Thursday 27 June 2019
Morning: Senzas be blogging. Then: working on Victoria Road.
We first headed down Allison Street, which cuts across Victoria Road. We’d heard from several different people in the neighbourhood that this is the street they were warned about before moving to Govanhill, the street taxi drivers advise their customers to be careful on when dropping them off. It seems to have a bad reputation, which for those who live there is unfounded, but which still seems to make outsiders weary of it. We take it from the top, and do a little detour first to visit Libby Walker’s design shop, which sells different items with motifs inspired by the neighbourhood. On the wall are drawings of shop owners from Govanhill and surrounding areas portrayed with their businesses behind them. There are also cards, notebooks, tea-towels and tote-bags with shop fronts from the south-side of Glasgow on them, and curtains printed with drawings of extravagantly decorated shop windows and houses during “Window Wanderland”. The objects were joyful and celebratory of the area, and reflected a clear attachment to it and a desire to give it attention and pride of place. We somehow felt though that the different characters of the shop fronts, their at times unfashionable or old style signboards and shop windows were rendered in a slightly homogenising and slicker way than they appear in real life. Their portrayal through these objects looked gentrifying, in the sense that it made them all seem more cutting-edge designer-aware than they are. Later in the day we also went to visit the Rags to Riches shop which is linked to Govanhill Baths and which upcycles and recycles different materials into objects “Handmade in Govanhill”. There is so much creative activity in the neighbourhood, it definitely feels like an artists’ hub, and indeed questions surrounding gentrification through artistic presence were very much part of our discussions with different creatives living and working locally. (See below the photo of a note left by one of our workshop participants on Wednesday that also refers to questions of gentrification as part of change in the area brought about by the current construction of a cycle lane, an issue that was also brought up by the Swap Market artists on Tuesday afternoon).
At the top of the street there is a building site – it used to be a car factory and showroom, now they are building houses. Walking down Allison Street we noticed different messages that had been glued to street lamps, doors or walls, some fresh, some fading, all traces of different struggles to do with housing and the public space. “Property4U Criminally Negligent Rogue Landlords”; “Safety Code, Risk Lives”; posters with the number to join no evictions organising for those affected by Serco evictions of refugee families printed in English, Sorani Kurdish and Farsi. On bins, in pink: “People make Glasgow cleaner”. On a big billboard at Queen’s Park train station: “Calling all fashionistas, film buffs, coffee drinkers and commuters. Mag readers, telly watchers, pub-goers – you too. In fact, if you’ve ever had a thought or opinion about anything ever… We need you”. Further down, near the end of Victoria Road, close to the P. Lipton Memorial Centre we wrote about on the first day, another billboard had caught our eye a couple of days ago, the message reading: “Our funerals help fund good things like Co-op academy schools.”
When Allison Street meets Victoria Road we cross over and get vegan sausage rolls from Greggs – would have gotten 4 for the price of 3 if we had opted for meat ones. Continuing down the street, we notice the rubbish collection is visibly less attentive here compared to Victoria Road. The street is full of lively commerce. We get to Said’s, which still sells The Democrat and the Donegal Times on Fridays and Saturdays for the Irish residents of the community (later, while talking to Fatima from Govanhill Baths, she tells us that there are still buses running once a week from Victoria Road to Donegal). We go into another shop – “Vivo’s Usave open 24 hours newspapers top-ups pay point” – to buy an Irn Bru. The young man before us tells the elderly Pakistani owner sat behind the counter that he is bored – “why are you bored, you can’t be bored at your age!” He replies that he has just arrived from Greece and has no friends, tops up his phone and smiles at us and at the elderly man while leaving. The shop owner shows us his newspaper written in Urdu, but tells us he doesn’t sell any Urdu newspapers or any other newspapers coming from Pakistan – nobody would buy them, he just sells local newspapers in English. His son is studying law at university and is currently in China on an exchange – he will go to Finland next month, he tells Paula (who is Finnish). At the intersection with Cathcart the street gets dirtier – overflowing bins, an old mattress slumped against a building with an empty Buckfast bottle on top, a sofa turned upside down lie in the middle of the pavement. Then the street changes, the brick buildings typical also of Victoria Road turn into stand-alone two floor villas which all look the same. At the end of the street we can see the Hamden stadium where Pink was playing her concert on Sunday night when we arrived to Glasgow – we could make out some of the songs she was playing from Shona’s apartment on Victoria Road. This area near the stadium is much more industrial. We take another road back, and start feeling the heat, the first sunny day since we got here. An elderly lady is leaning on her villa’s small gate and smoking. We ask her where we are: Polmadie. We continue walking uphill a bit and then take Albert Road on our way back – this street has a completely different feel, with much posher looking houses (one had a sailing boat in its back yard, most had big gardens and a visual identity of their own – they were not built in a series).
We then split off and each proceeded to do observation work and writing in different parts of Victoria Road, some near coffee shops, others in or around Lidl, charity shops, some closer to the park, others stationed at bus stops. The Al Khair Foundation had plastic glasses with free water laid out on a table outside their shop for people to drink, “bloody temperature”, “it’s affy hot”, and other comments puffing out of people struggling with the heat and acknowledging it to each other. We then briefly went to check out Bike for Good who recently transferred in a larger space just off Vicky Road and that give biking lessons to adults for free. They didn’t think that it was fair for cycling to be associated with ‘hipsters’ or with gentrification – most people who come to their workshop to learn how to fix bikes or to learn how to cycle just wish to get around the city faster and for cheaper than with public transport.
At 4pm we had a meeting with Fatima at Govanhill Baths. She told us about the history of the struggle against the closing of the Baths, which lead to the longest occupation of a public building in UK history, 141 days, and to all the activities and organising that is still generating in the neighbourhood.