Recession and resilience in Govan and Gallatown

Rope Resilience Surf, Scotland’s independent regeneration network, investigated the impacts of the recession on two communities, and assessed how local responses are helping maintain their resilience. Derek Rankine reports.

Over 2011-12, Surf used its cross-sector network of community regeneration stakeholders to investigate the ‘reality, resources and resilience’ in two contrasting disadvantaged communities in Scotland. This programme of work was delivered in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – who published Surf’s project report – with additional support from the Scottish Government.

The first of our case study communities was the historic area of Govan on the south side of Glasgow. With the decline of heavy industry having left a legacy of intractable high unemployment and poor health outcomes, Govan has received considerable regeneration investment in recent years. The second locality we explored was the smaller Gallatown neighbourhood in the Fife town of Kirkcaldy on Scotland’s east coast. Along with Govan, this community of 315 housing units ranks within the 10% most deprived national areas according to the Scottish index of multiple deprivation; but Gallatown has not been the subject of any significant dedicated regeneration processes.

In looking at both the lived experience of the recession and efforts to address the resulting impacts in these similar-but-different settings, Surf’s methodology included undertaking face-to-face interviews and coordinating gatherings with local residents, public agency representatives and neighbourhood stakeholders from private, voluntary and community sectors. We then arranged a series of national events in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow to investigate whether our findings from the two communities resonated with other disadvantaged places across Scotland. Here are some of the main conclusions we drew from this work:

We identified seven main areas in which the economic downturn had affected both Govan and Gallatown. Perhaps most importantly, the recession is being perceived as creating ‘blocked systems’ in housing and employment. The obstructions in advancement, such as progressing into full-time work or moving up the property ladder, exacerbates existing deprivation issues, hampers social mobility and has a generally corrosive effect on local resilience. Facing supply-side deficiencies, local employment support agencies and social housing providers were limited in their efforts to respond to an increased demand for their services.

A less obvious impact is the disproportionate impact of relatively small savings in basic physical maintenance regimes. Community groups in both areas identified a steep decline in the quality of local grass cutting, refuse collection, and road maintenance services, among others, as relevant local authority budgets were reduced. This deterioration further damages external perceptions of the two communities, discourages new investment and diminishes standards of neighbourliness. The latter finding was echoed in the Carnegie UK Trust’s Tackling Environmental Incivilities study.

We also found evidence of: valuable community networks eroding as some experienced neighbourhood group participants ‘gave up’ in light of the discouraging economic situation; loss of local knowledge in local authorities as experienced community workers were made redundant; funding cuts to local voluntary groups leading to their dissolution and cutting much-needed links between communities and service providers; and a ‘flight-to-prime’ property market effect further reducing the prospect of new public and private sector investments.

So what action is being taken to minimise the additional damage inflicted on these already disadvantaged communities? In the second phase of our programme, we were encouraged to find a number of positive and innovative examples.

A number of these initiatives based their approaches on successfully linking creative ideas, community participation and local assets. For instance, the GalGael project in Govan draws on the rich lineage of inward migration from the Western Isles to provide wood-crafting skills to those furthest from the labour market. Participants include long-term unemployed, homeless people and those with criminal convictions and mental health issues. The project has a particularly strong record of raising self-esteem, stabilising lives and building confidence, and generates much of its income through selling bespoke wooden furniture and other products made by participants.

Similarly, the Templehall Dads Group project in Kirkcaldy, recently profiled by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, is based on creative physical work. It is targeted at some of the town’s most vulnerable and disconnected residents – unemployed young fathers. By involving them in the creation and maintenance of community gardens, this initiative increases their self-belief and supports progression into formal training, further education and employment. This is especially useful for the Gallatown community, which has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe.

In both case study areas, we were also pleased to discover large agencies making particular efforts to tap into ‘free’ resources and efficiencies through increasing the responsibilities of frontline workers. Fife Council’s Th!nk Local participatory budgeting scheme supports a devolved decision-making process that enables front-line staff to better link into local knowledge and organisations within their neighbourhoods. Glasgow Housing Association’s Think Yes! programme provides local managers with a discretionary budget and encourages them to replace conventional bureaucratic responses to reasonable tenant requests and complaints with a default ‘Yes’. This has helped to create a sense of positive emotional engagement and has led to an exceptional increase in both employee and customer satisfaction levels, while saving the association costs on standard bureaucratic procedures.

The understanding and responses of policymakers to the lived ‘Reality, Resources, Resilience’ of disadvantaged communities is being undermined by the erosion of relatively small investments in community organisations, local service projects and interactive partnership links. The resulting dislocation of vital knowledge, assets and co-operation threatens the efficacy of larger public service plans and investments.

Encouraging possibilities can, however, be drawn from Surf’s exploration at both local activity and strategic organisational levels. Many Surf partner organisations have policies focused on encouraging community-led regeneration and the development of community assets, and they are keen to engage practically with the sort of progressive ameliorative response initiatives highlighted in our study.

Surf is now following through on this programme to practically link national policy and resources to local knowledge and initiatives by creating an ‘Alliance for Action’. The proposed alliance will be built on the individuals, networks and connections Surf identified and fostered in the course of the initial study and its purpose will be to further strengthen resilience and practical outcomes in the two communities and to enhance wider policy and resource considerations for supporting community regeneration in the continuing recessionary context.

  • Derek Rankine is events and communications manager at Surf
  • Surf’s ‘Reality, Resources, Resilience’ report is available from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation website
  • For more on the ‘Alliance for Action’ and Surf’s work in general, please visit:


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