Scotland

Glasgow's winding river of fortunes

  • 22 July 2014
  • From the section Scotland

The best way to see the city of Glasgow is from the River Clyde. From here, there are two Glasgows that stare back at you.

There is the bright promising shine of tomorrow's Glasgow: of conference venues and science parks, of leisure and tourism, the BBC's new Glasgow headquarters and the Hydro concert venue - already the third busiest music venue in the world, up there with Madison Square Gardens in New York City and the O2 in London.

But yesterday's Glasgow is there too - the shipyards, the docklands, the warehouses, the crashing industrial turmoil that once connected this city to the wealth of the world. The dereliction of this Glasgow is stark.

But the civic identity and pride of Glasgow, through its sudden and brutal decline as an industrial powerhouse in the 1970s and 80s, is remarkably resilient.

"You can't keep a great city down," Gordon Matheson, the leader of the city council told me, "It's a wonderful place to live.

"Glasgow has always made things, including our own future. So we reinvented ourselves, and now there are more people working in the tourism sector in Glasgow than have worked in the shipyards in my life time.

"There are more people working in financial services in Glasgow now than there were before the collapse of Lehman brothers.

"We now have more people working in finance than Edinburgh - that's a very special satisfaction to me as you can imagine!"

Image caption The River Clyde in 1950. Finnieston Crane, Queens Dock, now the SECC (upper left). Cargo ships moored at Meadowside Quay (lower left). Fairfield Shipyard and Wanlock Street tenements (right). Govan ferry (lower right)

The river has always been key to Glasgow's character and condition. In the 18th Century it was Glasgow's highway to the wide open seas and the trade wealth of the British Empire. In the 19th Century it was the home of Glasgow's industrial might - the Second City of the Empire.

"30,000 locomotives were hauled from Springburn, where they were made, through the city centre, pulled by Clydesdale horses," says Councillor Matheson, "and loaded onto ships bound for every corner of the world."

And now as Glasgow reinvents itself, the river is again at the heart of its 21st Century identity - and it fortunes.

But it is not all reinvention. In Govan, you see the enduring legacy of the de-industrialisation that was, in Matheson's words, "unnecessarily rapid". Just a short walk from much of the shining new regeneration projects, Govan lost most of its shipbuilding and has never found a new purpose.

GalGael is a voluntary woodworking project that tries to encourage, in the long-term unemployed, the habit and routine of work. For one in three Glasgow households has no-one in a job - the highest concentration of worklessness in Britain.

Image caption GalGael participants at the work benches

"It demoralises you," says Johnnie Millar, who's been unemployed for nearly a decade after working for the same firm for 36 years.

"You feel you're worthless because you're chapping on doors and the only words you're getting is no. Would you be able to live on £68 a week? No you can't. Well that's what I've got to live on. £68 a week."

But slowly, the wheel of industry is turning again. Glacier Energy Services which services North Sea oil and gas, moved to the old east end two years ago and has doubled in size since, increasing its workforce from 38 to more than 60.

It is hardly the return of the mass industrial employment that once made Glasgow what it was. But even so, a lucky few are re-acquiring industrial skills their grandparents' generation lost.

"Everybody knows there is a skills shortage," says George Leggate, Glacier's managing director of engineering, "and this is what we're trying to tackle."

"We're giving our younger people here in the area the opportunity to learn a skill, learn a trade, so absolutely. I can see Glasgow, even the east end, getting a resurgence of manufacturing capability."

Reminders of Glasgow's lost industrial greatness remain, In the shape of a few handsome red brick Victorian warehouses and former factories that stand out against what is otherwise a port-industrial wasteland.

Image caption Fairfield Shipyard offices in Govan, derelict for 10 years, have now been refurbished

On the banks of the river, not much more than a mile from the city centre, there is a 20-acre site that has been derelict for more than 40 years. It's been toxic too, poisoned by waste from a chemical plant that has long since disappeared.

But a 20-year regeneration project has begun to try to attract 20,000 new jobs - and breathe industrious new life into the old east end.

"We've already attracted 2,500 new jobs," says Ian Manson, chief executive of the Clyde Gateway Regeneration Project.

"But in 10 to 15 years from now you'll see factories and offices, you'll see the amenities around that, and you'll see people living close by as well in very sustainable housing. In short you'll see a successful district close to the city centre on the banks of the river."

Glasgow's river remains its fortune - in decline and regeneration. The city's resilient civic pride has never dimmed - in keeping with the motto on its crest: Let Glasgow Flourish.