A PLAINTIVE image on the excellent Lost Glasgow website carries echoes of my family’s history. It’s the hallway of the Grand Hotel at Charing Cross in 1968, taken just days before it closed for good, and then demolished to make way for the M8 motorway.

It’s a beautiful picture, suffused with natural light conveying the impression of a grand and elegant old lady dressing up in all her finery before one last night on the razzle. Two pianos stand side by side on a marble floor, perhaps never to be played again.

The Grand Hotel hosted my mum and dad’s wedding and the story has often been told of the chaos that ensued when the taxi arrived to take them to Central Station and a train to Oban for their honeymoon. The driver, though knowing he was ferrying a bride on her wedding day, suddenly took fright at the prospect of confetti disfiguring his seats and flat refused the fare.

Whereupon he was prevailed to change his mind by several lively McCabes and McKennas who, fortified by an afternoon of committed drinking, were in no mood to see their princess miss out on her carriage on this day of days.

HeraldScotland: An artist's impression of Sighthill BridgeAn artist's impression of Sighthill Bridge (Image: free)

The M8 became a tornado, raining destruction upon several old working-class communities that lay in its path. Kinning Park and Anderston just south of the Clyde, right through Charing Cross and Sauchiehall Street in the city centre before curving north to cut a swathe through Townhead and Sighthill. These communities and their neighbouring districts of Barmulloch, Springburn and Easterhouse were literally marginalised and cut off from the city’s lifeblood: its shops; green spaces; museums, libraries and – most wretchedly – the society of their fellow Glaswegians.

Many of the guests at my parents’ wedding lived in these neighbourhoods and, like many others before and since who are compelled to comply when planners uproot their lives, they simply made do as best they could. Car ownership in Glasgow’s northern districts was sparse and the transport system, such as it was, didn’t easily facilitate a family day out to the city.

Now, after more than 50 years, Sighthill – perhaps the most benighted among those communities – is returning to Glasgow’s rough embrace.

The Sighthill Bridge over the M8 is the centrepiece of a £250m regeneration of the area which really must be visited over several days to be appreciated. It’s the grandest project of its kind in the UK outside of London and represents a long-term commitment to renewal and improvement that Sighthill and Springburn have never previously seen. And besides, this is much, much more than a bridge.

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You grow weary of grand words like regeneration in matters of urban planning. It’s one of those terms that always seems to promise much more than it delivers. It’s beloved of town hall panjandrums because it implies optimism and industry and vigour and looks good in 72pt bold type on election leaflets.

But what’s been happening to this sprawling arrondissement truly is a resurrection and, unlike previous attempts at improving this area, this one seems built to endure.

On Wednesday morning, on one of the pathways that curl around the landscaped vista as you approach from the north, a small flotilla of infants is intent on gaining access to the Sighthill Bridge.

They’re a detachment from Sighthill Nursery sent out perhaps to make an early claim for community ownership. They’re accompanied by child development officers, Toni and Charley. Before I can solicit their opinions they’re seeking mine.

“Do you know when the bridge is opening,” asks Charley, “we brought the kids up here to see it and maybe to take a wee walk across it.”

“I think it’s the start of next week,” I reply. I then introduce myself as a journalist and ask them if I may quote them. The request soon becomes a transaction. “Aye, but only if you mention that we’re from the Sighthill Nursery,” says her colleague, Toni.

“You’re on,” say I. “So what do you think of the bridge, then now that you’ve seen it up close?”

HeraldScotland: New homes at 'North Bridge'New homes at 'North Bridge' (Image: free)

“It’s brilliant,” says Toni. “It’ll make such a difference to this area. I can’t wait for Christmas when we can just do a 20-minute walk into George Square and the shops.”

“We’ve been waiting on this a long time,” says Charley. “It’ll bring Sighthill and Springburn and all these other streets around here back into the city.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, Sighthill – like Gorbals and Drumchapel – plumbed the depths of what happens when hand-wringing, middle-class planners and architects, assisted by politicians, come together to address the problems of grinding poverty in working-class districts. In Sighthill’s Pinkston area, the tower-block apartments bearing its name were built to accommodate families who had either been up-rooted following slum clearances or simply moved to make way for modern transport systems.

They rapidly fell into disrepair, accelerated by council neglect of basic maintenance; rank bad design; violent crime and drugs. The latter two, being the effects of sudden and brutal de-industrialisation; mass unemployment and a growing sense beginning to take root among these people that they were being kept out of the way and then left to fend for themselves. The motorway that was driven through them came to symbolise the sense of alienation and disconnection.

Springburn once had the world’s biggest chemical plant and the St Rollox works which was once Europe’s biggest train builders and repairers. In less than two decades from 1970 onwards this grand site providing skilled, well-paid employment to nearly 4,000 people, was gradually downgraded with the loss of 2,500 jobs before shutting down completely.

For more than a century the industry and skill of an entire working-class community had made their bosses rich and a nation’s economy buoyant. And then, at the first hint of uncertainty, they were cast aside and then forgotten.

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The brutal degradation of the St Rollox works happened in tandem with the decision to level most of Springburn as a means of reducing slum housing. Having cleared the families from their ancestral neighbourhoods, rather than improve their homes, they drove a dual carriageway through its heart.

This destroyed any slim chance of rebuilding what had once been there and all done to facilitate easier car journeys from the suburbs of Bishopbriggs and Lenzie.

What was left of Springburn along with the last habitable shells of Sighthill and the Red Road flats in neighbouring Balornock and Barmulloch had a re-birth of sorts at the beginning of the new millennium. This was when they were chosen to host hundreds of asylum-seekers under the UK dispersal scheme. And so, one marginalised and downtrodden people came to replace another.

Initial tensions soon evaporated as local people came to understand just what their new neighbours had suffered to reach Glasgow. The initial healing followed by the emergence of the refugees and asylum-seekers as a thriving community has brought new life to Sighthill.

Maggie Lennon is director of Bridges Programmes which helped facilitate the integration of the new families into Springburn and Sighthill. She’s thrilled by the new bridge over the M8. “The people around here are really excited about the bridge,” she said. “What they’ve done with the landscaping and housing spreading out from the bridge is wonderful.

HeraldScotland: The new Sighthill BridgeThe new Sighthill Bridge (Image: free)

“The old flats which housed them and the older communities before them were awful. They were cheaply built; the heating wasn’t fit for purpose and they were literally left to rot. And then into the mix come hundreds of foreign nationals. In these circumstances communities either fracture completely or they find a way to rub along together. In Sighthill and Sprinburn the essential humanity of these communities prevailed. And as usual, those who have the least gave the most of themselves.”

The mere statistics of the Sighthill Bridge are impressive enough. It weighs 1000 tonnes and at its narrowest still measures 7.5 metres. Ten thousand plants will garland each side and 800 trees will soon become a verdant causeway linking the bridge to a 210-metre approach ramp featuring landscaped terraces. This provides a gateway to a park, currently taking shape with water features and rest spaces.

The housing units now hosting one of the UK’s most diverse communities are finally of a standard where working-class people can live in comfort and dignity. It may have taken a couple of centuries but it’s welcome nonetheless.

All of it was gloriously visible in the multi-ethnicity of those children from Sighthill Nursery seeking their big new Glasgow bridge on Wednesday morning.