Mary Fee MSP, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities, says Scottish Labour should follow the example of four community-led projects in Glasgow’s East End.
On Monday I spent a very interesting day in Glasgow’s East End visiting four community-led projects; a housing association, a community transport project, a community hub and a forthcoming music venue to add to Glasgow’s vast array of music halls, clubs and arenas.
The reason I am telling you this is because these projects are run for the community by local people, not pushed on by government or council. However governments at all levels still have a role to play in supporting the advancement of community projects across Scotland.
The first visit, which took place following the Scottish Labour Shadow Cabinet meeting in the City Chambers, was with Milnbank Housing Association. Here I found the Carbon Footprints Nursery, an enterprise run by the housing association working with its tenants to offer flexible childcare thus encouraging parents to return to work.
The nursery also offers work experience within local schools and works with Glasgow Kelvin College to recruit and train staff, many of whom are local people and indeed tenants. I also hear that all of the Housing Association Committee members are residents (excluding one Baillie from Glasgow City Council). These are just a few of examples of the great work that Milnbank Housing Association is achieving by working with its tenants.
Before taking on the role of Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities I served as our party’s housing spokeswoman, and for the year and a half I held that position I cannot remember hearing about the levels of positive engagement a housing association has with its tenants and community and the commitment to encourage locals to get involved in their community. I’m sure there are other RSL’s across Scotland in a similar capacity to Milnbank and I want to see this as the standard, not the exception.
Next I received a tour of a new premises, currently under refurbishment, for the Alexandra Park Bike Club, by George Chalmers, a coordinator of the Milnbank Carbon Reduction Project in partnership with the Housing Association. George is also an adviser in my Infrastructure portfolio and his enthusiasm for the projects I am trying to highlight is truly inspiring. There is a strong team behind these projects and without their dedication and aspiration to better our communities, you wouldn’t be hearing about such work.
The Alexandra Park Bike Club is another project like many that has received funding from the many organisations like the Big Lottery and Sports Scotland. Initially it was started as a pilot scheme and the success of that pilot is not surprising given the talents behind it. The scheme aims to support those from lower incomes access cycling opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available. Now the project is developing further and the premises in Alexandra Park will embody that community spirit with a new cafe, bike garages and staff to run it daily.
Glasgow’s ‘cycling tsar’ Councillor Frank McAveety joined us at this stage to give me more information on how the scheme developed and detail further why it is important for Scotland to have healthier lifestyles, a cleaner environment and encourage the modal shift to more active travel. Getting more people to take up active travel, cycling and walking, is a challenge facing the Scottish Government and local authorities however the concept needs further investment and ring-fencing of funds such as Edinburgh City Council has implemented.
Following this I visited the Dalmarnock Community Hub, another project still under development. The Hub is a great example of what a community can achieve when people like Cllr Yvonne Küçük inspire and harness a spirit that will benefit people for years to come. Under development, and expected to be completed by June, the Hub is as a positive benefit from the 2014 Commonwealth Games Legacy. The Hub will house a GP’s surgery, a dentists, a pharmacy, community halls, a nursery and i’m sure more will come from it in the future. This model is one that can be achieved across many of Scotland’s town and city communities to incorporate health and social wellbeing into its foundations.
The final visit to Saint Luke’s on Baird Square (behind the Barrowlands) is one different to the previous visits of the day. This a a private venture being taken on to bring a new music venue to the East End of Glasgow. However the local community will have access through education as the developers pointed out. Working with local colleges the disused church will be used as a base to teach students about stage, sound and light management during the day, and by night local, national and international musicians, comedians and performers will take to the stage to entertain hundreds of gig-goers. The architect Tom Hamilton showed real passion in this project and the others we visited and again it is people like Tom, Yvonne and George that can bring the best out of communities, for communities.
This is where Scottish Labour can work to make a real difference. During our term in Government between 1999-2007 in Holyrood we achieved real change in many communities across Glasgow and Scotland through redevelopment and regeneration of areas. This has never been a success that we have shouted from the rooftops about, rightly so because it should be the men, women and children who pick up the baton to challenge and lead their communities to change for the better, for the future.
However this is where Scottish Labour can again make a real difference, and working with my Shadow Cabinet members I want to see us work with communities again to develop, encourage and embrace a real spirit that will bring long-term, positive change.