View from the Ground at Calton

Interview with Billy Gold, publican of the ‘Heilan Jessie’ (Gallowgate), about the Barras Market area and Calton.

What has happened historically in the East End?

The east end has been abandoned for years and years, and even from the view of commercial exploitation and tourism, the council has slipped I think. We’ve got drug rehabilitation, alcohol rehabilitation dotted all over this area. How long does it take the council to start looking and say – ‘we need practical solutions’. 

From Glasgow Cross to Parkhead Cross there’s virtually no employment of any sort for anybody.  Drive down through most of the Gallowgate; it’s just derelict shops, waste ground, horrible houses; just horrible conditions for anybody. So, I do think in the last 25 years, we’ve not moved forward an inch. We’ve not seen any tangible improvement. 

What about talk of a “Camden Style” regeneration package for the area?

That sort of thing has been tried before…a couple of our councillors have been jetted to places like Italy and they’ve all come back with this talk about cafe culture. This is northern Europe! Cafe culture doesn’t work where it rains all the time and is cold all the time. Maybe it’d be nice to have a couple of nice spaces for a beer or a nice cup of coffee or whatever but It seems to me that’s all the Councillor’s want, to make things more upmarket…

I think there’d be a danger if they gentrified and made the Barras kinda ‘arty-farty’; there’s a grave danger that it would alienate the vast majority of the people who work in this area if it got too gentrified. There’s also the danger, if people move into the area and start making house prices ridiculous, that local people fortunate enough to have a job can’t afford to buy a house in their own area and you have folk moving out. And that’s what happens if you’ve not got a resident population with a history. You have transient people living here, folk living here cause it’s hip to live here. That could damage the area as well. 

There’s been talk of extending the ‘Merchant City’ (MC) east into this area. How do local people feel about the MC?

The MC’s nice, and people – everyone in the pub – refers to this area as MC East, ‘ooh…we’re Merchant City East!’ and it’s a standing joke. I think one of the things that ordinary people in this area think is, “the MC’S no for us, its a wee bit urbane and no for us and there is a sense of alienation”. There’s a wee tiny bit of resentment that some guy has woke up one morning and has come in and stole a bit of Glasgow.  Somebody has stolen a big bit of Glasgow and replaced it with a big bit of Edinburgh. 

I think people would resent this area becoming ‘MC East’ if they were just going to be the waiters and the sweeper up’s, where all the beautiful people will come in and colonise the place. I think there would be a dynamic there and it wouldn’t be very healthy.

What would you like to see here?

I’d like to see some of the stigma of living and working in this area taken away. I’d like to see employment; I’d like to see some of the cash that gets thrown about going towards bringing employment into this area. Not just a few extra people in McDonalds; I mean real employment in this area. If I could have one wish, I would say ‘get some employment into this area and get rid of all the big gap sites, the big overgrown gap sites’.