Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Drumchapel. The Big Four. Lessons Learned?

Sign on canal track.
I knew this would be a tricky and long post to write so I kept putting it off. I first noticed this sign when I was cycling along the Forth and Clyde canal into Clydebank for an OS map in early springtime a few months ago. As I live on the north west side of the city and regularly use the canal for walking and cycling my immediate thought was " hello, I've never noticed that before." It seemed like an invitation.
Clydebank from Drumchapel.
As I enjoy walking, both up hills and through urban areas I filed it away in my rapidly decreasing brain cells as somewhere interesting to visit in the near future as I always get a kick out of visiting new areas. Drumchapel, of course, is not new to me. I've lived in Glasgow all my life and I've visited relatives and various friends who have stayed in "The Drum" since the early 1960s onwards. I live not far from it and I've worked in it and most of the other Glasgow council schemes (estates) on and off for many years, especially during the 1980's, a turbulent time for most working class areas in northern Britain when money was squeezed tighter than a fleas arse by a right wing government that didn't seem to care about the social consequences of their actions. (ring any bells.) All told I've spent hundreds of hours up here.
Most folk that drive past Drumchapel on the A82 heading north only know it as a long wall of tenements sitting above the great western road retail park but I have fond memories of playing in the summer grasslands around the large water tower, one of the highest parts of the scheme, with similar aged friends during the 1960s and knew the 1980s Drumchapel very well as I was never away from the place in a work capacity. I'm also well acquainted with the present version although its been several years since I've walked around the place on foot.
                                             A rough hand drawn outline of Drumchapel.
Part of the reluctance to put a post up is the fact that I have never actually lived in the area so wasn't sure about appearing cheeky, or offending anyone, by commenting on it now although I have plenty of experience of what it feels like growing up in one of the big four city estates that put the corners on the map of Glasgow and the video I'm going to attach at the bottom sounded both truthful and  familiar to my ears. Drumchapel, Easterhouse, Castlemilk, and Pollok. I grew up in a similar tenement estate in Pollok and have written about that experience here.
 Most families moving into these newly built areas from the overcrowded slums of the inner city districts didn't know that much about them beforehand. My own family had a choice of Easterhouse, Drumchapel or Pollok and I sometimes wonder if I would have grown up the same way in the first two if my parents had picked these as they visited Easterhouse to view the prospective abode they were offered but were put off by its situation right in the middle of the scheme with zero views from the windows except into someone else's living room. Pollok was picked for its woods, hilly aspect, and surrounding farmlands and proved the right choice for a nature lover growing up. Refuse a house too many times though and you were soon labelled "a problem tenant." Once you accepted a house in any of the schemes it was very hard to get out again if you didn't like it, especially if you were low down on the points system, with no overcrowding issues or pressing need to relocate. Unlike a jail sentence good behaviour didn't count for anything here and could actually prolong your stay as the worst houses were always the first to get knocked down while the rest remained intact.
View of Glasgow University, The Western Hospital, and Park Circus from Drumchapel, which has great views over the city as it is built over several hills.

Much to my surprise, as I was only writing it for my own benefit and as an aid to past memories before I forgot them altogether, the Pollok post has been the most visited entry during five years of blog postings with close to 4000 page views so far. Most of the mountain posts, no matter how spectacular they are, are lucky to get 200 to 300 hits, so folk must enjoy reading or seeing photos of the area they grew up in, even if they move away. Or maybe it's more than that as I really enjoyed the recent TV programme on BBC 2 "The Secret History of our Streets." looking back on Duke Street, Reidvale's community inspired success, and the background to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show hitting the east end of Glasgow even though I have no strong connection to that area and I'm looking foreword to the Aberdeen one on Fittie tonight. I enjoyed that far more than watching Lulu and John Barrowman dancing around at the Commonwealth Games although hopefully this time some useful money will have poured into the city and will be wisely used. It is worth bearing in mind that the video at the bottom of this post was made 3 years after the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, although they ended up owing money then instead of making it.
Grasslands along the Garscadden Way looking towards the Kilpatrick Hills, a walk or cycle track which runs along the outer edge of the estate and is the main attraction for a walker.
 (In case anyone's wondering I'm not going to put further posts up on Easterhouse and Castlemilk as I don't know those areas well enough and will leave that to people better informed than I am.)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drumchapel Rather than type out the history of the scheme here's the concise version here. Many people have fond memories of growing up in Drumchapel and the other
estates on the outskirts of Glasgow, especially during the early years of the 1950's and 1960's but during the late 1970's and 1980's all the council schemes had high unemployment as factory after factory closed down and other work was hard to come by. This was the transition period that brought in the death of heavy industry nationwide in favour of a service and business reliant UK, most of which was centred around the South East and London and still is. Drumchapel was hard hit as it did have substantial employment opportunities in the local area being close to the Clydebank shipyards and several factories in the early years. When these contracted or shut down there was very little in the way of other jobs. It's no surprise the Punk explosion of the mid to late 1970s struck a chord or three in the UK during this time as various jobless, angry and cynical young groups sang out to many other jobless, disaffected and bitter teenagers who wanted to kick down some closed doors and grab a slice of any action for themselves. A new musical focus and energy was one of the few real positive influences to emerge during that tough period, and, in retrospect, instead of being subversive, actually helped a lot of youngsters through those difficult teenage years by finding a voice they could identify with.
The Water Tower which looks down on Drumchapel. Views up here are extensive. Rural fields and farmlands to the West and North with the Kilpatrick Hills as a backdrop. The Garscadden Way starts on the Antonine Road at the Drumry roundabout, not far from the World of Golf , Five a Side Games Complex and the fiberglass Dinosaurs on the A82 and runs in a circle past Garscadden Wood (bluebells in spring) and Colquhoun Park. It's a varied walk with open views and attractive woodland and the biggest threat you will probably face, like elsewhere in Glasgow, is the continuing trend for "status dogs", huge wolf like breeds that need to be walked occasionally between meals. Larger cars, larger dogs and larger TVs seem to be the norm everywhere these days.
It's also on the flight path to Glasgow Airport so planes descending and taking off are a frequent sight on this undulating walkway which runs over several drumlins.
Garscadden wood is fairly large with fully grown mature trees and more recent plantations. There are usually buzzards and other birds of prey around here.
Good either walking on foot or on a mountain bike.
This is leading up to the highest point which also has extensive views.
Linkwood Flats.
An unusual view of Knightswood. Not all cottage type flats. If fact the Scotstoun /Knightwood district probably has a higher density of Multi Story Flats than any other area now.
Drumchapel itself, like all the large council schemes, has changed considerably over the years. Much of it has been knocked down and new areas of low level housing have replaced the long rows of identical tenements climbing the hillsides. It may use up more land but garden cities are the way forward. You cant beat an individual low level house with a small garden to sit in. You can blame problem tenants but even battery hens housed in long warehouses go mad and peck each others feathers out if placed too close to each other on wooden poles in a factory set up. It's well established when folk have cottage type houses with a small garden to call their own they take far better care of these properties as they have fixed boundary lines to enforce. Tenements or deck access units don't and most have been knocked down.
Modern Drumchapel and low level new housing around the water tower viewed from the hi flats.

 Although more expensive initially these individual properties last and most are still in good condition in all the big estates so they actually save money in the long run. Glasgow was the fastest growing city in Britain during the early decades of the 1900s and the city father's deserve credit for housing nearly half a million people in such a short period of time when new land to build on was in short supply. Even as a child though, visiting Drumchapel or Castlemilk to see relatives, I thought they were far too large and impersonal to ever work properly. How anyone could think this was utopia in housing is still beyond me yet numerous videos in the 1950s claim exactly that in gushing terms and as a social housing experiment they have extracted a very heavy price on many of the residents who had to live in them. "Homes for heroes" didn't exactly live up to the billing. Of course in the early 1950s the city planners didn't know that years of mass unemployment lay ahead as the shipyards and factories had plenty of orders after the war to replace all the infrastructure and ships lost to bombs and U boat attacks. People were still pouring into the city then from the Scottish highlands and Ireland, looking for work.

 If you were academically clever, plain lucky, good at sports, talented in some other way or just extremely focused and determined to find a better life for yourself or your family you could eventually escape your situation but for many stuck in a deep well with no ladder this was not an option and after a while there is a tendency to just give up. Although a lot of people have happy memories of the places where they grew up in I worked in the worst areas of Glasgow throughout  the 1980s in a succession of  low paid government sponsored jobs (unemployment money plus bus fares and or £10 to £20 extra for completing each full month) and the depression and lack of opportunities in all the schemes at that time was palatable as soon as you entered them, like a black cloud hovering over each district. Suicide or marrying young to someone in another area were popular avenues of escape. As my own estate was going rapidly downhill as well at that time due to mass unemployment and cutbacks in services I was in the same boat, wondering if I would ever outrun my situation. Painting railings in the schemes, moving families from one run down giant estate to another, where they always hoped for a better life, boarding up empty houses, clearing gardens of rubbish and cleaning off graffiti from walls, which would go back up again the next day, took the place of real jobs in Glasgow during my 20s. A lot of the time these job creation schemes seemed clueless as to what to do with us next and you would line up in rows to be picked into squads then sent off to work in some far flung estate on the outskirts then brought back at night again, squeezed into a van. History does repeat itself and the same ideas of working to earn dole money or working for free for several years to get "on the job training" are being rolled out again. This goes right back to the 19th century when the unemployed built roads and the Caledonian Canal across Scotland for a kipper and a few potatoes a day to feed their families. I also had a spell building cycle tracks in Edinburgh. A volunteer is worth ten paid men :o)
A hidden path between Drumchapel and Clydebank looking very green and lush in mid summer.

I actually quite enjoyed some of these "jobs" as it was an exciting time and I've always got a thrill out of seeing other areas. It could be dangerous though as I had a spear thrown at me once in a scheme, which missed me by inches, and I've had bricks and bottles aimed in my direction occasionally. One of my workmates got hit by an object dropped from a building and had a spell in hospital as a result. He didn't come back. I found a bag of dead kittens once in an empty flat we were clearing out, several strangled dogs and half a badger. Also a few bodies. It was an education into human nature. Fortunately, these jobs suited my lifestyle at that time as I was intent on exploring every city in Britain then for my own purposes. I too had an agenda to follow and a strong sense of purpose which kept me on the right track. It was not a cycle track.
The Drumchapel of today seems a much better place to a casual outsider, with a wide range of housing types, many of them owned and most well looked after although there are still various social problems in all the large estates, especially with the current recession and cut backs biting into any progress.(very similar in that respect to the 1980s) Certain lessons have been taken on board though and any poverty is much better disguised these days in the estates and happens behind closed doors. Hardship is largely invisible now, instead of obvious and in your face.
Glasgow Club. Donald Dewar Centre. above.
 Drumchapel has a long history of producing footballers through Drumchapel Amateurs, a football club who punched well above their weight and produced many well known names. Interesting article here with a surprising cast list.
At one time these vast estates boasted between 30,000 to 50,000 residents but most of the big four have halved their population. This is Invercanny Drive, above,  near the middle of the scheme.
Drummore Road and Summerhill Road district. Another empty plot of land lying vacant that used to have streets and tenement houses. One reason for Drumchapel being much quieter these days is the vast empty spaces between the new housing developments, slowly being reclaimed by nature.
As in previous civilizations the graffiti left behind sometimes outlasts the actual buildings that stood here.
Parts of Drumchapel are attractive in summer with wild flowers adding loads of colour, as here around the Garscadden Burn.
And the sunsets can be spectacular.
The grounds of Garscadden House, a large mansion that older folk may remember, now part of the Leg it Round Drumchapel Trail. This trail is not obvious, or well signposted and I lost it several times after this section, despite knowing the area. I came here in the late 1960s with a mate to see the Girnin Gates, the much missed entrance to the house that existed here, only to find they had been demolished a few years before. Wah! They were almost legendary in Drumchapel (a local pub was named after them) and several theories exist as to how they got their name.
Drumchapel is decorated with many walkways, linking between the various districts, and this plus the
empty spaces where houses used to stand almost give it a rural feel that some of the citizens of Detroit will know well.
Rose Bay Willow Herb cover the surrounding grasslands in high summer.
Wild flowers are sprouting up in central Drumchapel.
The farmland near the water tower. It's a very colourful area with good walks in the surroundings.
Pink parade.
Track near Clydebank.
Lush grasslands.
Where the old school used to be, on the hill between Kinfauns Drive and Summerhill Road. Another area that could be classed as a wildlife reserve, as nature is reclaiming it fast. Observed long tailed tits up here and a sparrowhawk.
The centre of Drumchapel viewed from the same school and not a building in sight. The old tenements of Cally Avenue, Bayfield, Barnkirk and Blackcraig, Ryedale, Jedworth and Rozelle are no more, having been lowered or modernized and painted to look less grey and uniform in appearance.
From memory the first streets of tenements to go were at the top of the hill around the Cleddens Kingsridge area above Katewell Avenue. This district  has been redeveloped with new housing but the central district around the old school has been lying empty for around fifteen years now and Invercanny has been vacant since the late 1990s I think? Are any plans afoot to rebuild these areas too or at least landscape them into a more attractive environment? It need not cost that much money to turn these areas into a low level, and still open, basic park land setting that will enhance the whole area. It's been a wasted opportunity for the past fifteen years in my opinion. Carpets of wild flowers are fairly cheap but stunning, like the new circles of red poppies in Clydebank next to the school at the roundabout. Instant feel good factor. You don't even need to remove the street layout. Just packets of wild flower seeds, and some vision. Given time nature will do it all by herself anyway. She's good that way.
 Drumchapel could be a very desirable place to live given a bit of real out the box thinking. I'm sure the present community must have some good ideas in that direction that doesn't necessarily involve large amounts of money. The internet is a great tool nowadays for finding solutions to problems. And if houses are planed later up here it's still easy to fit them in. Bright colours improve peoples outlook. Instead of painting railings, why not paint the empty pavements, Street Art Utopia /Detroit style. (link on this blog. There must be some good local street artists and if the results are visually impressive people will be interested to see it. Drumchapel already has the Pegasus sculpture which is memorable.

http://www.pinterest.com/cwbooks50/art-in-the-landscape/ Visual arts that stand out. Sculptures are expensive though compared to wild flowers.

 What's to say this photo of spring flowers, below, cant be attainable throughout the large estates too if you pick indigenous natural varieties that self seed very easily every year. Think of the money spent in the past to little effect up here.
The locals will just pick them? Not if you put enough in at the start they wont. Bright colours lift the human heart into a better place and its a gift that keeps on giving. The rose bay willow herbs seem to do alright in their field surroundings and grow every year naturally. A lower level carpet of flowers though inside the estate to avoid the temptation to set them on fire during heat waves.(you can tell I grew up in a scheme as I'm well aware the surrounding grasslands get set on fire after a prolonged dry spell, as they do on the outskirts of many large cities worldwide.) It can be done with a little creative thought and imagination though but the community needs to feel a part of it as well by getting the children involved. Could this be Drumchapel? What think you? It will not solve underlying social issues but there may even be grants available for eco friendly green re-wilding or "nature improvements" as they are available to absentee landlords, even if they don't actually improve the land and have never visited the properties in question. A recent scandal I remember watching yet it's perfectly legal. If you know how to milk the system it's a cash cow with big udders for some.

Maybe the words at the end of this very watchable video need not be true after all. This is an accurate portrait of the way I remember most of the Glasgow estates looking in the 1980s  and unless you were there at that time you would never imagine how bad these places were. Generations condemned to live without hope or colour in their life's. It was the children growing up during that decade that I felt sorry for the most as it really was a lost generation as far as decent jobs were concerned...or any jobs. For the bean counters in government it was worth the sacrifice but once you have a negative frame of mind locked in to any community from birth it is very hard to change that outlook. Add in drug addiction clinics, alcohol dependency units and many people that are unemployable for life after ten or more years on the dole in many post industrial communities and it actually costs far more money trying to instil a positive mental outlook and drive to succeed back again. In fact it is almost impossible.... or is it?  Governments never seem to think of that mind you when they commit an entire generation to the scrapheap with political decision making as they usually just think in five year terms... then its somebody else's problem. Drumchapel was not the worst area by any means as I visited rougher schemes than this one. The commentary starts after a couple of minutes. Well worth a look. I was thinking of calling this post "The Life cycle of the Underclass" as history teaches us the same thing happens again and again to the folk on the bottom rungs of any society since medieval times. Three steps forward then two back with very brief good spells to inch painfully forward followed by long recessions where you inevitably get dragged back again close to where you started. Another five years of Austerity Britain cut backs should just about do the trick. We truly are " all in this together."
It's like an eternal shell game only one without a pea under any of the moving cups.
But maybe these communities deserve better. They might actually enjoy(sweet) peas...and daises... and cornflowers.... and poppies... and a bright future for the area's children... even if fickle jobs come and go. Despite decades of human interaction the bluebell woods are still there above the scheme and are fondly remembered by those who have lived there.. and they came free of charge in 1953. Just a thought.


The Glebe Blog said...

A helluva comprehensive post Bob, I'll have to make a few visits.
I think the reason that particular post has most pageviews is that the U.K as a whole is really a nation of 'Townies'. I've worked with people who have the tenet "There's nothing in the countryside, why go".
Even today I come across old acquaintances on particular social media sites who's lives revolve around work and the pub, they don't know there's another world out there.
I was raised on a 'Scheme', though ours weren't anything like Glesca's high rise. Everyone knew everybody else in the scheme. The difference when I was growing up though was everybody worked. The mines fetched up coal, the foundries forged iron, cars were built in Linwood, ships were built on the Clyde, steel was pressed at Colville's steel mill in Gartcosh.
There's never been a concerted effort to counteract the consequences of these industries closing down. Luckily I'd moved south to work so I was never affected by Scottish closures, but on my travels I still see the industrial wastelands they left. I know industry changes, what I don't understand is why we haven't kept up. Sorry ! Got carried away.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Jim,
I've got a problem getting on the internet at the moment so I've added a small extra section to the ending. I packed in to watch the Fittie, Aberdeen programme last night then couldn't get back on again to finish it. That's it complete now.
Yes, like you, on my travels I still pass through many areas that are still suffering the effects of 1980s recession. The Inverclyde towns, Greenock and Port Glassgow, despite investment are still shirking, Jobs are hard to come by in a lot of post industrial areas yet there is a large skill shortage looming in Britain. Maybe we should just all move to the south east and turn Scotland into one big wildlife reserve:o) Such is life.

Carol said...

I wanted to watch the Fittie programme but we went out to the pub instead (we were on Skye).

Another good post on your Glasgow heritage - I'm envious you're doing so well as 4000 hits for these kinds of post! I need to find myself a stats goldmine like that! It could be people who grew up in those areas but it could also be the surge in interest in Glasgow with your sporting year and so on.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol, The Fittie Programme was very good.
Because of the larger populations in the bigger towns and cities they always get more hits and how cities and towns change and fluctuate over decades interest me anyway.
4000 hits. Mind you, they might all be like Alex and only skim through the pictures:o) At least I make them work for it by refusing to entertain a slide show. If I didn't believe in what I was writing about I might as well give up now.

Carol said...

I don't think they will just be flicking through the photos as you have a lot of good and interesting detail in your city posts

Anonymous said...

I am drawn to this site every so often while searching for various things and always end up getting sidetracked by the interesting perceptive writing and excelletn unusual photos. This post is no exception.

Funnily enough I sometimes play football at the complex off the A82 and in July 2014 I did a few wanders about Drumchapel in the sunny evenings, including Drummore Road, the water tower and the vast cleared area in the centre so the scenes in these photos are very familiar to me although I have only ever been to the Drum in passing every few years!

I didn't grow up in a scheme but Castlemilk was the closest place for some amenities like the swimming baths so occasionally we went on the bus to this mysterious dark place with looming tower blocks and boarded up brown tenements. Didn't have any family etc in the area so only had superficial impressions (which weren't great) and legendary stories of crazy incidents. This was in the late 80s and early 90s when the worst parts were being swept away. I have followed the regeneration of the big schemes with interest since then and have obviously found many inspirational people and stories from this tough upbringing amidst the hardship and damage which has sadly affected many across the generations. I have no doubt that things are improving in many aspects.

However on the flip side (the scumbag side!) I had to mention that on one of my wanders I wanted to look at the Pegasus scuplture which is on the top of a refurbished tenement block. As I was looking up to the roof, one of the residents who was out on his verandah saw me and shouted down aggressively "Are you taking photos of me?!?" I was a bit taken aback and instead of replying "I don't even know who the hell you are you stupid paranoid bastard" or even "Actually you might have noticed you have a 30ft wire sculpture of a winged horse on your roof, suprisingly enough that's what I'm focusing on", I just mumbled "No mate" and shuffled on my way. Some folk are just knob-ends.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Anon for your comments.
It can be a lonely business writing a blog so it's nice to get comments and feedback from folk who take the time, like yourself, to read it and reply. I was impressed myself with the summer walk around Drumchapel and how many streets were gone, replaced by wild flowers and nature among the rubble. Always had a soft spot for the Drum.
There are nutters in every walk of life but I usually ignore them and it doesn't put me off exploring. Having said that I believe in covert photography nowadays as I nearly got thumped early on by a large gang appearing out of a tenement in the east end suddenly while I was taking a photo of what I thought was an empty building. Once they found out I wasn't police they were OK about it but I never take photos with strangers nearby or watching and try to stay under the radar when using a camera as much as possible.