It’s now a decade since I started working in the field of regeneration. A decade that has borne witness to a lot of talk about; developing social capital; creating facilities that foster interaction; supporting programmes that build community and animate spaces.
This has been coupled with a strong desire from the design community to discuss place-making, with the buzz words being, quite rightly, identity, empowerment, cultural connections etc.
And since the start of the recession, we have also seen the rise in desire to ensure that regeneration is under-pinned by a strong local economy, with a beating heart of creativity and entrepreneurship.
Oh, and lastly, how could I forget the pop up phenomenon – ‘Meanwhile uses’. You know the ones – often far more interesting than the alternative ideas that stopped when the cash ran out.
So, that’s the theory. What about the practice. Well, over the last 3 years, we, at the Glasgow Canal Regeneration Partnership, have been lucky enough to support, where we could, a project that responds to each of these themes – it’s The Glue Factory, at Speirs Locks.
What’s the story ?
To start, Speirs Locks has been in a process of change. A new neighbourhood has emerged from the ashes of a Grand Designs style Masterplan. Rather than new build development, cultural organisations have relocated to the area, occupying former industrial buildings.
At the heart of this lies The Glue Factory – a building acquired in the ‘good’ old days, with the intention being to demolish it to make way for ‘regeneration’.
But, in the eyes of a group of talented young creatives, an alternative future unfolded before our eyes. A Community Interest Company was formed. The aim ? To transform the 20,000 sqft of space into one of the most open & exciting creative venues in Glasgow. No mean city. No mean feat.
Many hours, days and weeks of time were given over to clearing the space. Favours called in. Friends helped out. Fund raising events held. Leaking roofs patched up. Power installed. Toilets built. To some, this is called sweat equity. The emphasis being on the former.
Then the real work began. The Glue Factory has attracted over 15,000 visits to see some astonishing arts & events. Over 500 individual, established and internationally exhibiting artists have provided content. And the venue has also hosted 10 Festivals, 8 Higher Education and 11 community projects. With the audience reached through a social network with more than 5,000 followers.
All achieved by a CIC managed by a group of 7 volunteers. Each giving between 7-30 hours a week, to run the premises and programme. Incredible.
And if that wasn’t enough, more micro money was raised. Small workspaces were formed. These now include a Print Studio; a recording studio; and a handful of other studios that several start up creative businesses call home.
But telling the story is the easy bit, and would make a great showcase for Policy makers looking for examples of community led action. However, behind the scenes, life can seem a lot different.
Over the three years, the hand to mouth existence has stretched everyone to their limits, physically, emotionally, and at a practical level too. Bills have needed paid. The roof fixed. Again. Leases negotiated. Health & Safety sorted out.
And there are the people too. Real people. Relationships start. And end. Personalities’ clash. Some leave when a new job takes them to another city. Some need to get on with business of starting businesses, of progressing careers. Life goes on. Life moves on.
And at the end of the (long) day, walls get hit. People burn out. But the time demanded by the project seems never ending. And the only advice you can offer is that everyone takes a much needed break. Stops. Does nothing for a while.
And then come back with some new time & energy to think about the most important thing of all – the future. And amazingly, it happens. Business plans get written. Funding applications made. New volunteers found to help out.
All in all, there’s talk. And there’s action. And the CIC has focused on the latter – capacity has been built. Interaction fostered. Spaces animated. Creative employment created.
Or as one of the artists involved once said, “The Glue Factory – it used to make Glue, now it makes awesome”. Nice. Wish it well for the future. And whenever someone talks with words that buzz, think of The Glue. And remember that without the incredible efforts of volunteers, who give everything, nothing would get done.