Community projects: Glasgow's flourishing Southside
The Southside Fringe, Glad Cafe and Locavore are among the area's thriving community initiatives
In recent years Glasgow’s Southside has seen an explosion of community and grassroots projects. Paul Gallagher investigates what’s fuelled the movement.
Something good is growing in the Southside of Glasgow. It took root when local residents occupied the marked-for-closure Govanhill Baths in 2001 to turn it into a community-run venue. It’s in the independent spirit that last year drove local gig promoters to set up Southside Fringe, a come-one-come-all music festival around the Council’s Southside Festival. It’s in Locavore, a non-profit locally sourced food shop based in the Strathbungo area, and it’s in the Kinning Park Complex, an independent community centre hosting sports, dance, cookery and gardening classes amongst many more initiatives. It’s nothing less than a grassroots cultural explosion: take a Saturday morning walk around Shawlands and the surrounding areas, and it’s unmissable. There is a buzz of community, of people making stuff happen. What is it about the Southside that has led to this creative moment? ‘There's always been a lot going on in the Southside’, says Corinna Currie of Southside Fringe. ‘Through projects like Rags to Riches, Streetland, Locavore and the Govanhill Baths there have been many satellite outbursts of community activity over the years; but it's with the advent of fantastic venues like the Glad Café and projects like the Southside Film Festival and our Southside Fringe that creatives on the Southside are finally finding their communal voice.’
That idea is fleshed out by Rachel Smillie, co-founder and Business Manager of the Glad Café, a coffee shop opposite Queen’s Park with venue space hosting everything from local music and touring bands to Radical Independence gatherings and a philosophy discussion group. Set up as a Community Interest Company in 2012, the aim is to reinvest profits (once loans are repaid) into affordable music lessons for young people in the area. The community angle, says Smillie, a Southside resident for the last 35 years, is a key aspect of the café’s success: ‘In the first place [setting up Glad Café] was a personal response, it was something that we would always have liked to have around the place. And we discovered there was a huge, positive desire around this: we put up a website, started running gigs in different venues to see if people would come, and just started getting loads of people getting in touch. Then we also became aware that there were a lot of creative people living in the Southside, not able to afford flats in the West End – Southside Studios had started up, with lots of artists and designers working there – so there was just a general feeling of “this can happen”.’
Karen O’Hare, director of Southside Film Festival, sees it as something that not only could, but needed to happen: ‘The pop-up cinema is a very trendy thing at the moment, but for me it came out of a sense of necessity: if I want to go to a local cinema, I can’t. So if I want to cycle or walk down the road to go to the cinema, where can I go?’ SFF is fully embracing that challenge in its fourth year, taking the name Cinemap and making a virtue of its need to screen films in key community locations including Shawlands Arcade, Govanhill Baths and The Tramway, as well as lesser-known spaces like East Pollokshields Quad and the New Victoria Gardens. That approach of using resources found in the local area, and making the whole thing a community-led venture, is common to a lot of what is going on in the Southside. ‘Most of this stuff is DIY’, says O’Hare, ‘most of it is not funded by the council or any official body, it’s just people in the area with energy and enthusiasm wanting to improve the space we live in. And that’s the drive.’
Cinemap is directly inspired by Tramway’s 2013 Albert Drive project, which challenged the people of Pollokshields to respond creatively to the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ That, as Smillie points out, is still the key question at the heart of Glasgow’s Southside: ‘Within Pollokshields there are two main communities; the white Scottish and the Asian Scottish… to me it’s one of the key things about living in the Southside; how brilliant it is to have such diversity and how do we explore that better in terms of our connections with each other.’ One of Glad Café’s long-term aspirations is to increase connections between those diverse communities, a goal that seems far off but must be edging closer.
Right now, the feeling of an engaged creative community on the Southside is palpable. ‘There are a lot of very generous-spirited people around’, says Smillie, and O’Hare agrees: ‘We are all very aware and supportive of what each other are doing, and very appreciative of everything that’s happening. And there is so much potential for more.’ In the face of such positive, open community it’s not difficult to agree with the oft-repeated mantra of the Southside Fringe: Keep it South.
Southside Fringe, various venues, Glasgow, Fri 9—Sun 25 May. Southside Film Festival, various venues, Glasgow, Fri 23—Sun 25 May.