Yeah, I love I love all the fun pieces. I love the entertainment industry, art and theatre of it, yes. 

But you could, you could give me an emotive portrait, and I get as much level similar level of joy from that as I would. So I think that it’s down to balance different, different styles, different artists getting out and doing their thing, and, you know, all kind of pieces together as Glasgow, Glasgow’s response, you know, Glasgow’s gallery, the mural trail and all that.

Niall Murphy  

Sure. So looking at other cities across Europe that have a high number of murals, do you think that Glasgow can aspire to be as a city as kind of renowned for its street artists, like  Berlin, Athens, or Belfast?

Ali Smith  

You know, I wouldn’t say I would aspire for us to be like somewhere else. For me, what’s what does Glasgow do best?

Niall Murphy  

To be itself.

Ali Smith  

Yeah to be more of that, you know, that, I think that if you consider what, what’s the story behind the murals and all the different cities, obviously, Belfast as a different type of mural traditionally, and so that different kind of starting point, but I think ultimately, there’s, there’s a balance between all the, you know, the big name artists that travel the world and paint in the big cities, and then what’s coming out of that particular city itself, you know, the big names coming in, and the big names that are based here, as well as some some world renowned artists that are based in Glasgow, of course, you know, they offer a glimpse of a concept, what success looks like, whatever that means to an individual, of course, but, you know, whether it’s the the sheer scale skill set to produce the quality of art that they do, or it’s the work ethic to take on a massive role, or whatever it is, I think it just that that sort of insight it can give to, to those who aren’t yet on that level, or maybe who aspire to that level. 

And ultimately, just like this, the city breathe and evolve naturally, it is quite an exciting prospect and Glasgow’s identity, whatever that is, or could be, that’s, that’s what it is for me.

Niall Murphy  

So do you have a dream mural project in Glasgow or a dream building that you would like to paint a mural on?

Niall Murphy  

Not really, I mean, The Portrayals is like actually comes quite close to being a dream project. 

Scotland as a standard country, and what story we’re getting to tell and the time we are getting to tell it as well. And, you know, for us to go and see a bit more of that and spread the message is quite a wonderful thing. But a building in Glasgow, probably don’t even have a dream building to be honest, I’m probably leaning towards the unexpected these days. So somewhere almost hidden in plain view. It’s quite interesting that you could walk past every day. 

Niall Murphy  

That’s definitely one of the things I like about Glasgow.

Ali Smith  

Yeah, you just you know, you turn a corner and while you know something is there that wasn’t there yesterday, or you stumble across it or, or perhaps you go hunting, to explore the city and see these, see these new things, or these things that have been there for a while. You just have never had the time to see. But yeah, co-operations with multiple artists are very interesting like the project we done..the Clutha, the Clutha portraits and so we had canvases that would that would suit that. I quite like it. But you know.

Niall Murphy  

It’s one of the things I miss, miss on my commute is not getting to not walk past that everyday.

Ali Smith  

Yeah, I am always looking and again, as John probably highlighted earlier on it’s it’s, it does get harder, but I think it’s, steering some of the searches for walls off the beaten track, which in turn is actually having quite a positive effect. So yeah, just interesting to see where it takes us. You know, what’s, what’s around the next corner, a wall or a mural?

Niall Murphy  

Sure. Absolutely. Yep. Okay, I’m going to bring John back in at this point, because I have a final question for both of you. And this is a question we ask all our guests, so it’s completely loaded. And that is, what is your favourite building in Glasgow? And what would it tell you if its walls could talk? Who wants to go first?

John Foster  

Oh, I mean, I’m happy to flounder on  this one first.

Niall Murphy  

You dive in there, John.

John Foster  

I suppose I mean, I could say something really sort of corporate and say the City Chambers or something like that. I mean, the City Chambers is a cracking building in its own right anyway. 

And I like the history about you know, the old Co-op Hypermarket that was a second design that was a design that that didn’t win, but they built it anyway you know, when it became the the old Co-op Hypermarket just you know, just to the south, west of the immediate sort of city centre next to the Kingston  Bridge and what have you, building for me…

I suppose I would go with buildings that I have a sort of connection with so, one side of my family’s from sort of the Govan area and the other side is from, from sort of the Parkhead area, and when I was younger, I had spells when I lived with sort of both sets of grandparents, just the way things worked out. So I remember going to the Transport Museum when it was it sort of Kelvinhall on a sort of, almost sort of daily or weekly basis. I love that place. So the sort of the Kelvinhall ,the old Transport Museum, the Riverside, I think it’s a cracking building as well. 

So it would be I’ve got to be honest, if I was being honest, it would probably be a pub. So your favourite place that you frequent more, most often it’s probably going to be a pub. But I sort of the building that  I have a sort of connection to from way back in the day because you know, you can’t beat a sort of a whiff of nostalgia and going back to a place that you are you know, that you’ve been going to for for years, and years, and years, and years I mean, I love the Subway Stations as we all have the smell with it, you know that I think that it’s a feeling but also tactile you know, you know exactly where you are, you know, so things like that, that’s what I love about places you know, the sort of the connections you make with a place and the sort of that that sort of nostalgic sort of sense of place that kind of lives with you. 

Even if you’re not there, I mean right now just imagining the  subway station I can just you know that smell sort of the the sort of, the the sort of gusty winds that come through in, the noise of the train is approaching stuff like that. So is that that’s that’s what I would, I would go for something probably doesn’t affect the nature of the question you were asking really but that to me is this sort of this this sense of place that came, that thing?

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. I mean that, a city is an immersive experiences, it’s all those things that the sights the smells, the sound of it, that’s all makes up that place? 

John Foster  

And you get to you get to exist within all of it. Yes. So I probably I go for something, something like that.

Niall Murphy  

And you Ali? 

Niall Murphy  

I love a castle. And in Glasgow, well, the city centre. Obviously. There’s some, some beautiful buildings, and yet the stories that connect with those, those spaces, even just these new photos of looking down tenements in the back courts 100 years ago, whatever it’s gonna be like, it’s beautiful, but I can’t I knew this question was coming. 

And I thought about it. I don’t, I don’t have one. I can’t actually and this seems like a real cop out, but just the general flavour of Glasgow to go out and experience. You walk around, and everyone says you walk around Glasgow and look up and you see and it’s you know, I think it’s probably maybe in my kind of nature, that that sort of adventurous and like to go out and explore so it’s always looking for new stuff and not really ever settling on? On what’s there but I don’t know maybe there’s some kind of psychological disconnect. I don’t know. 

But yeah, it’s Glasgow in general has some amazing stories, but some of these buildings as well that are connected with certain periods in our history there’s, there’s bad stories to tell us a lot of bad stuff so maybe it’s a protective mechanism to to not think about some places that you maybe hold dear and what that shows that the truth, you know what the walls actually said back then because it’s there’s going to be a lot of not very nice stuff and certainly sure as we as we evolve but so I’ve rambled and seemingly unconsidered answer but yeah, that’s it.

Niall Murphy  

It is true you have to accept the rough with the smooth and that’s kind of what I like about Glasgow is it’s it’s quite prepared to do that, you know, we’re not precious. So which is something I value, so and you have to be honest.

John Foster  

So sorry Niall, Can I just jump in with another one? 

Niall Murphy  

Sure, go on John!

John Foster  

It just sprung to mind, the Barrowlands. You know, been going there for years for. You know, gigs, music, concerts, that kind of thing as well. And I’ve always appreciated the balance because it still retains that it’s like a place lost in time that there’s plenty of places like that. I mean, you know, Sloans and what have you as well, you know, there’s still that architecture, you still get that sense of, of space as sort of a quick anecdote, a very quick anecdote. 

My youngest brother got married a few years ago and his wife is from the Czech Republic. So a couple of years ago, we went to a gig at the Barrowlands, and she had never been before. And she felt the place had a sort of an oppressive sort of scariness to it, there was something about the Barrwolands that, that she didn’t immediately take to like. 

That’s pretty strange, she said  I don’t like this place, you know. So afterwards, I say, What was that about? So, you know, Barrowlands is a world famous venue, you know, it’s always rocking? 

And she says, no, no, I just, you know, there’s something about the place I don’t like, but then whenever you think back Bible John, and stuff like that and you go, maybe that is something that she was picking up on? I don’t know. 

Niall Murphy  

It is funny, sometimes sometimes you get that, I lived in Berlin for a while. And I don’t know, maybe it was because the winters were very dark there. And the same way suppose that its dark here too, but it was just something about it. And you could still see bullet holes on the walls and things. And there was, there was a huge Siemens factory out in the East End of Berlin. And the lighting on that made me think of concentration camps. And I just felt really, really uncomfortable. Because it was all cobbled surfaces, the light shining back off, and it was like, big, you know, search lights down on you, as you’re across in the space to go and see there were some various art galleries in there. I just felt really, really uncomfortable there. I couldn’t put my, you know, my finger on what it was. But I think it was something to do with that. I was just I could not shake that history and knowing about it.

John Foster  

I think that’s really interesting because obviously I say at the end of the day as much as its buildings, its people you know, a city is its people because otherwise none of us would exist it would all be superfluous, you know, the buildings, the bridges, the roads, what have you. 

So you know, as much as there’s the famous saying, you know, about you know, Glasgow built the Clyde and the Clyde built Glasgow, I think you could also extrapolate from that and say you know, people made Glasgow and Glasgow made its people, there’s an essence to a building somehow incorporates its entire history about the people that have been the other things that have happened that gets into somehow it gets ingrained into the stonework, the fabric and you can pick up on it.

Niall Murphy  

As Winston Churchill said, you know, you shape your buildings  and the  buildings shape you which is actually talking about the debating chamber in the House of Commons there should restore it.

John Foster  

Nature in nutshell, invite, you know, what, what, what, what influences you, so yeah…

Niall Murphy  

Pretty much. Okay. Thank you very much to both of you, Ali and John. That’s been a really, really interesting and informative discussion. And if all of our listeners enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don’t forget to follow the hashtag #IfGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. Thank you very much.

John Foster  

Thank you very much, Niall.

Niall Murphy  

It’s a pleasure both of you.

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

Episode 6: Accessibility and inclusivity in heritage spaces, with accessibility consultant Emily Rose Yates

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy  

Hello I’m Niall Murphy and welcome to “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. 

In this episode we’ll be talking about accessibility and inclusivity in relationship to Glasgow’s historic built environment and heritage sector. 

Barriers are at the root of disabled people’s exclusion and inequality, and are an obstacle to their enjoyment and appreciation of heritage, culture and art. So we’re lucky to live in a city famous for its stunning architectural legacy of historic buildings, and majestic cityscape created in a time of great wealth mainly during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, when Glasgow and its golden age regarded itself as the second city of the Empire. Unfortunately, a lot of these heritage spaces are inaccessible to many people living, working and visiting Glasgow. 

According to the Scottish Census of 2011, Glasgow has the highest level of disabled residents compared to other Scottish cities. Looking at the most recent data from Visit Scotland 2021 survey, in Scotland, one in five people is disabled, only 8% of Scottish people with disabilities are wheelchair users, and 70% have disabilities which are invisible. 

Access needs are as unique and individual as the person who is requiring them. 

And the majority of cases when a space defines itself as fully accessible, it means next to nothing to a person with disabilities. Before going to a new place, 98% of disabled users check accessibility in advance and admit they are most likely to visit a venue if sufficient accessibility information is available, a shocking 75% of people with disabilities feel anxious before visiting a new place, particularly about how to access facilities and hygiene processes and procedures. So we’re also conscious that as we age, this is a growing section of the population. And you have to look at the spending power of disabled households which in 2017, was valued at 249 billion pounds per year. And that is what is known as the Purple Pound.

 So what can we do to create spaces that are accessible and inclusive of people with disabilities? And what makes a space truly, fully accessible? And what are the steps to achieve this status.

As Glasgow City Heritage Trust is very conscious of this issue which impacts on how so many Glaswegians can access our heritage, today we have a great guest to discuss this topic and many more: accessibility consultant Emily Rose Yates.

To give an idea of Emily’s background. Emily is a wheelchair user living in Glasgow with eight years experience as an accessibility consultant. Emily first started to volunteer at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. And there was a great quote about Emily from Lord  Sebastian Coe, who was the chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games who said about Emily that “In my closing speech at the Paralympic Games in London, I talked about Emily, the games, she said, had lifted the cloud of limitation for people with disability”. So in the back of her experience in London, Emily was invited to Rio de Janeiro by the British Consulate to speak on the importance of access and inclusion of the 2016 Olympic Games. And whilst there she was offered the role as accessibility consultant for Metro Rio, the rapid transit system serving Rio de Janeiro ahead of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. So Metro Rio, which first opened in 1979, and you can compare that to Glasgow’s Subway, which opened in 1896. It’s the third oldest in the world. Metro Rio currently has a 58 kilometre network serving 41 stations. So Emily advised on modernisations of existing stations, conducted risk assessments train staff and worked with architects to create plans for an accessible rapid transit line to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Park. 

So Emily is currently working with CCD, or a user centred design agency, and most recently with Heathrow Airport to update their access and inclusion standards, including requirements for disabled staff members for the first time. Emily has also worked with Council of Europe international travel networks, and sits on equality of boards advising Premier League football clubs on their access and inclusion agendas. In addition, Emily has also authorised The Lonely Planet guide to accessible Rio de Janeiro and is currently studying for a PhD in Women’s Studies at the University of York. So welcome to the podcast. Emily.

Emily Yates  

Thank you so much, and thank you for such a lovely introduction.

Niall Murphy  

It’s an absolute pleasure to have you here. I think,  I think your experiences, particularly at Rio De Janeiro are absolutely fascinating. Amazing place to have lived in!

Emily Yates  

It was it really was, I mean, just the, the vibrancy and the life of the city, it is something that I will never ever forget.

Niall Murphy  

Yes, absolutely. Two cities to have lived in that rollout to the Olympic Games must be quite something. Absolutely. 

Okay, well, turning back to Glasgow. generally do you think Glasgow is an accessible city for people with visible and invisible disabilities? And you know, considering its main attractions, such as museums, music, venues, pubs, restaurants, and Glasgow’s public realm as well. What do you think about us?

Emily Yates  

So I’ve got a bit of a story regarding this I, the first time I actually ever came to Glasgow, I spent two weeks here before the 2014 Commonwealth Games. So I was, I was basically asked to write a bit of an accessible Travel Guide of Glasgow, went in for the first time, and spent two weeks in the city, staying in a different hotel every night, eating at different establishments, going into different venues. And I really did feel that within that two weeks, I’d got to know Glasgow quite well. And that’s what really helped me in my decision a couple of years later, to move to the city. 

And when it comes to access and inclusion, I really like to separate it into two different areas if you like. So I think it’s really important to of course, look at physical access within the built environment. But I think it’s also vital to look at something that I call social access. So the mentality and the perception that surrounds disability and how that user experience feels. That’s just as important as ramps and automatic doors and lowered counters and physical access in that sense. 

So I think Glasgow really, really stands out in terms of social access, the people are friendly, they’re open. They’re very open to education, a lot of the time learning new things. And I think that was one thing that really, I guess encouraged me to move to the city and celebrate it for what it is now. And if you look at physical access, I think in general, a lot of the museums and culture and heritage institutions are doing a really good job in terms of accessibility. 

I think there’s more to be done in terms of nightlife music venues. A lot of the clubs and pubs especially independent ones are like underground, downstairs, things like that. So I have to say that even after living in Glasgow for five years, I have not experienced much of the Glaswegian nightlife. But I have experienced a lot of the arts and culture that the city has to offer.

Niall Murphy  

So I mean, what about things like the underground, now, obviously, I’m very conscious of that. 

And also, the railway network too. I was, quite a while ago, involved in trying to save Maxwell Park Station on the Southside, which is a beautiful little B listed kind of wooden two storey station, which is a big flight of steps to get you down to the Cathcart Circle which was putting a cutting all the way through the Southside. So there, there are serious level issues there. And we just couldn’t convince Network Rail at the time to invest in a lift in the station. That was how, again, within the limited confines of that station, did you get a lift in? And, and I think Cathcart Circle, I think it has two lifts on it. So you know, you’re thinking that’s, it’s really not fair on people that you know, you can say something’s accessible actually, there’s only two of the however many stations you can actually use. 

Yeah, you have to get a taxi from and so the things like that, that are difficult. And again, with the underground, I mean, you can appreciate because 1896 nobody was thinking like that. So you can appreciate that those, there are those issues then but then when you when you have an opportunity to modernise, it’s the thing is, you’re not just serving a minority audience, you’re actually improving accessibility for everybody. Okay, so and that’s, that’s the key thing to get out of it.

Emily Yates  

Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. We quite often say that: there’s no such thing as disabled and non disabled people, there’s disabled people and not yet disabled people. And I think when we start thinking with that mentality, you do realise that you are modernising something that will serve everybody, as you say. So that’s a really good point. And yeah, it’s a shame because the subway in Glasgow is so iconic, right? But I’ve never used it. I’ve never been done. I’ve never seen it. And so yeah, I think I think you make a really good point there of how can we make something that is so celebrated and so iconic, in so many ways, be accessible for more people so that they can celebrate it too?

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, definitely very much another good example as well on this, not to dwell too much on it. 

But in wearing one of my other hats as the chair of Govanhill Baths Building Preservation Trust, and so we had, we had an accessibility issue that was quite interesting in the way the building currently works is, and this was how it’s originally designed. You had two main entrances, and so they had flights of stairs up to them. So what we wanted to do and obviously there’s been this massive community campaign, which has been going on for like two decades to go to get the building back in use that the board very strongly and this was the Community Trust Board, very strongly who haven’t done this campaign for so long felt that that building should be accessible to absolutely everybody. And there is a disabled ramp up the side of one of the drawers at the moment, but it’s not brilliantly designed, it’s not properly accessible as we would have it now. So we decided to remove that and open up the central window between these two entrances and get our disabled entrance in there. So it was accessible to everybody in Govanhill, that was the point of the gesture. 

But what we later realised when we’ve been planning this, was that you came into this kind of central area, and there was a flight of stairs on one side of you and then a wee lift on the other so that disabled people could get up to the level of the pool via that we lift. And it was only after we, we had a meanwhile use in the building. And we were using the pool for helping mothers and babies and young school children learn how to swim. And we realised that there was going to be a major issue with women coming in with prams and that they were all going to have to queue to use that lift rather than use the stairs. And it was going to be a total nightmare and have people queuing out the door. And this just was not going to work. And so we ended up completely redesigning, this was fairly at the last minute, the foyer space to accommodate a proper ramp, so that we could get people up to the level of the pool without having to sit and queue. And that means, you know, it makes the situation better for everybody. 

And it’s just about thinking those things through from first principles.

Emily Yates  

Yeah. And you’ve changed that physical access by looking at the user experience and thinking not just whether it complies to standards or not, which is, sadly, what a lot of people focus on. But you’re also looking at right. Okay, how in reality, is this going to be used? And is that going to be successful in itself? And I think that’s the really important point that’s often at the crux of access and inclusion being successful.

Niall Murphy  

Very much, very much brings me on to my second question, which is, you know, Glasgow has this kind of, you know, fantastic legacy of historic buildings. And although they look amazing, you know, they aren’t quite as accessible, or only partially accessible to people with disabilities. And so how do you think that issue has an impact on the sense of belonging and ownership felt by the disabled community towards heritage and the historic built environment in Glasgow? And you know, what, what does that tell them about the city that they live in?

Emily Yates  

Well, of course, to say at the very beginning, I’m only one person, so I can only really talk about my experience as as a disabled person living in Glasgow. 

But I think it’s, it’s probably quite natural for a lot of disabled people to gravitate towards newness and modern buildings, venues, in terms of new houses, shopping centres, those kind of things. Because when you wake up in the morning, you don’t want to be constantly thinking through every single step, right? Okay, how am I going to make this work for myself, and quite often, you know, whether we like it or not, the kind of new shopping centres, new cinemas, those kind of things, do provide that access, where you don’t constantly have to be second guessing yourself every single time. 

But I think what’s really, really important when it comes to Glasgow and historic buildings is, first of all that social access that I mentioned, and that, that friendliness and approachability of the people.

 But secondly, I think it’s a lot to do with how historic venues and buildings advertise what we can offer and advertise that in an honest way. So what I mean by that is, if you, as a museum, a venue, don’t have a hearing or induction loop, for example, let people know that you don’t. And then they have the autonomy and the independence to make their own decision as to whether they will visit or not. 

I think one of the problems that we have so often when it comes to access and inclusion in cities in particular, because different venues are so often in competition with each other about how many visitors they get in and things like that, is that more often than not people aren’t honest about what they can offer and what they can’t. So you’ve got a lot of disabled people that are turning up at the door, and maybe not having as much of a positive experience because they just didn’t have the information that they required to make that decision pre arrival as to whether or not it would suit them. 

So I think here when we’re looking at competing venues in cities, not just Glasgow but, but everywhere in the UK and internationally, it’s just about being honest about where you’re at in terms of access and inclusion, what your aims and goals are for the next kind of short and long term. 

And also just allowing  disabled people to make their own decisions, because those, those with lived experiences are going to be experts in that lived experience. And that’s okay. That’s how it should be.

Niall Murphy  

That reminds me of a recent PR disaster, which was with Emirates Arena, or Stadium in the East End. And that was being used as canting Centre for the Scottish parliamentary elections. And there was a disabled, MSP Pam (Duncan-Glancy), her surname escapes me at the moment. 

But there was an issue with her where she couldn’t get access to the account. Because of that, and obviously, you know, it was really, it was a shocking experience, of course, she was tweeting about it. And it was just you know, that and that kind of disconnection. You’re absolutely right, that, you know, if you if you knew in advance, you could make those choices. But that choice was denied from her, and it just sends this totally wrong message absolutely at the wrong time. I’m sure everyone was mortified about it. And she actually handled the whole thing with really good grace. But it was, you know, that’s, it’s, we need to avoid situations like that. Because it’s exclusionary?

Emily Yates  

Yeah, it is. And you’re absolutely right in what you say. And that, that decision is then taken away from disabled people. And that’s what we want to avoid. We want to be bringing as much empowerment and decision making process into the hands of people with lived experiences as we possibly can. And that counts within physical access, social access, whether you’re looking at historic buildings, new builds, whatever it may be, that’s really important to remember. But Wow, that that is quite a shocking story. And yeah, well done her  for handling it with such good grace.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. Okay, so talking about heritage and representation, do you think that there is still a lot to be done in this field to allow disabled, the disabled community to enjoy art and heritage in safety and comfort?

Emily Yates  

I think representation is such an interesting one. And I think when I look at particular venues, very rarely do I see images of disabled people on the website on social media, there’s often an access statement that tells me how high a counter is or how wide the door is, but very rarely do I witness disabled people enjoying the space or being invited to speak at certain event, whatever it may be. 

And I think there’s a long way to go here in terms of making sure that disabled people feel welcomed into a particular venue, because they can see that other people like them have enjoyed it. And that would definitely make a difference for me as a wheelchair user. If I knew that, okay, this particular venue has had disabled people to speak at an event or they’ve held an accessible wedding, or whatever it might be. I think it’s really important when that happens to advertise it. 

And to really show how important and valuable that representation can be because I am nearly 30 years old, and I’ve grown up really without having any kind of disabled role model because I’ve grown up in a time where disabled people weren’t really on TV, they weren’t really in magazines. The Paralympics only really started to get properly famous when I was young, and you started to have in Para olympians that, okay, started to go on TV and things like that. So it’s lovely to..

Niall Murphy  

London really made a difference there.

Emily Yates  

It really did. It really did. Yeah, it did make a difference. And it’s lovely to see that now that’s happening, you know, there are characters in TV shows that just so happened to be disabled is not even part of their character role. And that’s, yeah.

Niall Murphy  

That’s exactly how it should be.

Emily Yates  

It really is. But I think when we’re looking at venue websites, and their social media and how they present themselves to potential visitors, we could really up the ante in terms of disability representation there.

Niall Murphy  

Okay. According to recent research, only 30% of people with disabilities in Scotland have a visible disability. So how do you think people with invisible disabilities like neurodivergent people, as people with cognitive learning and neurological impairments, how do you think they experienced the city?

Emily Yates  

This is a really interesting question, and I’ve got to put my accessibility consultant hat on a little bit here because I’m not neurodivergent personally.  

But I think you made a really good point Niall in the, in the introduction when you said that actually only 8% of disabled people are wheelchair users, you got another 92% of people that, yes might have some kind of physical impairment, but they might have a hidden impairment, they might be neurodivergent, they might have a sensory issue or a cognitive issue. 

And I think quite a lot of the time, when we think about access and inclusion, we are still thinking about physical access for wheelchair users. And honestly, not really going much further than that. And I think part of my job is to now make the clients that I work with aware that there are different groups of people with different impairments and absolutely different needs. 

And there’s also a very real accessibility hierarchy, if you like that exists. So a really good example of the accessibility hierarchy and how those needs clash is, for example, somebody with a visual impairment will absolutely require tactile flooring to get about safely to cross the road. Yes, for a wheelchair user like me, that tiled tile floor, it is a bit of a nightmare for me to to reverse but, absolutely as it should be their need for safety, comfort. And actually, actually, the preservation of life, in some instances, is much more important than my discomfort for five seconds. So I think we’ve also got to be aware of this accessibility hierarchy that exists. And when we focus only on people with physical impairments, often we make life much harder for neurodivergent people in particular. 

So what can venues do about this? Well, have you made sure that your staff are trained to be proactive in offering assistance, not just somebody that looks visibly disabled, but anybody that looks like it might be struggling or might just need a bit of an extra hand? 

Can you offer out sunflowers lanyards, so people can demonstrate that they might need a bit of assistance, if that’s something that they want to do, they shouldn’t have to, but if they want to, they can. What about if you are a museum or a gallery, offering something like sensory kits, where you’ve got ear defenders, where you’ve got fidget spinners, where you’ve got perhaps a bit of advertisement for a quiet area, or a sensory room within your establishment, these things are all things that you can do, where you don’t have to shout about it, you can do it in a nice, dignified way that allows these people that might need a bit of extra help, or might need a certain area to go to, that ability to do so. And I think that’s really the crux of it. Yes, it’s really important that we look at physical access in the built environment. But it’s also important that we look at what are people feeling when they experience our venues? And how does that translate? If you are neurodivergent? If you’ve got a sensory impairment, or a cognitive impairment, what can we do to make your life a bit easier and make your experience more enjoyable?

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I was conscious, because I’m an architect and conscious that as part of my training, and I remember, kind of being disappointed in kind of this was in the in the 1990s, when we first started really probably having to think about these things. 

There is a building that I love  by Edwin Lutyens  the great Edwardian architect, his Midland Bank Building in London has this fantastic, really grand flight of marble stairs in it, but he does every stair as kind of black and white. If you’re visually impaired. I mean, it looked magnificent. But if you’re visually impaired, What a nightmare. And that was like oh, can’t do that anymore. And it was like, that’s a bit disappointing. But then you have to think about people’s experiences. And for some people that would be really, really jarring and uncomfortable. And they would find it really stressful and difficult using that stare. 

And it’s funny because it came back to me. Two years ago, I was visiting a venue in North Lanarkshire, which is big sports complex on the former Ravenscraig site, and has this really unusual design where it’s kind of got these big steel sheds, but they’re all angled. And it was really weird because you were on the level approaching the entrance. But because all the elevations are kind of angled away from you that your brain is telling you that you’re actually going downhill, but you’re on the level. And it was so disorienting, I actually was feeling nauseous coming up to the centres and I’m thinking for people that really would have you know, neurodivergent issues and everything that must be incredibly jarring for them and when that’s the main entrance of the building, how many people actually get put off by that and find that a really discomforting experience. And it’s not pleasant when you’re made to feel uncomfortable like that. So you do have to be really acutely conscious about these issues.

Emily Yates  

Totally. And I think you’ve hit a really important point there of almost function versus form. Yeah, and I think this is something that is so often go wrong when it comes to accessing inclusion. So you talk about the black and white marble floor, which sounds absolutely amazing. But you know, whether you’re visually impaired or whether you’ve got dementia, for example, yeah, any kind of pattern on the floor can be really jarring, and, and actually really upsetting for a lot of people. 

So how do we make sure that whatever, whatever accessible environments that we’re creating, don’t look like hospital rooms, don’t look clinical, that also, like you say, have those considerations in place so that any form that is created in terms of aesthetic is also inclusive? And I think you’re absolutely right, that’s where we need to now create that next building block to make people aware of that.

Niall Murphy  

Okay, right. Next up, I’m going to read out a statement before I go on to the question, and this is about the Purple Pound, which I referred to earlier. So the Purple Pound refers to the spending power of disabled households, a disabled household is a household in which at least one of the members has a disability, and in Scotland has a total market value of £ 1.3 3,000,000,0  – 98% of people check accessibility and advanced before going to a new place. Okay, and 81% of those do so from a website, 75% of people feel anxious before visiting a new place, and 98% are more likely to visit to venue if there is accessibility information in the place. And this is all this data available from the Visit Scotland survey back in 2021. I mentioned earlier. 

So do you think that this data matches with the effort that businesses put into being fully accessible? And if not, why do you think that’s the case?

Emily Yates  

That’s such a good question. And I think the heart of this matter, and the heart of the Purple Pound, and the whole purpose of the Purple Pound, if you like, is to prove that access and inclusion is no longer a kind and an ethical thing to do. It’s a savvy, good profitable business model. Because disabled people aren’t just people that you should kindly care to for, because you think you’re doing the right thing and being lovely. They’re people that you should cater for, because we’re good loyal customers, who actually when we have a positive, accessible experience, will come to your venue again, and again and again. And we will tell our deaf and disabled friends about it, we’ll tell our friends and family about it. And we will help build profit, build publicity, whatever it may be about your particular venue. 

And I think when it comes to businesses and what they’re doing now, I do think that, that cultural change is starting to happen. And businesses are realising that actually, we can’t just do this because we think it’s the right thing. We need to do this because it will help us financially as a business as well. And I want to be seen as a disabled customer that can bring positive elements to a business and help it to run. I don’t just want to be seen as this burden this person that, Okay, we’ve got to do this because we have to look after disabled people.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, yes, done in a resentful way. Yeah.

Emily Yates  

And, you know, I work hard, I’ve got money to spend, a lot of my disabled friends feel the same way. And so I do think that’s an important step. And I do think that Purple Pounders, hugely, hugely helped with that culture change. And what do I think the next steps could be with that? And where are we? Where are we perhaps going wrong? I think that there’s still very much focus on this external forward facing disabled visitor or disabled passenger experience. 

And I think it’s still taken a lot of time for businesses and organisations to think about disabled staff members. So thinking about inclusive recruitment, thinking about what the experience of their staff members would be, if they were disabled. And I think there’s still a long way to go to almost merge that disabled person, the idea of the disabled person as a loyal consumer, to seeing that disabled person as a really hard working capable employee or colleague. And I think when we get there will have done a good job.

Niall Murphy  

Yes, yeah. As you’re seeing, seeing someone as a proper rounded individual.

Emily Yates  

Yes. It is taking a bit of a while to almost put those jigsaw pieces together in terms of this disabled person being seen as that full rounded figure. And we, we are getting there, slowly but surely.

Niall Murphy  

Good, good, good, right. My next question is more kind of mental wellbeing issues, which it is something that really interests me. And the kind of historic built environment is one of my motivators for being involved. And it’s very much like sir Harry Burns, when he talks about the kind of the damage that was done to Glasgow, in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s, in terms of the demolition of whole swathes of the city and the dislocation, that people felt about that when the entire surroundings were suddenly removed. 

So talking about that, and kind of, you know, the historic environment, and how it surrounds you, it does have a major impact on people. And so I’m interested in how much of an impact you think being able to be in a kind of beautiful historic environment can have on the mental health and well being of people with disabilities?

Emily Yates  

I think it’s absolutely huge. I mean, the short answer, I think it can have an absolutely huge positive impact. And I think what’s really special and spectacular about Glasgow as a city, is the wealth of education information that you are able to almost glean from these different organisations, institutions, venues, regardless of what your interests are. 

So I think taking away from disabled people for a second, we’re not just disabled people, we’re also people that have interests and have preferences and want to do things just like anybody else. And I think looking at those different organisations and venues and thinking about whatever preference you might have, whatever you might be interested in within Glasgow, you can you can find it, you can find some information about it, you can really almost hone your interests and build on them and develop them. And I think regardless of whether you’re disabled or not, being able to do that, and further that education, and that interest is absolutely vital. 

And I think that’s something that within the last year, with the pandemic, I’ve definitely realised that I’ve missed, and I didn’t quite realise how much I engaged with that side of myself as a disabled person. And I’ve really, really missed it. And I’m absolutely desperate to go back to museums and galleries more than I am to go and have a drink. I’ll be totally honest I am. Because I don’t think in a city like Glasgow, I don’t think you realise how much is on offer until it’s taken away from you.

Niall Murphy  

Oh, absolutely, absolutely couldn’t couldn’t agree more. Yeah, it’s it’s, it has been an eye opening experience and to see in a wander through deserted streets in the city centre. In earlier parts of the lockdown, was, was really shocking, because it’s like, where is everybody? You know, actually, you begin to realise how much you do connect with everybody. 

And Glasgow is such a warm, friendly city from that point of view that. Yeah, suddenly that not being there, and everyone being kind of isolated and atomised in their own homes. Yeah, you really do miss that kind of social field, which everybody should be able to participate in.

Emily Yates  

Absolutely. And I think looking back at the disabled experience, if you are perhaps unable to, I don’t know, if taking a walk through Glasgow Green is too much and too difficult. And there’s not enough places to maybe sit down and rest and recuperate. And you just wouldn’t normally do that by yourself, maybe you feel slightly vulnerable doing that on your own. I think that’s where culture and heritage venues really do come in, because I would feel more comfortable go into the GoMA or go into the Kelvingrove than I would go in on a hike by myself. 

And I think it allows this engagement with a beautiful environment that’s slightly different to perhaps what other people experience, but is just as valuable. And I think if we can almost tap into that a little bit more, and make people realise how valuable that is for disabled people or, or elderly people or parents with children who want to keep an eye on them or people who feel maybe slightly vulnerable going into open spaces on their own. I think those are the kind of things that we really need to start looking into and and seeing what our positive impacts that can have.

Niall Murphy  

Right. So what would your advice be to venues and places to make their space more accessible to everybody? I mean, that’s apart from you know, making disabled users, active participants in planning and designing spaces. What would your advice be?

Emily Yates  

Yeah, so you hit on a really important point there. If engaging people with lived experience as much as possible, you know whether, whether that is in helping design and plan or whether that’s being a member of a user group or a focus group and giving ideas of their own lived experience to help that design and planning. I think another really big thing is, wherever possible, don’t just depend on the compliance of accessibility standards, go above and beyond them wherever you can. 

So I have a lot of clients that say, right, okay, are we are we compliant with approved document part Emily? Are we compliant with BS8300 ? All right, that’s all done then! See you later see in a few years, and they don’t really think about how you can go above and beyond. 

And again, I know I keep coming back to it, but how that experience will actually feel for people. 

Yes, your ramp might be at the correct gradient. But what will that experience feel like for people, so I think, going above and beyond and engaging with those people with lived experience, wherever is absolutely vital. I think the next thing is making sure that you never, ever consider access and inclusion to just be a tick box exercise. So something you have to do, again, that’s going back to the Purple pound, isn’t it, and seeing it as something that’s aspirational, is something that will actually bring you value as a business or a venue as well. 

And I also think, wherever possible, try and build empathy and understanding along the way. So a lot of the time people read, I don’t know, a technical standards, and they look for compliance. And it really is just sentences that people know that they’ve got to comply with, but they don’t really under the dot here at the time to build empathy and understanding around why that is so important. For somebody who’s experienced why this will make such a difference to somebody’s experience. 

So I think the biggest bit of advice that I could give to venues that want to make  themselves more accessible is take that time to build that empathy, whether that’s getting somebody in who’s you know, a disabled person, with lived experience to talk about it, whether it’s making sure that your staff are trained in disability awareness and communication, whatever it may be, make sure that that empathy is, is really kind of at the heart of whatever you do. Because those standards are brilliant, and making sure that you’ve kind of complied with everything that you need to do is brilliant. But that doesn’t automatically equal inclusion.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely, it’s about thinking yourself into another person’s kind of experience. And absolutely so critical. I remember again, this is going back to the 90s. And when Buchanan Galleries opened, and I was speaking back then to a disability consultant about that, who was trying to teach young architects about how to visualise the city, and to, to think about what other people’s experience of going around the city was actually like in that kind of small difficulties you would get in various places. But the totality of that experience gradually adds up. And one thing he was pointing out in Buchanan Galleries was fantastic. Somebody put in a huge ramp here for everybody. But has anyone actually ever tried to wheel themselves up it? Because it’s a total nightmare. 

And you have to be like, you have to have this incredible physical fitness and stamina to be able to do it, because it’s like the world’s longest ramp. So it’s thinking through things like that is is is absolutely key, and that, as a designer, you should be able to do that you should be able to project yourself into kind of other people’s experiences and be able to understand that should be a key facet of your skill set.

Emily Yates  

Yes. Agreed. Agreed. Absolutely.

Niall Murphy  

So what in your opinion makes a building or venue truly accessible?

Emily Yates  

Oh, good question. I think ultimately, for me, I could go into the most physically accessible venue in the whole entire world, it could have brilliant accessible parking provisions, step free access, lower curbs, it could have even a help point or information point outside, lower counters everything that I would need in terms of my physical environment. 

But if I am not treated well, as a disabled person, once I’m in that venue, and if that mentality and perception of disability is not positive, then that physical access often means very little to me. So I would say the thing, the thing for me that’s really at the heart of everything is making sure that again, like I said that empathy is there, that understanding of the user experience is there. 

And staff ultimately feel confident and comfortable in being proactive in assisting me, but also have the ability to empathise with my experience. Work with disabled colleagues, and also be aspirational wherever possible in how they continue to educate themselves around access and inclusion, and the disabled customers and colleagues that they come across in everyday life. I think to me, that’s kind of everything. And I would like to think that even if something wasn’t physically accessible, I could always ask somebody, and they would help me. And I feel like we’re very lucky in Glasgow, that I always feel like I can ask somebody and I can get a friendly answer, and somebody will probably, you know, tell me their life story at the same time.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. First time I ever came to Glasgow when I was eight. And it was with my dad, and we went into what was then  Lewis’s Department Store and is now, became Debenhams. And I was brought up in Hong Kong and people can be kind of wee bit standoffish in Hong Kong but not too bad. 

But I remember stepping into a lift with my dad and this guy turning to my dad and given that remember, and the weather and his entire life story in like five seconds. If I come to, and yes, absolutely what I value about Glaswegians  because they are incredibly friendly. And we’ll get your life story out of you just like that. I really appreciate that openness. And that is is so key in a situation like this. 

So finally, what is your favourite building in Glasgow and why? And what would it tell you if its walls good talk?

Emily Yates  

It’s tough and I’ve been thinking about this for a little while I’ll be honest, and I think I’m gonna have to go with what’s probably a huge cliche, because and I say this because every time I turn Argyle Street and see the Kelvingrove. It literally and physically takes my breath away every single time, especially if I see it on a beautiful sunny day. The people enjoying the grounds outside and having their picnics. I just absolutely adore it. So that’s probably a bit of a cliche, but that’s how I feel.

Niall Murphy  

It’s a good choice. I love the Kelvingrove, it’s fabulous, it is brilliant, its great sculptures on it, it’s, it’s such a warm friendly space and I love that you know you go into the kind of the central heart of it and it is when the organs plays and everybody stands around and when, when David Bowie died they did Space Oddity on the organ, wow! 

It’s just amazing. It’s lovely. It’s such a great space. Yeah, so it does feel like everybody’s welcome in that space.

Emily Yates  

Yes, it really does. I think you’re absolutely, absolutely right. And I recently went went to the Linda McCartney exhibition there as well and I absolutely loved that so I’m always looking out for the for the new little exhibitions that go in on the Kelvingrove as well but yeah, I really adore it and i think it’s ,it’s pretty good for access as well. 

And if its walls could talk, what would they say? I mean, I think it’s held so many events, so many weddings, I’ve, I’ve been there to speak about disability and relationships. For example, they hold so many brilliant events for different charities and NGOs. And we’ve helped so many different exhibitions from so many different fabulous people that I think it will be able to probably gossip about every single person that has visited it. I think it would have so many stories to tell you know we we talk about how Glaswegians are very quick to tell us their life stories. 

The Kelvingrove heard them all, he is heard them all. So I would be very interested to say well, what different bits of information the Kelvingrove will be able to gossip about.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. Well, thank you very much, Emily, that was a real pleasure talking to you and to our listeners. If you enjoyed this episode. Please subscribe and share. And don’t forget to follow the hashtag #IGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. Thank you very much.

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

Episode 5: A multiplicity of voices, slavery and Glasgow, with Katie Bruce, curator at Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), Glasgow Museums

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy  

Hello, I’m Niall Murphy and welcome to “If  Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk”, a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. Today we’re talking about Glasgow and slavery and about buildings and streets in our city named after tobacco merchants and slave traders. In particular, we will focus on one building that was built with the wealth coming from the work of enslaved people. 

From the 1700s until the UK abolished slavery in 1833, Glasgow merchants made fortunes from trading tobacco, sugar, rum and cotton produced on plantations or in factories by slaves that they owned. Historians have recorded 19 slave voyages, leaving Greenock and Port Glasgow in the six decades between 1706 and 1766, carrying roughly 3000 people into slavery. Now, there is an area associated with slavery within Glasgow, it is the streets of what we now call the Merchant City, which is really the first and second new towns of Glasgow. So these streets gradually extended away from the more ancient heart of the city around Trongate through the course of the 18th century. 

The resulting Glasgow grid of streets was where the merchants who shipped tobacco, sugar and tea, had their warehouses and dwellings. From 1740 to 1790, Glasgow became the hub of the world’s tobacco trade. At times trading more than all the English ports, including London put together, the trade was hugely profitable, and the newly rich merchants were known as the tobacco lords. 

Their names are immortalised in numerous Glasgow streets. So for instance, Glassford Street is named after John Glassford of Dougalston and Whitehill, who owned tobacco plantations in Virginia and Maryland. Cochrane Street is named after Andrew Cochrane of Brighouse, Dunlop street is named after Colin Dunlop of Carmyle, Ingram street is named after Archibald Ingram, who was also Lord Provost and Dean of Guild, or Onswald Street, which was named after the Oswald family whose members include the notorious Richard Oswald, who had plantations in the Caribbean, Florida, and most famously on Bunce Island and Sierra Leone, where he would dress his slaves on its golf course in tartan. 

So just to show you how linked up all of this is, if you look at say Virginia Street, which was named after the American colony, just off it you have the sight of what is now the sadly lost Tobacco Exchange where sugar and tobacco were bought and sold during the 18th and 19th century. And a good example of Glasgow’s urbanism is the view down the street was originally terminated by the Virginia mansion, which was built by the tobacco Lord George Buchanan, demolished in 1841. It was rebuilt as the Glasgow and ship bank and is now Corinthian. So even Glasgow’s grid of streets all of this just harks back to the American colonies because that was where they took their form of urbanism from. 

So in June 2020, Black Lives Matters demonstrators in Bristol pulled down the statue of the 17th century slave trader Edward Colston, this controversial act started a national debate about statues and street names associated with slavery across the country, and whether these statues should be taken down and the streets renamed, well, this debate is still ongoing.  It does highlight a need to look again at our history and cast light on uncomfortable facts, particularly when thinking about neglected or untold histories. 

In that regard, arguably the most famous building in Glasgow with links to slavery is Gallery of Modern Art and Royal Exchange Square,  GoMA was originally the Cunninghame mansion, owned by tobacco Lord William Cunninghame of Lainshaw. Cunninghame was an astute businessman who made his fortune from trading tobacco and sugar, and was deeply linked with slavery. 

In 1780 Cunninghame spent 10,000 pounds constructing his mansion, this is roughly around 1.5 million pounds today. So in 1817, the mansion was then purchased by the Royal Bank of Scotland, and was initially used as their Glasgow headquarters, 10 years later, the bank sold it to a consortium led by James Ewing of Strathleven . 

Now he’s quite interesting too, because even though he was heavily involved in the whole kind of range of initiatives in Glasgow, things like setting up the Necropolis, he was also the owner of 586 slaves on five plantations in Jamaica, and he received over 9000 pounds in compensation from the British Government for the loss of his property, ie his slaves, on the back of the 1833 Act. So and it was he who commissioned architect David Hamilton to transform and extend the mansion into the Royal Exchange of Glasgow. 

Glasgow Corporation acquired the building in 1949 moving Stirling’s library from nearby Miller Street into the former exchange. And then later in 1996, the building was converted to house the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art with a mural of the Glasgow coat of arms by artists Niki de Saint Phalle over the entrance. So this beautiful neoclassical building has been a home, a bank, an exchange and a library before its current use as a gallery. So it’s a great example of that to reuse within the city. So our guest today is Katie Bruce, producer and curator at GoMA, where she is responsible for GoMA’s exhibition and public programme and contemporary art acquisitions for Glasgow Museums. 

Katie has worked at GoMA since September 2002, and has an expanded curatorial practice working primarily with socially engaged artists. At the end of July 2017, the Gallery of Modern Art unveiled a permanent display called “Stones steeped in history” that tells the story of the building from before it was built in 1776. Through its various uses, and modifications, as described on GoMA’s website. “Stones steeped in history” allows us to tell the story of the building through times of great wealth and from international trade, with undeniable links to slavery to being one of the city’s first telephone exchanges. And onto Glasgow’s rise as a centre for arts and culture. So Katie, welcome to the podcast. 

Katie Bruce  

Thank you very much. That’s quite an introduction. 

Niall Murphy  

So well, we’re glad to have you on board. So we have a number of questions for you. So first off, do you think it is easier to interpret objects and works of art related to slavery than buildings? 

Katie Bruce  

I think, like everything, it really does depend on what, on what you have, and what you have access to. I think one of the things that we’ve kind of talked about for a number of years within Glasgow Museums is objects that directly relate to the history of slavery that we felt were were quite obvious to visitors, we didn’t have as many of and our buildings were, at that point, particularly GoMA, one of the most visible direct connections to Glasgow’s history of slavery. 

So I suppose that then started the conversations around about “Stones steeped in history”, but it had also been referred to really briefly within the opening publication for GoMA, and in notes that we had about the building that our visitor assistants would talk to visitors about. 

I think in some ways, objects are easier because you expect an object to have a label next to it. So for audiences coming in, they look for that information with buildings in the city. We don’t expect to find the label telling you the history of every single building in the city around about it. So I suppose people do their own searching or find out their own ways of looking at it. 

Niall Murphy  

Sure, I can see where you’re coming from there. I similarly,  I’ve been working with Glasgow City Council, on a conservation management plan for George Square. And that was one of the things that kind of leapt out at me, though, that the interpretations for the statues is,  it’s pretty much non existent. I mean, there’s a plaque saying who the sculptor was, and who the subject is. And that’s it. You know, it’s up to you to go and find that. And I think things like that could possibly be teased out a bit better around the city, and then maybe maybe go as part of that. I don’t know. Okay, so we move on to our next question. Which is – do you think that acknowledgement or perception of slavery has changed after the Black Lives Matter protests?

Katie Bruce  

I think so. I mean, like I was saying earlier, the conversations, were there in museums for quite a number of years. And you know, it led to us doing “Stones steeped in history”. There are wider kind of conversations that happened across Glasgow Museums. 

We’d also been involved in the 2007 programme that was around the commemoration of the abolition of slavery. So I think internally, the conversations should have been there, but I suppose after the Black Lives Matter protests, the types of conversation changed. 

I think there’s always been a conservative approach to acknowledgement, sort of relying I suppose a lot on what was there or not necessarily understanding. How much we actually had in our collections. And I guess also, within the city, how evident it was, you know, I suppose what a lot of the discussion is now about how it’s kind of been whitewashed of over time, and that we’ve actually forgotten. 

A lot of, you know, when you read out all the names of the streets, they’ve just become synonymous with streets in Glasgow, they’ve not necessarily been connected to the plantation owners and the slave owners that they’re named after. So those histories have all kind of disappeared. And you know, and you’re saying, about the conversation in George Square, I go past it so many times, I was teenager in the city, but I couldn’t really have told you any of the stories about any of the people that are recognised there, apart from the really obvious ones. And I think having done the tour there recently, you’re told about the names and it goes in. So I suppose how visible these histories are, since Black Lives Matter protest. And the way that we talk about it, and the way that we have to talk about it, I think there was kind of, there’s subtle references throughout time, but it was just a nod to it, it wasn’t really acknowledged in the same way that I feel that we’re being asked to and held to account to within the city. 

Niall Murphy  

Sure, no, I can completely appreciate that. It’s funny, because it’s something that we, we started looking at a couple of years ago, and it was very much on the back. I mean, having, you know, knowing something about the history of George Square, knowing something about the kind of the, the hidden histories of some of the stories behind some of the monuments within the square. I was very conscious of when the whole debate over the Confederacy monuments in the United States kicked off. And so we organise the city talk on the back of that, and that was quite interesting. It was like challenging, you know, how do we deal with these issues in Glasgow, and it was funny that happened about when was it? Sort of early 2019. That would been something I’d been planning for a whole year before that. And it was interesting to hear people’s responses to that, because I was acutely conscious by that point that this was something that we were going to have to tackle. And I was, you know, had been speaking to various people like Dr. Stephen Mullen, and Councillor Graham Campbell, and people like that. So I was acutely conscious of it. So it was interesting to hear what they had to say about issues like that, and begin to think, you know, how, how could we tackle this part of Glasgow story of which I think is incredibly important. Because I think you have to be honest about these things. And it’s kind of a truth and reconciliation thing. 

And it’s about how you tease that out properly and tell the full story and all its richness. And it means that, you know, there are going to be negative aspects that you will have to bring out and we will have to confront as a society, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think you can grow from something like that. Okay, moving on. The next question is, are people more curious, and more ready to know about these issues? Is that something that you’re, you’re finding?

Katie Bruce  

I think, particularly within GoMA, people were asking us about the history of the building, it is a kind of uniquely beautiful building. And that, you know, you described it, moved from a house to Royal Exchange, to a gallery. So it’s had various additions at various points in its lifetime. And so I think visitors that we’ve had over the number of years, have asked about it, because it’s not a straightforward, modern contemporary art gallery. In lots of ways, it’s, it’s got quite an odd way of going around it. 

So I think from an architectural point of view, people were interested. And then when you delve deeper thinking about uses of a building, layers of history, layers of ghosts that, you know, are kind of, in our walls. And I guess, you know, more and more the rise of social media and people can easily circulate past images of the city. So you see it in, in times before and we’re also able to do that. So I think there was a genuine curiosity, about it, and the history and I think also artists that we’ve worked with, definitely, in my experience over the last few years, they’ve looked into different histories of the building from their perspective. 

So Aleksandra Domanović which in 2014, was really interested in the notion of the telephone exchange. Other artists more recently, like Camara Taylor have looked into the connections to Empire, and others as well. So I think you know, that complex history is, is, is of interest and I think also within the city, the connections to Empire and slavery. 

I mean, there’s been a huge amount of work done over the years by CRER and through Black History Month. I think that it started, that it started, to raise awareness of this in ways and, you know, I suppose, I sort of think that before that, that circulation of social media and being able to find out small things or see, see images of your, your area, or your city in times gone by, that promotes an interest in ways of looking back. And it’s sometimes easier when you can google something and an obscure historical fact comes up at you. So I think, you know, all these things kind of contribute..

Niall Murphy  

It is fascinating, you know, being able to figure out now, thanks to the research that several people, you know, Stephen, Stephen Mullen in particular, have been able to do, to see where, you know, these, these parts of the city buildings, institutions, where they did get their money from and where, where legacies from, from slavery had been left. 

And when you look, you look, at the research, and you see who it was that benefited from the kind of 1837 compensation that the British government, you know, handed out on that, and this is what astonishes me, the idea of the loss of property, which was actually people and that the slaves themselves were not compensated and had to take part in the apprentice scheme. And you think, you know, that’s absolutely shocking. And yet, there it is, and there is a record of it. And you can see on interactive maps nowadays, where, where all that is located. And you know, it’s not just Glasgow, there’s, there’s actually more of it in Edinburgh, which is quite fascinating. 

So when kind of looking at this, do you think, because we’re having to look at this, you know, not just in Scotland, but nationwide as well? Is there a difference here between Scotland and England, as Scotland has been slower in recognising that, you know, the two had a role within the the slave trade?

Katie Bruce  

Yes, because… I’m by no means an expert on this. But I think, you know, from, from what I understood, the slave trade was acknowledged before, through the ships, it wasn’t necessarily the profits from it. And so when you said earlier, that’s, you know, 17 ships went from Glasgow, although we might have been involved in the shipbuilding for a lot more than those 17 ships that are involved in the slave trade. I think, England because the ports were actively used, and there was an active community, asking questions about that direct involvement in the trafficking in the Middle Passage, that I think, it’s an interesting one, because I think that then became the conversation rather than what you know, what your, what we now talk about is the legacy of empire and slavery in very different ways. And, you know, still, I suppose, pre 2007, when we started to look more at slavery, and the abolition of it, which was not the ending of it. The recognition of what actually happened in Glasgow came through, but also how broad the impact of empire and slavery it is, was, still is and is ongoing. And so I suppose it’s a far it’s much less of a black and white conversation that I think it was before that meant that Scotland could slightly avoid looking at it, looking at itself, and I think, I should say with reparations?

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, I think so. And I think it’s interesting because, because we are slightly divorced from it, which is part of the problem. So what you find is, because Glasgow is rolling the actual, the ships and, and you know, the ships actually took slaves from here, across the Atlantic is actually relatively limited compared to Liverpool and Bristol. But then when you actually look at Liverpool, you discover that 128 of those captains on those ships were Scots, and you know, that all the various Scottish merchants who are based down there, and that includes people like, like Gladstone, and his Gladstone father, you know, was in it up to his neck in British Guiana. And Gladstone when he first gets into parliament, is actually one of the people who argues against the kind of the abolition of slavery, based on the fact that his father given his links to the West Indies Association, is one of the key players in all of this. And it’s Gladstone who sits and works out and they actually had this handwritten notes for this, the compensation that his father is due and what, why this,  where the Scottish connection comes from is his, his father was from Leith. So you know, they were Scots, and it’s again, we were in up to our necks in it. 

A couple of years ago, I was investigating the architect Henry Edward Clifford, who’s a very good Glasgow Style architect and he is one of the people who helped train Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his, he actually came from Trinidad. And when you look back at his father, his father was one of the people who was compensated in 1837. And so his father had at that point, he just had two slaves, but still, you know, that was that was in the background. And when I, when I talk about him, I talk about the shock, it must have been having, you know, having had this, this childhood in the tropics, and then coming over to the UK and how very different It must have been coming to Glasgow, how cold Glasgow must have been, but he obviously harks back to his childhood, because later on in his life, when he retired, the house that he built himself when he retired, was named after the family’s plantation in Trinidad. So obviously had fond recollections of it. And yet, he was immersed in what was a slave society at that time. So you know, very, very interesting. So. 

Okay, moving on, again, do you think is possible to correctly interpret and highlight the history of a building? So this is something we’ve been touching on in our conversation, do you think that it’s possible, particularly when, you know, a building has such a dark history? And how do you make sure you’re giving the space to the right voices within that?

Katie Bruce  

it’s something that we’ve discussed quite a bit, and “Stones steeped in history” was a start for it in a public space, because I think you have to be quite sensitive to the visitors coming in to the building. 

I mean, we share a lot with our art, and we think about our audiences all the time. And I guess what we wanted to be careful was that we weren’t putting people in a triggering situation for their own experience, or their own background from something that they come in, in the gallery was that, at least  as an originally set up was an escape from the city into this other space. And so you know, a lot of visitors will visit us as a contemporary art space, and then having this, this history there. So I suppose, being very mindful of how the language that we use to discuss in spaces where there’s not necessarily staff there to give you a broader space to talk about this, or, you know, you might be coming with people with different experiences. And so I think, it’s not the easiest to do. 

But I suppose we go through layers of editing in order to get that in the public space. But I suppose what we then do is use other spaces, which are online and available. So like our blog, and we have a handling kit, as well, that has objects from Glasgow Museums’ collection, that means that if our staff, like in lockdown, when we’re able to do a Sunday afternoon, with a handling kit, it meant that we could, our staff could talk to visitors about the more difficult aspects of the history  through that, with objects in place, but also a space where it could be held or, you know, it could be discussed in those ways. 

I think, you know, like everything these days, you are really mindful of what spaces you’re creating in your building to discuss difficult subjects where, you know, you’re not necessarily aware of everybody’s experience coming into that, so you want… and also how people leave the building, as well. So I’m also aware of, of being sensitive to the experiences of those that were enslaved. And not putting that on display for others to come in and find out and you know, we’ve done a lot of work around social justice. And there is a feeling on a lot of people that they have to explain every nuance aspect of their lives in order to inform others in order to gain empathy. And it feels like a lot of labour involved in that. 

So you know, when we’re working with artists, when we’re working with people, and you know, and we’re thinking about audiences coming in as well, you’re trying not to overwhelm people with certain experiences in a space that makes it really uncomfortable for them to be in a building that is already loaded with history that has asked them not to be here. 

So I think that you know, there’s lots, lots of things that we’re thinking about so you know, like when you say it’s not necessary, there’s, there’s a route that you can go down that I think in some ways  “Stones steeped in history” does. So it looks at the facts. We worked with our social and our history, Scottish history curator, Tony, to look at the research and the facts and so that we put that further, we put that into the, into the space. 

And I suppose some of the other works that we have in the building through the artworks refer to the building’s history, but some of them are more oblique, and some of them allow for a space for the audience’s to bring their own experiences, and to then be, I suppose, interested to go and look elsewhere or feel some kind of connection to the stories that the artists are telling through their work. If that, if that kind of helps. I don’t think there’s a straight a straight answer in terms of these things. 

Niall Murphy  

No, I can appreciate that. And it is not easy. I’m thinking two instances from, from my own life. I lived in Berlin for a while, a fantastic city. But in the winters, I found it quite a dark city. And quiet, I was always conscious of what had happened in the war. 

And there was one particular space, which was an artist space, but it was a huge complex, which was for the Siemens factory, which was in the East. And it was it was this huge cobbled courtyard with these enormous kind of search, like spotlights on it. And walking through that all you could think of was all the people who are gathered for the concentration camps. And you were kind of acutely conscious. I mean, there was nothing there to explain any of that to you with no interpretation whatsoever. But you were thinking that this must be the kind of space where that happened. And that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. 

So you know what you’re talking about in terms of triggering people and being conscious of people’s sensitivities? Absolutely.  And on that particular point, where do you think Glasgow is in terms of its journey towards recognising this kind of history and you think there’s still a long road to go?

Katie Bruce  

Yeah, I I think a lot of people would acknowledge it’s fairly early days in recognising this history. There is information out there there are access points out there and but like you say, a lot of us are feeling uncomfortable about things that we’ve taken for granted and easily spoken about in the past to audiences because they were the accepted histories. They were the you know, merchants were in the middle of the Merchant City. It was a, it’s a marketing campaign. We are a world class tourist destination.

Niall Murphy  

Yep. It’s It’s It’s a construct Yep.

Katie Bruce  

It’s a it’s a construct that yes…

Niall Murphy  

James Coleman saying you know, it should not be called that, it should be it should be called the Working Class City.

Katie Bruce  

Yeah, you’ve got all of these stories within you know, a history, a history of a city that is incredibly proud of itself. It’s really difficult to challenge anything about it because it’s talked about its radical roots, its empathy, it’s all of these things but actually you know, I was thinking when you were saying about how, how we talk about things you know, I’m, I’m more East Coast, my family, but you know, you, just my gran,  you just have half an aspirin and get on with it. You know, you don’t talk about things you don’t go to trauma you don’t you don’t think about it.  

Yeah, so I suppose there is some of those things about you know, when you’re talking about Berlin and a very different approach and trauma but you know, equally you know, like, they were saying in Bristol, we’re putting sites of trauma in front of people and calling and flag waving around and calling our history and not really understanding what that means for, for other people. So I suppose that’s that thing and you know, if it was really easy, and if you know, we were done a lot round about this you know, we’d have done it, it’s not going, it’s not going to be an easy conversation. It’s not at any point. And, you know, there are things that come up in various conversations, you know, from works with two, three years ago, that actually you’re, you are having to rethink or go back and check how the artist feels about things. 

No, because everything, lots of conversations are quite fluid, we are being asked really hard, hard questions to not, not just knowledge, but to change and to rethink a lot of our practices, because we’re we’ve centred our, our white experience quite easily into that. But then, you know, and the city has changed our, our relationship to the rest of the world has, has changed. And we need to be mindful of that. And think about how we do that and, and stop centring. So much there. You know, especially when we have a collection within the city that is civic, civic recognised, and it is an international collection, it has incredibly rich histories within it. But they’re all told from our perspective.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. So I suppose that’s true. And is some, is that something that you’re learning from all these various projects? And, and how you communicate that, then to your audience?

Katie Bruce  

Yeah, I mean, I suppose, you know, the Gallery of Modern Art, it’s part of a family of museums, we have a, you know, a wealth of experience across the whole of Glasgow Museums, and also the partners that we work with in the audiences. So you know, within GoMA, particularly, you know, when I think about the social justice work, and the way that we acquired work in the beginning, and how we spoke about what we did, that that is changing, that learns, that learns, you learn as you go along, and I suppose I’ve been there 18 years now working with colleagues, and  you introduce me, as the curator of all programmes and all acquisitions, I am not, I work together with a wonderful set of colleagues that that work with me. I know for those times, you know, I’ve, I’ve kept up, I’m at the same desk, I’m in the same job as I’ve been for 18 years, because there are, you know, there are new partners that we work with new communities, new artists, new people, every time that ask difficult questions of what we assume, or what we have done, and move it forward. 

So I think, yeah, and I think we do have, we do listen to our audiences and our audiences, I think, are, have changed. I think going back to what you’re saying about Black Lives Matter, you know, there were questions coming in, especially after we put out a message of solidarity around with the Black Lives Matter protests when George, George Floyd was murdered. And we got asked, Well, where is it? Where is this evidence of this solidarity? This move to change within your organisation on it, and I think that asked, you know, internally, you think you’re doing quite a lot, but actually how that comes across to the audiences, to the visitors, as presented, as presented that’s maybe not there. And that’s something that we really have to think about. Because you can talk, you can list loads of projects, but if it’s not how people understand or see you, they are not going to engage with you. So I suppose that’s a big learning for us that when we need to keep thinking about and talking to people, and also trying to do an audit to kind of communicate a lot of the internal thinking and, you know, it’s museums. 

You know, you said you, you know, you had talks that took a couple of years to get to fruition. Museums are very, very slow. We think it through and it’s not, it’s not because we’re not willing to change, it’s because, she said, you need to let voices permeate through into the discussions because if you stick with a factual or go are only our object records, then that is a past informing how you’re thinking now and it’s not necessarily the multiplicity of voices that that we think should be heard now. So you have you have to let that trickle through, into in into change. And that happens in the museum as well so and that that that takes time. Sometimes.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s not an easy subject and getting people to talk about it is not straightforward. It is sadly all tied up with culture, words and politics. And that, that you know, that too makes people uncomfortable and which, which is unfortunate because you know, and particularly how all this has been presented when you look at what the National Trust has been doing down South and then how that it’s been politicised, which I think is a great shame because it’s actually really fascinating. And, and I think we should look at these issues. And this is most of this comes out in when you look at GoMA, and when you look at people like at William Cunninghame and James Ewan because they use that, that money that they that they gained and and you realise how completely particularly with Cunninghame, he was completely immersed in the culture of the early American colonies and Virginia, because he was based as one of the apprentices at age 15. Up Chesapeake Bay. And that was at the point where in Virginia, where you get over a certain year period of that this, the hundreds of 1000s of slaves are being, are being brought in to, you know, to work on the plantations. And so you know, couldn’t not have been aware of that he could not have been aware of all the suffering.

 So in that regard, again, you know, you’ve talked about how artists have responded to that kind of history about about the building. It’ll be interesting to know more about that. How have they done that? And in particular, with exhibitions you hosted?

Katie Bruce  

Yeah, so there’s been various exhibitions over the year. So I suppose going back specifically to 2007. We worked with the artist  Graham Fagen who had a long standing interest in Burns, but also an interest in reggae music, and did a body of research about voyages that Burns never took to go to Jamaica to work as a plantation manager. And so that body of work was shown in 2007. 

And at the same time, Beth Ford was based off at Saint Mungo museum. And Beth was based in Glasgow at that time, has now moved to London, and is biracial, part Barbadian and part Scottish and she looked into that sort of personal but also, history of enslaved people and looked at the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre and now complete, completely forgot the name of the work, the, the shadow of the ego? I should have looked that up. But we showed that as part of exhibitions, and that’s that it was kind of a quiet work in 2007. And it’s been shown a couple of times in GoMA since and you know, it’s one of those things that inserted into an exhibition that really asked a lot of questions. And it kind of, it’s a photograph of her wearing a mask, which silences you. So it’s like a metal mask that has a tongue depressor that silences you, that would have been used to keep people quiet. And she made a glass version of this. And so I suppose the fragility of the glass version, and the brutality of the real version within the photograph, are there and ask a lot of very difficult questions of us. In terms of that, and I suppose, talking about the long lens of trauma, through that work at a very, you know, in 2007, and I don’t really think that work was acknowledged at the time for the powerful piece that it is, because those come, it was almost a head of the conversations that we’ve been having in the last few years. And with that, so, you know, those works have been in the collection and shown in an exhibition that I  curated and 2017 called “Polygraphs”, and I think I was interested in truths infections at that time, and you know, that started to open up more of, more of the conversations around about the building and its, and its history. 

Within the collections that we were doing, and we held a couple of conversations there, so was one of where six queer artists of colour were in, called after dark. So it looked at that 1980s TV programme called “After Dark” on Channel Four, which some, some some of us may remember, some of us may not where, you know, invited guests were in a studio with with, with wine and food, and the conversation went on until it didn’t.

Niall Murphy  

Yes. With booze?

Katie Bruce  

Yes. So, Ajamu asked to do that in GoMa, after dark, when the building was closed with six queer artists of colour. And that conversation was really powerful just about legitimacy, visibility, space and joy. Because I think, you know, when we’re talking about this, it’s still you know, I still feel that, you know, even in this conversation here, we’re talking about it from my perspective as being a white curator within a building loaded with history. And, you know, they talked about it from their perspective and joy and resistance, as well. So you know, some really powerful conversations that actually make me stop and think about what I assume how I, how in my role, there is an easy road to slip into, where I begin to speak for other people or begin to speak for the work in the collection. And whether I, I have the right to do that. And so, you know, the work often will speak for itself, and that, you know, so going back to what we were saying before about, you know, is easy and interpret objects or a work of art, you know, you have to create those spaces for not defining the interpretation, but allowing an audience to interact, engage, and not interpret, but have, have a space. 

Just to think about some of the themes that work is talking about directly or obliquely, and I suppose more recently, there was an artist Camara Taylor, and they were involved in that After Dark conversation with Ajamu and we’ve gone on to work with them through project queer time school prints, but also more recently that were commissioned for “Domestic bliss”, which is the exhibition that’s currently opening at GoMA,  so that does look at the idea of the home, the house, you know, objects in our collection, and it is through a feminist lens, because it’s meaning that’s curating it. But I was also aware that I’m a white middle class female, looking at the wonderful objects from social history to contemporary art and modern art within our collection, and wanted artists voices in there to disrupt or ask difficult questions of, of the building, of the collection, and potentially me as well. 

And Camara had initially one idea for work and then moved it into what’s there now, which is called “Empire of Love”, and it’s a series of Zippo lighters with engravings from James Boswell’s poem, abolition of slavery and power of love. And I suppose it’s one of the things that you know, another of Glasgow’s things is that it prided itself on being abolitionist and in this an abolitionist iJames Knox. 

No, it is it James Knox or John Knox painting at Kelvingrove? And this things, and but, you know, there’s a history of Scotland of even in the late 1700s. When you’re thinking it’s on the cusp of change. There’s really vocal voices out there saying it, slavery is fine, we need it, we can’t get rid of it. And so she’s put a literal incendiary device into our collection. You know, it’s a Zippo lighter. And so for her, it’s a really beautiful object that is like..

Niall Murphy  

Like a blue torch paper!

Katie Bruce  

Yes, that’s it, exactly. And so you know, and those are what I find exciting about worth working with artists because they can, they can insert a voice into a space that can ask a lot of questions. It’s not necessary. It doesn’t, it’s not having the answers. It’s just, it’s inserted into a corner cabinet in the exhibition “Domestic Bliss”, which has a Wedgwood tea pot from the middle of the 1700s, which has the Tea Party, which was a famous design there on an earthenware pot, which was where the aspiring middle class would be buying this pot and it has gentrified couples sitting having a cup of tea being served by a young enslaved, black servant. And it’s it’s just there and It has a Glasgow’ Miles Better mug next to it. It has some memorabilia from the Empire Exhibitions. And it has an ashtray from the Shish Mahal. You know all all these little signifiers around the complex histories of Glasgow and then you’ve got “Empire of Love” as six Zippo lighters in there and just asking questions, it’s not, you know, and so different people will, will bring to that and take from it.

Niall Murphy  

Very provocative. Yeah, yeah, it does, it makes makes you realise just how difficult this whole subject is how difficult interpretation is the whole issue with say, the, the, the monument to Melville over in Edinburgh and the plaque for that over recent months. That’s, that’s been fascinating to me, I don’t know whether you ever got a chance to look into that at all, but for the representations, enormous number of representations, just about the wording of it, and whether or not the wording was correct? Or was it the right thing to do? Was it not, and you can see just how polarised it becomes. And yet, it’s something we’re gonna have to tackle somehow. So it’s interesting to learn from, from things like that, and from what you’re up to in GoMA, which I think is really very interesting. 

So okay, finally, so bringing all this to conclusion. Now, this is kind of a trick question. But we’re always interested to know this on any of our guests that we have, or people who come to our office as well, we always have to ask them this question. What is your favourite building in Glasgow? And what would it say to you, if its walls could talk? Can you let us know?

Katie Bruce  

I can. This was the hardest question that yet you asked me, and it should be GoMA, and it is in some way. But I was thinking about it. And I think it’s actually the, the station building at Queen’s Park. 

And it’s for a couple of reasons. Not necessarily always the obvious ones. I used to get the train to school. And it wasn’t to Queen’s Park, but the building was very, very similar to the Queen’s Park train station building. And as a teenager, you’re hanging there after school waiting for the train in all weathers, all of the different kinds of conversations that happen there, that building is gone and had been replaced by a more ubiquitous train station now, sort of ride through. 

But I like it, because it reminds me of times earlier, I think something interesting about trains and journeys. There’s always something interesting about that line, especially if you get stuck on the inner or the outer circle, you go back and start at the same place. And now where I live, in the Southside of Glasgow, it’s on, it’s on the way home. So it’s kind of a signifier of being near home. 

But it’s also got the Queen’s Park Railway Club. So it’s, it’s again, its uses have shifted into hosting a programme of exhibitions as well. So sometimes if you get off, you can go and have a different experience, I really like that about it. Yeah. And then also, you know, I just think when you’re at train stations, the conversations that you overhear, so it’s not necessarily you know, and the walls and things that have happened or meetings or goings or moments at train stations. And so yeah, that’s that’s why that’s, that’s there for me.

Niall Murphy  

At the moment, yeah, absolutely know what you mean, I was, I was involved in trying to save Maxwell Park Station, which is kind of a new relation, obviously, of Queen, Queen’s Park. And yeah, similar feelings about that, too. It now has a model train club in it. And that’s on the ground floor. And then the upper floor, that’s the local heritage, Society of cultural heritage, have a little exhibition space up there. So you know, it’s good that these the stations are kind of being, being reused imaginatively, in that way. Because, you know, as you say, some, so many of them were, were swept away. Unnecessarily when you look at the facilities that they, they actually had them, they were incredibly civilised. And that was a real kind of asset for Glasgow and kind of a shame that they have, have disappeared. 

That’s that, that that’s really it’s really fascinating that you’d say that. It’s quite quite intriguing. So, listen, thank you very much, Katie. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you on. Really interesting to hear kind of hear your thoughts on on GoMA and the programme that you’re doing there which is, which is really interesting and worthwhile. I can’t wait to get back inside GoMa. It was actually the last museum I visited before lockdown. So I have to get back and visit again. So just thank you very much, once again, a real pleasure. And just to everybody else who’s listening in, if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to our podcast and share it and you can follow us on #IfGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. 

Thank you very much.

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk podcast

Our If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk podcast is now available on our website! You can listen to the episodes below, and there is also a transcript available for each one.

Series 1 was first broadcast between October and December 2021, and Series 2 between March and May 2023.

Each episode focuses on a specific area, type of building or aspect of Glasgow’s heritage, not only from an architectural history point of view, but also from the perspective of the community. The podcast host, Niall Murphy, GCHT Director, was joined by special guests for each episode, who shared their personal experiences, thoughts, knowledge and memories. 

Click on the links below to learn about the mapping of queer heritage with Dr Jeffrey Meek from Glasgow University, to hear a discussion about heritage spaces and disabilities with Accessibility Consultant Emily Rose Yates, or to go on a virtual night out with Norry Wilson from Lost Glasgow, with stop offs at some well known historic music venues! Other topics include tenement living, murals and historic cinemas. Enjoy!

SERIES 1 EPISODE 1

ARE YOU DANCING? YES WE ARE ASKING! with Norry Wilson from Lost Glasgow

In this episode we talk about historic music venues and ballrooms, such as the Barrowland Ballroom and the Apollo, and their role as spaces of interaction and connection within the city. Do you have special memories linked to a music venue? How important are places like this for our collective memory?

Few know more about Glasgow’s memories than Norry Wilson of Lost Glasgow, who joined us as our guest for this episode. Norry is a journalist and social historian with a lifelong fascination with his home city, Glasgow.  His Lost Glasgow Facebook page and Twitter accounts, with their mix of archive images and stories relating to Glasgow’s history, have amassed a huge following over the years.

Read the Episode 1 Transcript

SERIES 1 EPISODE 2

DISAPPEARED GLASGOW with Reverend John Harvey, former member of Gorbals Group Ministry and Stuart Baird, Glasgow Motorway Archive

This episode features two great guests discussing the architectural, structural and social transformations that Glasgow went through in the 20th century, and what they meant for the communities who were affected by the changes. 

After the Second World War, the majority of the houses built during the Victorian period were considered a “housing problem” due to their high density, poor sanitation and structural deficiencies. In the second half of the 20th century, the most common solution to solving this “housing crisis” was to demolish the old tenements and re-house the population.

Our guests are Reverend Dr. John Harvey, who lived in the Gorbals as a member of the Gorbals Group Ministry in the early 1960s, and Stuart Baird, Founder and Chair of the Glasgow Motorway Archive, the largest private collection of road and transport records and photographs in Scotland.

Read the Episode 2 Transcript

Image copyright, by permission of Scottish Jewish Archives Centre

SERIES 1 EPISODE 3

MAPPING QUEER SCOTLAND with Dr Jeffrey Meek

In this episode we talk about Scottish LGBTQ+ history and places, and how queer stories are researched and interpreted.

Today, LGBTQ+ people in Scotland can marry, adopt children and pursue wonderful careers. Political leaders and public figures can openly identify as gay or bisexual, and Scotland recently topped two European league tables measuring legal protections offered to LGBTQ+ people. But this is all very recent, and Scotland only decriminalised gay sex between consenting men in 1980.

Queer spaces such as bars, pubs, bookshops, squares and parks therefore play a very important role in queer history. But how can we research and collect queer stories and what sort of traces did past queer people leave behind?

We explore this topic with Dr. Jeffrey Meek, Lecturer in Economic and Social History at Glasgow University and Founder and Curator of QueerScotland, a fascinating website  and research tool showcasing historical maps of queer places and spaces in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and across the wider Central Belt.

Read the Episode 3 transcript

SERIES 1 EPISODE 4

TENEMENT LIFE with Ana De la Vega, Tenement House and Allistair Burt, Camphill Gate

This double guest episode is about the history of tenements in Glasgow and what it is like to live in a tenement now compared to living in one at the start of the 20th Century.

Living in a tenement is extremely common in Glasgow, as stone tenements have been part of the fabric of our city since the 19th century. According to recent research, around 73% of Glaswegians live in a tenement of some sort!

Tenements were first built during the industrial revolution to accommodate large numbers of people moving to the city to work. At this time, Glasgow’s population grew from a quarter of a million at the start of Queen Victoria’s reign to 760,000 at the end of it.

In this episode we will be discussing tenement living in the past with Ana Sánchez-De La Vega, Visitor Service Supervisor at the Tenement House (NTS) and tenements as communities now with Allistair Burt, who owns a flat at Camphill Gate, a B-Listed tenement on Glasgow’s Southside.

Read the Episode 4 transcript

SERIES 1 EPISODE 5

A MULTIPLICITY OF VOICES: SLAVERY AND GLASGOW with Katie Bruce, Curator at GoMA, Glasgow Museums

From the 1700s until the UK abolished slavery in 1833, many Glasgow merchants made their fortune from trading tobacco, sugar, rum and cotton produced by enslaved people on plantations or in factories.

Historians have recorded 19 slave voyages leaving Greenock and Port Glasgow in the six decades between 1706 and 1766, carrying roughly 3000 people into slavery. Many historic buildings and areas in Glasgow are linked with these trades.

In this episode we talk to Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) Curator Katie Bruce about the different ways in which this aspect of Glasgow’s history can be researched, interpreted and highlighted, with a special focus on the GoMA building and its convoluted history.

Read the Episode 5 transcript. 

SERIES 1 EPISODE 6

ACCESSIBILITY AND HERITAGE with Accessibility Consultant Emily Rose Yates

Glasgow is famous for its stunning historic buildings dating from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, when the city was known as the Second City of the Empire.

Unfortunately, a lot of these heritage spaces are inaccessible to many people living, working and visiting Glasgow. Barriers are at the root of disabled people’s exclusion and are an obstacle to their enjoyment and appreciation of heritage, culture and art.

In Scotland, one in five people are disabled. Only 8% of Scottish people with disabilities are wheelchair users, and 70% have disabilities which are invisible. (Visit Scotland 2021 Survey, 2021). Access needs are as unique and individual as the person who requires them.

In this episode we talk about accessibility, representation and inclusivity in heritage spaces with Accessibility Consultant Emily Rose Yates.

Read the Episode 6 transcript. 

SERIES 1 EPISODE 7

SPLASHES OF COLOUR AROUND THE CITY with John Foster, City Centre Mural Trail and Ali Smith, Art Pistol

During the last decade, mural painting has flourished in Glasgow, and they can be found all over the city, covering a huge range of topics from saints’ lives to flying taxis, pelicans, swimmers and poems.

The Glasgow City Council’s Mural Fund is a scheme which offers support towards the costs involved in creating and delivering new murals in the city centre.

In this episode we discuss how Glasgow’s murals enrich the urban landscape and the process behind their creation with John Foster, Project Lead for the City Centre Mural Trail and Ali Smith, Director of Art Pistol projects, the company behind some of the most iconic murals in the city.

Read the Episode 7 transcript.

SERIES 1 EPISODE 8

THERE IS NOTHING MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN POTENTIAL: COMMUNITY OWNERSHIP AND HISTORIC SCHOOL BUILDINGS with Martin Avila, Kinning Park Complex

Have you ever wondered why there are so many historic school buildings in our city?

The high number of old schools in Glasgow relates to the Education Scotland Act of 1872, which made elementary education compulsory and free for all children between the ages of 5 and 13. In Glasgow alone, 75 new schools were built between 1873 and 1918.

The cost, upkeep and preservation of these massive Victorian and Edwardian School Board buildings has been a constant challenge for the council, the pupils and teachers and the larger school communities.

So what can community’s do to save these buildings? Are they salvageable? Are they even worth saving?

In this episode we focus on a great example of a community taking ownership and repurposing a historic school building. The Kinning Park Complex is an independent multi use community space in the Southside of Glasgow, located in an old red sandstone building and originally built in 1916 as an annex to the Lambhill Street Primary School.

Martin Avila, former Director of Kinning Park Complex, talks about the challenges and the joys of community ownership.

Read the Episode 8 transcript. 

SERIES 1 EPISODE 9

MUCH MORE THAN JUST FOOTBALL: HISTORIC STADIUMS AND FOOTBALL MEMORIES with Robert Harvey, Football Memories Scotland

People and social interactions are at the heart of football, just like stadiums and other venues linked to a specific sport, such as pubs and clubs.

Football Memories Scotland is a project which provides opportunities for people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia to reminisce through discussion of archive football images. The Scottish football archive at the Scottish Football Museum holds thousands of images covering the history of the game in Scotland. These images are used as memory triggers for participants and can assist with short term memory recall.

This episode’s guest is Robert Harvey, Volunteer and Area Co-ordinator for Glasgow, Football Memories Scotland.

Read the Episode 9 transcript. 

SERIES 1 EPISODE 10

ENTERTAINMENT MAKES GLASGOW with Judith Bowers, Britannia Panopticon and Gary Painter, Scottish Cinemas Project

Across the 19th and 20th centuries, Glasgow was home to a huge number of music halls, theatres, and cinemas, which served and entertained the population. These spaces occupied a significant role in the social and architectural life of the city and in people’s memories, and many still do.

Join us for a double guest episode about the entertainment industry of the past, with a focus on historic music halls, theatres, and historic cinemas with Judith Bowers, Founder and Director of the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall campaign and Gary Painter, co-founder of the Scottish Cinemas Project.

Read the Episode 10 transcript. 

SERIES 2 EPISODE 1

A black and white image of a man wearing a suit and glasses holding film reels.

GLASGOW ON FILM with Dr Emily Munro from National Library of Scotland's Moving Image Archive

In our first episode of Series 2 we welcome Dr Emily Munro, Curator and Learning Officer at the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Imagine Archive for an enlightening discussion about Glasgow on film. The Moving Image Archive is Scotland’s national collection of moving image and is based in Kelvin Hall in the West End of Glasgow, where they care for 46,000 items.

Dr Munro and Niall discuss film makers in and around Glasgow, and the great change that the city has seen over the last 100 years – but also some of the continuities. They also chat about some of the ‘hidden gems’ of the Moving Image Archive and what’s next for the Archive.

Some of the films discussed:
– Great Glasgow Fires https://movingimage-onsite.nls.uk/film/1733

– Glasgow School of Art in 1950s https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/3352

– Eddie McConnell & Oscar Marzaroli later shot this Murray Grigor d. film about Mackintosh https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/2226
– Faces, 1959, d. Eddie McConnell https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/1942
– Our Transport Services, made by the Glasgow Corporation, 1949, https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/0057
– St Enoch Hotel and Station, 1966, https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/4004
– KH-4, starring Bill Forsyth, 1960s, https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/3631
– Mungo’s Medals, 1961, Glasgow Corporation film about new housing developments, https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/2102
– Demolition of Grand Hotel Charing Cross https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/2699 (onsite only)
– The Planner’s Approach, https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/4196 (onsite only)
– Battle of the Styles, 1968, https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/2319
– The Lamplighter, 1956, https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/1500
– Glasgow Gets to Work, 1935, https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/3246

Additional films:
– Spot the Spot, 1926, a quiz made for cinema patrons, https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/0863C
– Shieldhall Chemical Sundries Department, 1959, manufacturing everything from custard and jelly crystals to asprin and shoe polish https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/0616
– Glasgow Takes Care of Its Old Folk, 1949, Innovative Glasgow Corporation ‘cottage’ housing development, designed to provide accommodation for the elderly and to keep elderly couples together https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/0135

– Tribute to Wartime Production, 1941, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth tour Templeton’s carpet factory in Glasgow where women are making army blankets, https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/1625

SERIES 2 EPISODE 2

A photograph of some high rise flats taken from a distance.

A SNAPSHOT OF GLASGOW with photographer Chris Leslie

This week we’re joined by photographer Chris Leslie, who began his career in the Balkans in the 1990s. His 2017 book and multimedia project ‘Disappearing Glasgow’ featured photographs, essays and interviews with people from areas in Glasgow which have dramatically changed in the last ten years including Dalmarnock and the Red Road flats. Niall and Chris discuss the changes that they have seen across the city and the impact this has had on the people that live there.

 

Find out more about Chris’ new book ‘Balkan Journey’ here: https://www.balkanjourney.com/the-book/

This conversation was recorded on 2nd August 2022.

SERIES 2 EPISODE 3

ALASDAIR GRAY'S GLASGOW with Sorcha Dallas from The Alasdair Gray Archive

Alasdair Gray’s iconic work is dotted around the city of Glasgow, but how did the city impact his life and work? This week we’re joined by Sorcha Dallas, Custodian of The Alasdair Gray Archive to discuss all things Alasdair Gray. Sorcha met Gray in 2007 and became Custodian of the archive following his death in 2019. The archive holds a large collection of of Gray’s work which includes sketches, drawings and original prints, as well as a a re-staging of his working studio set up.
This conversation was recorded on 2nd February 2023.

SERIES 2 EPISODE 4

A man holding a pen is drawing onto a large piece of white paper

DRAWING COMMUNITY with Dr Mitch Miller

Glasgow is home to the largest concentration of showpeople in Europe, but they go largely unnoticed in the city until planning issues come to light. In this episode Niall and Dr Mitch Miller discuss the long history of showpeople and their yards in Glasgow, how they have changed and developed over the years, and the current threats to their spaces.
Dr Miller is a social researcher, artist, and cultural activist who comes from a showpeople family. Over the last couple of decades Mitch has become a pioneering presence in Glasgow through his activism. He is perhaps most known for inventing the dialectogram, a piece of graphic art that depicts place from the ground up in collaboration with communities.
This conversation was recorded on 24th January 2023.

Read Series 2 Episode 4 transcript

SERIES 2 EPISODE 5

A black and white image of a ghost girl floating down an alley

GHOSTS OF GLASGOW with Jan Murdoch-Richards from Lanarkshire Paranormal

Whilst Glasgow may not be as famous as Edinburgh for its ghosts and ghouls, there are still stories of many spooky goings on around the city. Join Jan Murdoch-Richards from Lanarkshire Paranormal to hear about their investigations in and around Glasgow.

This conversation was recorded on 11th August 2022.

Read the Series 2 Episode 5 Transcript

SERIES 2 EPISODE 6

Black and white image of a Glasgow high rise with a woman and child walking in front of it.

HOUSING IS A HUMAN RIGHT: GLASGOW'S HOUSING STRUGGLE with Joey Simons from the Glasgow Housing Struggle Archive

Joey and Niall discuss the newly formed Glasgow Housing Struggle Archive and how it informs and is informed by Glasgow’s strong connection to housing struggles and movements throughout history. Joey tells us about the Archive, what its aims are and how he envisions it evolving. He also chats with Niall about the tradition of rent strikes, occupations and protest that continues up to today.
Joey is a writer and artist from Glasgow. He is co-founder of the Glasgow Housing Struggle Archive, a member of the National Committee of Living Rent –  Scotland’s tenants’ union. He is currently working on a number of projects with the CCA, Platform, Glasgow Sculpture Studios, Edwin Morgan Trust and the Travelling Gallery.
This conversation was recorded on 23rd February 2023.

Read the Series 2 Episode 6 Transcript

SERIES 2 EPISODE 7

A colour image of Glasgow Royal Infirmary with trees outside

HOSPITALS, HEALTH & HERITAGE with Dr Hilary Wilson and Dr Kate Stevens, Friends of Glasgow Royal Infirmary

In our first ever live podcast recording we’re joined by Dr Hilary Wilson and Dr Kate Stevens from Friends of Glasgow Royal Infirmary to hear about the history of the development of Glasgow Royal Infirmary, the many pioneering healthcare providers that worked at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, and their experiences setting up the recently opened museum in the Royal Infirmary.

This conversation was recorded in front of a live audience in the museum at Glasgow Royal Infirmary on 24th August 2022.

Read the Series 2 Episode 7 Transcript

SERIES 2 EPISODE 8

WOMEN MAKE HISTORY with Gabrielle Macbeth and Anabel Marsh, Glasgow Womens Library

We’re joined by Gabrielle Macbeth, Volunteer Coordinator at Glasgow Women’s Library and Anabel Marsh, one of the Library’s longest serving volunteers who tell Niall about their pioneering walking tours which started in 2007. We hear how the staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to highlight women’s diverse but often unrecognised impact on the city of Glasgow.

This conversation was recorded on 2 March 2023.

Read the Series 2 Episode 8 Transcript

SERIES 2 EPISODE 9

DEAR GREEN PLACE with Fiona Sinclair, Conservation Architect

In our penultimate episode of the Series Niall and conservation architect Fiona Sinclair take a metaphorical walk through Glasgow’s many parks and green spaces. They talk about the Victorians who planned these spaces for citizens to enjoy more than a hundred and fifty years ago, how they have changed over time, and how they’ve been used, with a stop at some of the well known glasshouses along the way.

This conversation was recorded on 9th February 2023.

Read the Series 2 Episode 9 Transcript

SERIES 2 EPISODE 10

A NATTER WITH NIALL with Norry Wilson, Lost Glasgow

Have you wondered what Niall’s favourite building in Glasgow is? Well this week you can find out! The tables are turned on Niall as his good friend Norry finds out about how he ended up at GCHT and any lessons he’s learned from the podcast.

Norry Wilson is a well known figure in Glasgow, having set up Lost Glasgow in 2012. Norry is a journalist and social historian with a lifelong fascination with his home city, Glasgow.  His Lost Glasgow Facebook page and Twitter accounts, with their mix of archive images and stories relating to Glasgow’s history, have amassed a huge following over the years.

This conversation was recorded on 16th March 2023.

Read the Series 2 Episode 10 Transcript

If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk is produced by Inner Ear, sponsored by National Trust for Scotland and kindly supported by Tunnock’s.

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Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

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Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

Download our Kid’s Heritage Trails!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

Ghost Signs of Glasgow blog: A Walk on the Ghostly Side, by Elspeth Cherry

I first came across Ghost Signs on Instagram. I think I had posted a snap of a fading painted sign and when I searched around a bit I was introduced to the expression. Once an entity has been named you can’t help noticing it everywhere.

Ghost signs are peppered all around the city centre. It’s the nature of the beast. The moniker itself is evocative, capturing mystery and fascination in these relics from bygone times, sometimes living memory, often a lot older than that, deep in the Merchant City of Glasgow.

Ghost Signs Tour, City Centre, October 2021

When there was a guided walking tour of Ghost Signs during the Glasgow Open Doors Festival in 2019, I soon began honing a sharp eye to detect the traces of lettering on walls and doorways, over shop windows and on tenement gable ends. The guides had stories to tell: of Mr Benjamin who sold many types of natural sponges, imported from sparkling tropical waters to the factories, workshops, stables and homes of Edwardian Glasgow; of Ann’s shoe shop at the Barras which specialised in small sizes; of the warning to small boys not to play marbles or balls in the courtyard behind Royal Exchange Square. Fellow walkers on the tours pitched in with their own memories or local knowledge and made the excursion most enjoyable.

I even spotted some gilded fonts emerging from under flaking layers of paint in an alleyway which had not already been noted. There’s a little spark of joy in that.

Elspeth during a Ghost Signs tour, City Centre, October 2021

At the end of Lockdown I was looking round for new projects and the Ghost Sign Project was looking for volunteers. Researchers, photographers, social media posters and tour guides. Spark of joy! I sent off my details and offered my services as a humble researcher. Yes, I thought that learning how to use archives would be a useful skill. I’m not bad at googling and writing up results… Maybe in time, I could be good enough to help with a walking tour? I was accepted and duly supplied with a ghost sign to research. Burley’s Hammer Shaft Factory in Ibrox was a wonderful gift as there was an abundance of information about the long and prosperous history of this company. However, another ghost sign for a Strathbungo motor mechanic business near to where I grew up, was more of a task despite this business having existed in my own living memory, it was difficult to draw anything like the vivid tale of the hammer shaft makers. Another ghost sign for a southside pawnbrokers’ sign, dating back to the early 20th C til only a few years ago, was nigh impossible to squeeze the slightest flicker of life from. From this inspiration, I found my forte as I was quickly promoted, or hustled, into the role of tour guide for this year’s Open Doors Days!

With the knowledgeable Fiona as my leader, it was really fun and interesting.

Ghost Signs tour, city Centre, October 2021

Glasgow’s true commercial peak was the era of the Victorian Empire. Many of the ghost signs we see in the city centre open a little crack of light to the rich world that prevailed but also to the lives of the smaller businesses that glued its edifices together.

A hat maker here, a scrivener there, a typewriter repair business! In those old times, the signwriters prepared their own paints and mixed them to weather the elements and the grime of the city.

Today’s business signs are pre-made plastic and are exchangable and disposable. Still more businesses are digital and inhabiting online market places. In another hundred years, perhaps we will be excavating some archaic form of the internet to discover such tasty morsels of history?!

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Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

Ever wondered which buildings in your neighbourhood are listed, or even on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register?

Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

Download our Kid’s Heritage Trails!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

Online Podcast Launch: “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk”

Thursday 28th October 2021 | 7.30pm BST | via Zoom

Curious about our new podcast? Join us to celebrate its launch as the first two episodes go live!

This event will consist of a quick presentation about the thinking behind “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk”, followed by GCHT Community Engagement Officer Silvia Scopa in conversation with podcast host, GCHT Deputy Director Niall Murphy. They will be chatting about the podcast and some of the stories that feature in the episodes, and playing some exclusive audio content. 

“If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” is a ten episode series that explores the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow’s historic buildings and places and the city’s communities. Each episode focuses on a specific area, type of building or aspect of Glasgow’s heritage, not only from an architectural history point of view, but also from the perspective of the community. Niall was joined by special guests for each episode, who shared their personal experiences, thoughts, knowledge and memories. 

Podcast listeners will have the chance to learn about the mapping of queer heritage with Dr Jeffrey Meek from Glasgow University, to hear a discussion about heritage spaces and disabilities with Accessibility Consultant Emily Rose Yates, and to go on a virtual night out with Norry Wilson from Lost Glasgow, with stop offs at some well known historic music venues! Other topics include tenement living, murals and historic cinemas. 

You can find all the details about the podcast and listen to our teaser episode at this link

Free, booking required, donations welcome. 

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Please note: Payment is taken via PayPal but you do not need to have a PayPal account to pay online. 

We are using Zoom to broadcast our live talks. You can join these events as a participant without creating a Zoom account. You do not need to have a webcam or a microphone to join the event as a participant.

All events are subtitled. We aim to make our events as accessible as possible but if you feel that you might need some additional help, please let us know when you book your ticket or get in touch in advance. We’re open to feedback and would welcome your ideas on how we can improve in this area.

You will receive instructions on joining the event by email. If you haven’t received anything by midday on the day of the event, please check your spam folder and then contact us.

You might also be interested in…

Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

Ever wondered which buildings in your neighbourhood are listed, or even on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register?

Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

Download our Kid’s Heritage Trails!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.