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August 13, 2014

Creating history by staying put

Glasgow’s slum clearances back in the 1960’s may have been well intentioned and even welcomed by many as a chance to escape from truly appalling living conditions, but they also saw the break-up of strong community identities that the newly built peripheral housing estates struggled for years to rekindle. Great documentary on BBC 2 last week telling the story of what happened when some tenants just refused to go. Someone should start a Museum of Community Activism – a national archive for these great stories of local people shaping their futures.



Daily Record, by Paul English

The pioneering work of Reidvale Housing Association around the east end of Glasgow’s Duke Street – the longest street in the UK – features in The Secret History of Our Streets.

The legacy of campaigning residents on one of Glasgow’s most famous streets at the centre of the Commonwealth Games celebrations is to be celebrated on a major new BBC documentary.

The pioneering work of Reidvale Housing Association in the east end of Glasgow is the focus of an hour-long film detailing how strident community activism paved the way for the Housing Association movement across the UK.

The area around the east end of Glasgow’s Duke Street – the longest street in the UK – features in The Secret History of Our Streets, to be shown on BBC2 this week.

It was a zone earmarked for demolition by the city fathers in the late 1960s, with generations of working families set to be displaced into outlying schemes.

Glasgow council leaders pushed through compulsory purchase orders and plans for the demolition of many Dennistoun tenements.

Residents were to be decanted into schemes in areas like Easterhouse or into new high rises like the now-deserted Bluevale and Whitevale Towers in the east end, a notorious testimony to failed urban planning projects of the mid 1960.

But the pluck and resistance of a tight-knit group of community campaigners, dubbed “The Bathgate Street Mafia”, stalled bulldozers and established the UK’s first resident-run housing association successfully securing central government funding.

Thousands of families were “saved” from being shunted out into the schemes or into so-called cities in the sky thanks to the determination of activists led by the late John Butterly, who was awarded an MBE for his services to the community in 1987.

Campaigner Irene McInnes recalled: “They were telling us how they wanted to demolish the whole south side of Duke Street.

“John stood up at the public meeting and said ‘You go and live in Easterhouse if you like. I will not.”

The film also charts the area’s bygone social divisions, with doctors and lawyers being encouraged in the 1800s by the wealthy Dennistoun family – owners of a leafy country estate to the north of Duke Street –  to live in spacious purpose-built gated communities, behind the slum conditions endured by working class families in nearby tenements.

Producers hace also included candid personal archive film of the area taken by John Butterly as well as the remarkable story of American showman soldier Buffalo Bill giving the people of Dennistoun a three month residence in 1891 featuring hudreds of horses and 18 buffalo.

It also laments the demise of notable Victorian architecture in the area, specifically the once-luxurious marble-clad Whitevale Baths which boasted a Turkish baths, reading rooms and a classic Glasgow “steamie”.

Now a listed building, it fell into desrepair and was abandoned by the council in 1988 and was partially demolished in 2012.

 Local Harriet Stomboli said: “If I won the lottery I would buy this building, because I think it is the most lovely building going to waste, and I would convert it in to something for our area that would do benefit to the people. I would definitely buy this building if I won money.”

Series advisor Dr Gerry Mooney, of the Open University, said: “The programme highlights the issues of power, social inequality and marginalisation that exist within Scotland, as well as the struggles of its people to build a sense of community, a sense of place – often in very difficult circumstances.

“We hope that the programmes will inspire viewers across the country to uncover the secret histories of their own streets and areas.”