Possilpark is a district of Glasgow, situated north of the M8 motorway within a short distance from the city centre. The district’s main thoroughfare is Saracen Street. The area developed around Saracen Foundry of Walter MacFarlane & Co., which was the main employer for nearly a century. In the wake of the Saracen Foundry’s closure in 1967, this section of Glasgow has become one of the poorest in Scotland. Despite of these adversities, Possilpark is a vibrant area with rich history. A variety of diverse community organisations operate there, providing arts, sports, health and gardening provision and community regeneration. These organisations include YPF, The Concrete Garden, Possobilities and Friends of Possilpark Greenspace.
By 1850s, Walter MacFarlane, the owner of the Saracen Foundry, wished to vastly expand his company. In order to achieve this he purchased 100 acres (0.40 km2) of the Campbell estate on the northern flanks of the city of Glasgow.
MacFarlane renamed the estate Possilpark, which grew from a population of 10 people in 1872, to 10,000 by 1891. MacFarlane first oversaw the complete woodlands removal and the creation of railway access to his foundry. He later laid out the rest of the park land as a grid plan of streets and tenements, including naming the main street running through the new suburb “Saracen Street”.
The grid layout of Possilpark was described by the then Glasgow Town Council as: “… [o]ne of the finest and best conducted in Glasgow, and the new suburb of Possil Park, laid out by them with skill and intelligence, is rapidly becoming an important addition to the great city.”
The Saracen Foundry became known for its decorative iron works, railings and water fountains to park bandstands. These were exported all over the British Empire, and can still be found in abundance in many parts of the city. In its later years, the foundry was one of five foundries casting Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s classic K6, the iconic red British telephone box for Post Office Telephones.
In the post-war period, a vast decline in orders for Saracen’s standard cast iron designs was experienced which was the result of a combination of the collapse of the British Empire and the adaptation of new designs and materials. After a takeover of the company in 1965, the works closed and the infrastructure was demolished in 1967.
Following the closure of this major employer, Possilpark experienced an increase in serious social issues such as unemployment, crime and drug abuse. This was similar to many other parts of the country which were experiencing the negative effects of deindustrialisation – the disappearance of heavy industry. According to the 2012 Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) data, Possilpark is the second most deprived area in Scotland. Large portions of the district, including red sandstone tenements, have been demolished after their residents were forced to move to other areas. One of these areas is now subject to a draft masterplan for 600 new homes.
Saracen Street remains the main area for shopping and services. Some parts of the district have been undergoing redevelopment since the late 1990s, which has seen many new houses being built and some public space improvements made. There has also been an increase in the amount of small local businesses are appearing in Saracen Street. The old foundry site is now occupied by a number of commercial firms, including Allied Vehicles, UK’s leading provider of cars adapted for the needs of people with disabilities.
In the Footsteps of Geddes in Possilpark
The project was delivered as part of a community event “Our Hammyhill”. Hamiltonhill, affectionately referred to by locals as “Hammyhill”, is the westernmost part of Possilpark, located near the Hamiltonhill Claypits Local Nature Reserve. The reserve borders on the bank of the only remaining part of the old Monklands Canal, now an extension of the Forth & Clyde Canal. The aim of the event was to the enable the local community to start developing ideas in anticipation of a consultation around a draft masterplan for 600 new homes.
In order to enable a wider cross-section of the community to be included in the process, In the Footsteps of Geddes was delivered to two groups of young people from the neighbourhood over two days. The event was publicised and delivered with the help of PAS Volunteer and local activist Paul Ede, also heavily involved in “Our Hammyhill”; project staff, other PAS Volunteers and volunteers from the project area also assisted.
Paul’s summary and reflection on the whole experience in the form of a blogpost can be read on the website of SURF – Scotland’s Regeneration Forum.
The participants first mapped their knowledge and opinions about Possilpark using a relief map of the area. They were then trained on how to create digital panoramic photography, following a practical exercise in the assembly of the Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers. Both groups then went on a walkabout of the area, interacting with the key public spaces and landmarks by creating visual images and also thinking on the potential areas of improvement.
Upon return to the local community hall, the participants engaged for the first time with the 3D digital technology by taking 3D selfies with historic objects linked Possilpark and just themselves for fun. This direct interaction with 3D imagery enabled the group to understand better its significance in analysing and working with space and places as well as heritage objects and areas.
The groups also used the Place Standard tool to assess the quality of the area with focus on seven of the categories. This feedback (as well as other outputs of the groupwork) was later presented at the main “Our Hammyhill” event and was discussed alongside the issues and hopes raised by other members of the community in the context of the proposed major development.