Tear down my home

In the 1950s and 60s, much of inner city Glasgow was demolished and
thousands of residents rehoused on new peripheral housing schemes.
Easterhouse was one, consisting mainly of three and four-storey
blocks which eventually housed 60,000 people.

Initially, newcomers called it “the new Jerusalem”. In a book
written by Easterhouse residents, Cynthia describes her parents’
joy at having an inside toilet, bath and garden. But soon some of
the disadvantages of relocation emerged and she wrote: “Easterhouse
was built in a hurry and was a big mistake. It has always been as
big as a town but has never had the facilities to behave like a
town.”(1) At first it had no pubs and for years no leisure
provision. A modest shopping centre did not come until 1972. Jobs
were scarce and became even scarcer as Conservative governments
oversaw the collapse of heavy industries. Starved of funds, the
local authority had difficulty maintaining its properties which
soon deteriorated.

When I came to Easterhouse in 1986, it was one of the most deprived
areas in Britain. Ill-health was widespread with deaths in the
first year of life at 47 per 1,000 compared with 10 per 1,000 in
nearby middle class suburbs. Male unemployment was 44.8 per cent.
Figures for crime, drug abuse and violence were similarly high. No
doubt, these deprivations owed something to the policy of
demolition and relocation without facilities and jobs.

Sandy Weddell, minister of Easterhouse Baptist Church for 25 years,
adds another point. His own childhood was in the Gorgie tenements
of Edinburgh where child-rearing practices and codes of behaviour
were handed down from generation to generation. Easterhouse was
made up of people split from their wider families and then mixed
with people from other areas. He says: “When people are relocated
through the mergers of different communities, the teaching of the
generations is inevitably lost,” with the result that values and
behaviour are adversely affected.(2) His thesis makes a strong
argument against wholesale transfer to new areas.

Today, however, it is clear that Easterhouse is changing. A health
complex, sports centre and college are indicative of the
improvements. An out-of-town shopping area has created jobs.

But what about housing? During the 1990s, the government financed
Scottish Homes which stimulated housing associations and
co-operatives. Cynthia, by this time in poor housing with her own
children, joined the steering committee of a housing co-op which
initially built 150 homes, some new, some refurbished. She was
delighted at the skills she developed and, as she moved into a new
home, compared her feelings with those of her parents 38 years
before. She wrote: “We may not have been impressed by the inside
toilet but we were absolutely delighted with the double glazing,
central heating, fitted kitchens, back and front doors.”

Other associations and co-operatives have transformed the
appearance of much of Easterhouse. The homes tend to be filled by
tenants who previously lived in the neighbourhood so ties with
relatives and friends are not broken while children do not have to
change schools. In between the new accommodation is more green
space as many blocks were demolished and not replaced because of a
declining population.

Difficulties remain. Many tenants are still in poor quality flats.
Unemployment rates, although reduced, are still higher than in most
areas. The recent death of a small child, killed by an air gun
pellet aimed at fire fighters, indicates that violence persists.
But overall Easterhouse is now a better place in which to

Good housing is a human right. At best, it is housing in which
residents have been involved in designing and managing. The
advantage of refurbishment is that communities and generations are
not torn assunder. But housing alone is not sufficient. The history
of Easterhouse shows that it must be supplemented by quality
education, outlets for leisure, decent shops and jobs.

Not least, housing areas need locally-run community groups which
promote a sense of community and also provide the neighbourhood
services which people want. In Easterhouse such groups have an
outstanding record from its early days to present times. Yet
whereas health bodies, social work agencies and police forces, all
of which serve residents, receive substantial government grants,
local groups, made up of the residents themselves, receive
(1) B Holman (ed), Faith in the Poor, Lion Publishing, 1998
(2)  B Holman, Ordinary Christians, Good News Fellowship, 2004

Bob Holman is an author and recently retired community
worker, associated with Easterhouse

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