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  • National Park City Group

Glasgow's Vacant and Derelict Land: Turning eyesores into eye-catchers

We believe a key opportunity for a Glasgow National Park City is to transform vacant and derelict spaces across the city, with both temporary (meanwhile) and permanent uses. We’ve been lucky to have been able to call upon the advice and support of Karlene Doherty from DTAS who is a whizz in all things vacant and derelict land. With her help, this blog was kindly written by Roisin Leach. Roisin is researching Meanwhile Uses of Vacant and Derelict Land at University of Glasgow. Roisin has put together a fantastic collection of examples and sources of information to get you started on transforming spaces in your community.

This is about the land left vacant around our cities: the underused site, the eyesore, the underutilised resource. There are many ways to get these back into good use for multiple benefits and turn those eyesores into eye-catchers! Thinking of how to deal with these sites or what is possible can be overwhelming. If you’d like a hint on what is possible and how to get going, all you need to do is have a look around the great projects already in progress in Glasgow - taking you on a tour might give you some inspiration to help you get hands-on and spruce up those vacant sites…

So, what do you want to do with that eyesore?...

Want to get gardening and growing?

Vacant sites can provide ideal outdoor gardening spaces for sprucing up with all sorts of roots, fruits, and plants. You don’t need too much to get started, just the will to get stuck in and a bit of background knowledge about your site.

Careful though, as Glasgow is a post-industrial city, the soil may be contaminated with remnants of chemicals that could be harmful, especially for food growing. But fear not! The Grow Your Own Working Group has provided a fantastic step-by-step guide on how to get started checking your soil suitability and has even provided inspirational case studies and advice from real groups who have gone through the process. Furthermore, many of the projects in this article have overcome these barriers. They are demonstrating that it can indeed be done (see Urban Roots at the Bowling Green and other projects, Propagate, Braeside community garden, etc. for example)

Planters and raised beds can be made from all sorts of recycled materials such as old decking, tyres, or pallets. Below are some awesome projects to get your ideas flowing… You’ll be getting your hands mucky in no time.

Centurion Way & Yorkhill Park Community Group got permission and support from the landowner and activated a vacant space on the side of the national cycle network at the riverside. The Bee Café, Butterfly Bistro and Ladybird Larder (made from Decking donated by a local member) were created on-site to help brighten the space and support local biodiversity. Wildflowers have recently been planted on the site with support from the Conservation Volunteers (TCV).

Since the start of the pandemic, the lovely volunteers at Braeside community garden on Maryhill Road have been working hard to transform a council-owned vacant site to provide a play area, seating and raised beds for growing spaces for the local community. Kitted out with DIY seating - made from old pallets - and a play area, it’s a perfect place to spend an afternoon. They would be delighted if you wanted to pop down and say hi!

Award-winning Woodlands Community Garden is another great space for locals to meet and connect with nature - check out their projects here. They won the Cultivation Street 2021 title of “Best community garden in the UK”, which has inspired many local community members to grow their own food. They also run workshops.

You’ll be getting your hands mucky for a good cause in no time!

Want a nature playground?

Research has shown that spending time in nature can boost mental and physical health.

The Quad in Pollokshields, also known as “The garden of singing trees”, was created by a group of neighbours that cleared up their communal back garden and used recycled materials to make a fun nature play area and community space. The quad is also host to some fantastic workshops and even pizza making sessions. Check them out here.

The Children’s Wood & North Kelvin Meadow have taken a vacant site once prone to dog fouling and litter and created a wild outdoor community space for locals to enjoy. There’s something for everyone from small wild pockets amongst the trees, a community garden, and even a bee dookit - You’d never know you were in the middle of a city!

With permission from the landowner, old Kingston bowling green was transformed into “The Bowling Green”, a community common and events space for the residents. It has been the backdrop for weddings, iftars, and film showcases and has certainly demonstrated its versatility. There’s very little this site doesn’t have since it now proudly hosts a pond, tepee, shipping container and chicken coup… this is part wild-space, part community common and part community garden. This bunch are a true inspiration given what they have achieved since 2020.

Want to add a pop of colour?

Glasgow’s street art has been growing in recent years with some hugely impressive graffiti & murals across the whole city. Colourways have been brightening our cityscape and supporting local artists – all you need to provide is a wall, and they will work their magic! Check out some of their work here and get in touch.

Turn an eyesore into an eye-catcher and showcase your photography skills with a photo exhibition. Take a look at the NPC Photo exhibition at the Govan Wetlands, or the Nature photography exhibition at Seven Lochs Wetland

Arts and crafts more your thing?

How about showcasing some of the local communities’ arts and crafts? Maryhill’s Braeside Community Garden utilise their space to host a Monthly Makers Market on the first Saturday of every month; I’d highly recommend checking it out while the crafty locals are showcasing their stuff!

A stone’s throw away from the riverside museum, local artist Mary Redmond has been taking the development of vacant spaces into her own hands. After gaining long term permission for a small site, previously used as a dumping ground, Mary used her background in art to create The Verge – a brownfield garden utilising the on-site resources to provide little habitats and ecosystem services for insects and pollinators. Mary has some inspiring brownfield projects coming up, so watch this space…

Who can you ask for help?

The Conservation Volunteers are a charity that can provide advice and resources to local people looking to make a difference in their area. TCV has supported community groups in the Glasgow area and beyond to sow wildflowers and local school groups to start their community gardens. Check out their site to find out more and their Twitter to see some of their fantastic work.

Urban roots are a Glasgow-based charity that works with groups in the southside to transform their local spaces. They have years of experience supporting communities to transform vacant spaces for locally desirable outcomes.

Glasgow collective Propagate has abundant experience under their belt, helping activate once vacant spaces for better use. Look into their site for more information and ways you can transform!

Some additional resources:

Greenspace Scotland has created “Better outside-using our spaces more”, which provided a huge variety of inspirational projects, from £5 quick and straightforward interventions to more ambitious plans that require a little more work and planning.

The Stalled Spaces Toolkit provides examples and support on how to take on a temporary project in a stalled space. ‘Stalled Spaces’ can be abandoned, or unused parcels of land, or sites owned by local authorities or developers. They may be described as ‘stalled’ because development is pending or has been delayed – but provide great space to experiment and try out new things (see DTAS COSS service mentioned below for additional legal information)

Glasgow City Council’s Stalled Spaces programme provides resources, examples from a range of past projects in addition to advice for local community members and landowners.

The Development Trust Association Scotland’s (DTAS) Community Ownership Support Service can provide advice, tools, and guides to developing your project, as well as handy information about gaining permission to use a site.

So, as you can see by these inspiring examples, there’s no need to stick with that underused land in your local area. With a shared vision, some friends, and a bit of enthusiasm, you can take it and transform it into a space of enormous potential.

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