SOME neighbourhoods ask only that we devote a little more time on discovering their charm. In Possilpark, in Glasgow’s north-west it reveals itself slowly over the course of a few hours, but only if you make the effort.

This district seems to have a permanent seat on those assorted indexes measuring poverty in modern Britain. When yet another of these lists is published journalists reach for the satnav to find the route. “Possilpark? Oh, I think it’s up near Maryhill. But don’t leave your car unattended for too long.”

And then follows the urban legend, told with resolute certainty, about the magic traffic lights that sit at red long enough for a team of Formula One-grade mechanics from the local scheme to put a car on stilts and remove the wheels.

Since the Scottish Index of Multi-deprivation numbers began to be published in 2004 Possilpark has found itself defined solely by them. Of course, they’re real and speak of the profound inequalities that underpin every facet of human life across Britain. But they also risk reducing and dehumanising this community.

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They’re a rebuke too for the manifest failures of successive Scottish and British governments in helping them. Yet, few of us linger here long enough to gain anything more than a fleeting understanding of what ails these places. The caravan soon moves on, never to return until the next statistics dump.

You approach Possilpark from the north through the Balmore Road which curves through Lambhill, the city’s most northerly district. And then it’s on to Saracen Street, one of Glasgow’s most instantly recognisable boulevards which ends at St Teresa’s Church where passing Orangemen traditionally pause to re-tune their flutes and drums

I begin my walking tour on Hawthorn Street near the home of Ashfield Juniors and the Glasgow Tigers speedway. You’ll know this spot by the art deco presence of A1 Kilthire, draper by appointment to the Glasgow wedding and charity dinner sector.

Four women are standing at a bus-stop and eyeing me and photographer Colin Mearns warily. They beckon us over. “Are yous taking photies of us,” asks one. Three of them are smoking and so I light up too. It’s the kenspeckle Sign of Peace acknowledged and respected by communities across the globe.

“We’re just here to do a report for the papers about Possilpark,” I reply.

“What do yous want to know,” asks her friend, “has there been a murder, or something,” and they all giggle like schoolgirls. “Do you like Possilpark,” I ask. “Aye, it’s alright, but maybe not today. We were at the bingo, but the numbers were rubbish, but it gets you out the house.”

HeraldScotland: The Saracen BarThe Saracen Bar (Image: FREE)

On we go, turning left towards Saracen Street and then up towards those two stalwart taverns, The Balmore and The Saracen, twin sentinels of Saracen Cross. I’m approached by two young teenage boys. “Are you from The Digger?”

“No, The Herald.”

“Naw, ye urny.”

“Should you no’ be at school.”


Perhaps I ought to have worn a shirt and tie.

If you look down Saracen Street above shop level it’s not much different from Byres Road, the genteel jewel in the G12 firmament. The street is wide and the tenements on either side, for the most part, are handsome in their sandstone livery.

There are architectural landmarks reminding you of a glorious past. Over there is the Possilpark Library, dating back 110 years and, as such, the last of the city’s libraries pre-dating the First World War. It’s a beautiful building and with all of its old stone features happily intact. Adjacent is the equally splendid Cowlairs Cooperative Society building. Both of them are monuments to an age where ‘progressiveness’ was measured in knowledge and improvement; not the vacuous whim of an indolent, middle-class elite.

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Within a couple of miles or so, to the north, you’re into rolling, green pastures which form the gateway to Bishopbriggs, Bearsden and Milngavie. Along the road that takes you to these ch-chi purlieus of East Dunbartonshire adults lose anything between 12 and 15 years of their lives.

And so, we retrace our steps along Saracen Street. On this quarter-mile stretch I count 14 fast-food enterprises, those predatory and shifting trappings of the morbidity economy. There are eight medical facilities, including a dental surgery and an optician.

We encounter several people in mobility scooters. Many others, young and old, are sporting grey or white tracksuit bottoms. In Bearsden, these are worn extravagantly to signify membership of boutique fitness centres. In Possil, they’re the de rigeur apparel of the street.

The two largest developments are the Possilpark Health and Care Centre and Mobility Solutions for all your wheelchair, walking-aid, power-chair and adjustable bed needs. From a lamppost on Hawthorn Street hangs a bright, yellow sign directing you to a housing development in Maryhill called The Orchard. There hasn’t been an orchard in these parts since Adam was knocking apples.

HeraldScotland: PossilparkPossilpark (Image: free)

The insidious patterns of health inequality are laid bare in all those ledgers of deprivation. Out of almost 7,000 areas in Scotland a large part of Possil is ranked 12th worst in Scotland. In the 2012 SIMD Index the area was named as the second-poorest in Scotland. In just about every category signifying want it’s in the top 10%. It’s top of the table for income inequality and health. Only five districts in Scotland have a worse employment rate.

Possilpark never really recovered following the closure of its main employer, the Saracen Foundry of Walter Macfarlane and Co in 1967. This was followed by the closure of the St Rollox rail engineering yard in neighbouring Springburn. Thousands of families in both these districts were uprooted and scattered as their homes were levelled. Possilpark’s heart and soul went with them. Any semblance of belonging or permanence or stability was destroyed and the global heroin trade had a new port of call.

In The Social Distance Between Us, Darren McGarvey’s searing indictment of governmental neglect of poor communities, the author speaks to Dr Lynsay Crawford, a local GP. McGarvey writes: “She described an interaction with a patient who was weighing up the pros and cons of making a dramatic lifestyle choice to prevent an early death. 'I remember chatting and they said, ‘My life’s rubbish, I know if I did all these things, I’d live longer but I really don’t want to live a longer rubbish life,’ she laughed.”

McGarvey later reveals how stress caused by her intense workload with patients experiencing multiple lethal conditions had caused Dr Crawford to leave Possilpark. McGarvey adds: “Lynsay identifies funding as the central issue. Specifically, the disproportionate levels of funding granted to affluent communities, where health problems are fewer.”

Near the top of Allander Street, just off Saracen Street, I meet Greg who’s eager to point out a rewarding vantage point for photographs. He’s neatly-dressed and has the wiry frame of a bantam-weight. He’s keen to talk up Possilpark, where he’s spent his entire life. “It’s really nowhere as bad as it’s made out,” he says.

“There are good things happening here if you’re prepared to look hard enough,” he says. He points out a handsome mixed-housing estate. “There are lots of good people here who work hard and have pride in their community. But what chance have you got when teenagers are dealing street Valium openly under the noses of the police.”

These sentiments are echoed by Andy McMaster with Hamish, his pet Beagle, hitching a ride on his mobility scooter. “I love it here,” he says. “I’ve never had any trouble; it’s not as bad as they say. People always have time to stop and say ‘hello’ and that makes a difference when you’re in one of these.”

The city council is now doing its best to turn back the tides of privation which have overwhelmed this place. Two big, new housing developments are beginning to take root and there will soon be a new Community Centre offering an extensive suite of services and outreaches. But funding, genuine commitment and ingenuity – whatever it takes and lasting a generation – is needed here. And it still wouldn’t be enough to recompense Possilpark for decades of political neglect.

As Nicola Sturgeon demits office to the cheers of her fawning acolytes her legacy is evident in Possilpark and all those other Scottish communities that nine years of self-indulgence failed to touch.