THE image of Glasgow's notorious and fast-disappearing high-rise flats is one of decay and decline. But former residents of the tower blocks have revealed happy memories of friendly neighbours, unlocked doors and imaginative children's games in the stark concrete surroundings.
The insights have been revealed in a project which is aiming to document the social history of the city’s tower blocks for the first-time.
As part of the two-year study at Glasgow University, former residents have shared their experiences online of living in high-rises in areas such as Castlemilk, the Gorbals and Red Road. While a common theme was decline in latter years, many of the respondents shared positive memories of their time living in the flats.
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Dr Valerie Wright, a research associate at Glasgow University, said she was not surprised the range of views submitted. She said: “The stereotypical view of high rise is that they are a failure, that is why they are being demolished. They are associated with drugs and crimes and isolation and going downhill. I think in all the responses there is an acknowledgement of that, but there is also a sense of people reclaiming their homes in the flats."
She added: "For example in Mitchellhill (in Castlemilk), one former resident moved in in 1985 when she was a baby and was there until the flats were demolished. She said it was the best house in Castlemilk, much better than where she is now.
“That is the period in which we would think Mitchellhill was a no-go area. So it challenges our perceptions of what it must have been like to live there at that time.”
The multi-storeys were introduced post-Second World War to address major housing shortages in the city and replace slums. At the peak, Glasgow is believed to have had one of the highest concentrations of tower blocks in the UK, with around 230.
The researchers have also been carrying out interviews with former residents and plan to make the responses available to the public through for example, putting extracts online, when the project comes to an end in six months’ time.
Wright said: “It is providing insight into what it was like for the people who lived there – there is a nostalgia, but we all have nostalgia for our childhood homes.
“It is good to have their voices captured for future generations, so we don’t just have the stereotypical idea that high rises were all bad. It is more nuanced than that.”
Jackie Muir lived in Mitchelhill flats in Castlemilk in 1963 from the age of one until 1992. The flats have since been demolished.
She said: “The times we spent there were the best of my life, happy memories. We only had two rooms and a living room and there were five of us kids and mum and dad.
“I remember my brothers playing ‘dreepy’, where they would climb the balcony at side of flat and dreepy down to the next one. What were they thinking of? We … went in and out of each other's houses, no doors locked in those days. Only thing I hated were the lifts – I used to shout eight flights up to our windows when I got older so my dad would come down in the lift to get me. I was the happiest I've ever been living anywhere else. The sense of community spirit and friendliness was second to none … I would go back to living there again in a second.”
Alex Mclean stayed in Queen Elizabeth Square in Hutchesontown, Gorbals from when he was born in 1965 until around 1983.
He said: “(We) played on corridors until a certain time when we were called in … Corridors two, four and eight were strict and not much play allowed … Great at New Year, most flat doors open and walk-in parties.
“Chap door runaway was great. (We used to) start at number nine and work our way downstairs to the bottom. Some crafty tenants realised and got the lift to three or four and waited on you coming down and kicked yer a**e. Used to stand on concrete vent on outside of verandah, 14 stories up. Fearless, couldn’t do it now!
"Most neighbours all looked out for each other and minor disagreements were forgotten … (That) changed when long-term tenants moved out and strangers moved in.”
Julie Magill lived in Sighthill between 1979 to 2000, from when she was born to the age of 21 years old.
She said: “I enjoyed playing in the blocks because you felt like you were out, but you were still inside, it was like having a massive play area. We used to play with balls under the bottoms of the flats until those were blocked off. I remember the wind whipping through the bottoms and nearly knocking you over when I was little.
“Initially everyone seemed to be the same, families out working hard and keeping the blocks and landings nice. Over time you noticed a lot of drug addicts and alcoholic types moving into landings and the place did start to go downhill.
“I think it's a pretty common feeling among a lot of my peers from the flats that it is ok for those of us who lived in the scheme to talk it down but to get annoyed to hear it from anyone else. Who are they to judge it? I wouldn't change the fact I lived there, I think it helped shape the person I am today.”
Colin White moved into Prospecthill Circus, Toryglen at the age of nine in 1967 and left in 1986 when he was 29.
He moved to the flats from a single end tenement with an outside toilet and said although having more than one room in the house and inside toilet was a big improvement, it was “very strange” living on the 18th floor.
He said: “The block was 22 storeys high. It was very noisy when there was a strong wind and you felt that you could sense the flat swaying. The single glazed windows were poorly sealed and it was very draughty. I did like the comparative space though.
“I played at the bottom of the flat and on the wasteland which ran across to Aikenhead Road. There were several deep ponds which were eventually filled in after a child drowned. The scheme in general and the flat in particular started to go downhill around 1970. The only positive feature of my experience was the view. This was really something special … I took my newly retired parents with me when I finally bought a house. It was an impossible place to get out of and they didn't deserve to end their days there.”