As students develop their skills at The Glasgow School of Art (GSA), a stone’s throw away at a local community space, a group of senior citizens,  charcoal-in-hand, are busy nurturing the inner artist within to create their own masterpieces.

For two-and-a-half hours every Thursday, the group, fuelled by complimentary teas, coffees and biscuits, give their student neighbours a run for their money to paint, draw, print and experiment under the guidance of an experienced art teacher - while having a good blether to boot about the issues of the day. 

I’m at Garnethill Multicultural Centre, the community-owned and run space which has been at the centre of this diverse Glasgow neighbourhood for a generation, looking after the welfare, educational and cultural needs of local residents of all ages and backgrounds. 

The last few years have been tough for the community that calls the area, sited on the steep hill that rises above Sauchiehall Street, 'home', due to the two major fires that gutted the world-renowned Mackintosh Building at The GSA- the second of which caused major disruption for local residents and businesses.

Two months shy of the 10th anniversary of the 2014 fire, which began when a projector ignited gases from expanding foam used in a student project, there is a palpable sense of frustration among locals at the pace of what The GSA said will be "faithful reinstatement” of the fire-ravaged grade A-listed building following the 2018 fire. 

READ MORE: Glasgow School of Art Fires: Find all the articles in the series here

“You just feel that you are living in a building site”, Eleanor Dasgupta tells me as she works away on her still life drawing of a chair on a large sheet of brown package paper.

“There’s a lot of people in the community that feel that it’s been a long, long time that we’ve been living with this”, she says, referring to the Mackintosh Building, which, since June 2023, has been covered in a protective white membrane 'wrap'. 

“People’s mental health is suffering because of the white sheet round the building and all this scaffolding. It gives off a white glare that some people have to stare at outside their window and they aren’t happy about it.”

“They’ve had to put curtains up”, chimes in a fellow classmate, who wished to remain anonymous, while referring to their neighbours who live in the tenement properties on nearby Dalhousie Street, which overlooks the Mackintosh Building.

The Herald: The Mackintosh Building (right), currently covered in a protective wrapThe Mackintosh Building (right), currently covered in a protective wrap (Image: Colin Mearns)

“The residents who were put out their houses after the second fire, that’s all they see. They just get glare back into their houses. 

“They asked if there could be something done about it and were told the cheapest option would be to put blinds in their windows rather than putting something else up to stop the glare. It’s having a detrimental impact on the residents along that street, and no one seems to be listening to these concerns.”

“As a community and as residents we feel that no-one is listening to us. They say ‘People Make Glasgow’, but no-one is listening to the people,” they added.

Another attendee at the art class is Irene Loudon, vice chair of Blythswood and Broomielaw Community Council, which covers an area which extends to Sauchiehall Street.

She shares the same sentiment expressed by her classmates. “I visit here from over the other side of Sauchiehall Street and I know without fail that the residents have been adversely affected emotionally. They are also concerned about the value of their properties and they feel like they are living in a scrapyard or a builders yard. Quite frankly, they have had enough”, she tells me. 

The Herald: Irene Loudon, Vice Chair of Blythswood and Broomielaw Community Council, in front of The Mackintosh Building Irene Loudon, Vice Chair of Blythswood and Broomielaw Community Council, in front of The Mackintosh Building (Image: Colin Mearns)

“Someone I know lives in Dalhousie Street in the close across from the Mackintosh Building and they told me that it is really affecting them emotionally. I feel that they should receive some sort of compensation. Even as a token gesture.”

The continued closure of Renfrew Street to through traffic - while it remains part of the contractor's site - is also raised as an inconvenience for residents, who are required to use a lane behind the GSA's Reid Building in the meantime.

“At the minute it is a total nightmare. You waste so much time getting out and in with all the diversions. There’s too much traffic, people have to go round. There’s quite a lot of elderly people living here. It’s dangerous”, Ms Dasgupta tells me.

“For families in Glasgow city centre and in Garnethill a safer route used to be to walk up Renfrew Street but now you have to go down a lane, which is dark,” her classmate adds.

READ MORE: A complete timeline on the Glasgow School of Art fires

“We have asked when it will be reopened but there’s never any response. Construction workers can get access into the main building but they can’t let us walk up that street. It’s been going on too long.”

Despite a commitment from management at the GSA that the Mackintosh building will fully reopen as a working art school in 2030, Ms Loudon has another suggestion.

“I think they should forget building on that site and move to the outskirts [of Glasgow]. A custom-built, state-of-the-art building that would honour Mackintosh", she says.

“They could make the [Garnethill] site into a museum. They have the foundations there. Even if they try to replicate it, it will never be the Mack."

“I don’t think we want to lose the Art School”, Ms Dasgupta adds. “But I just think they should get on with it. It’s been so long and it’s so wearying to see this every day of your life. All that scaffolding and everything that goes with it.

"I don’t want to lose the Mack but a lot of people don’t feel like that. Others are saying, ‘Get rid of it and let’s get some piece and quiet’. You know?”