Archive photography by Mitchell Curr Snr
In the last days of December 2008, at first light, I jumped a security fence and spent several mornings wandering around the fenced off streets and broken homes of what remained of the Oatlands. For several years the remainder of the scheme with its grey maisonette flats had lain dormant awaiting its final death blow, the vast majority of the area having been demolished in previous years. I spent hours photographing this post-apocalyptic landscape, wandering in and out of former homes, looking for traces and remnants of life that once lived there.
There wasn’t much left – it was a no-man’s land battered occasionally by drunken teenagers, by the cold Scottish climate, and by scrap merchants who ripped apart the walls and floorboards in their search for anything of value. But inside many of the empty flats some belongings were left strewn across the floor – letters, posters, school books, toys and a wardrobe full of odd shoes. It seemed like a strange way to leave a home – it looked as though people had left in a rush, perhaps uncertain of where they were going, but happy to jump ship at the first opportunity.
In one kitchen cupboard (complete with utensils and cutlery tray) I found a small round pin badge with a photo of a man and woman smiling. Rather than add to my already bulging bin bag of found artefacts, I photographed the badge in the kitchen where I found it and left it behind. When I returned a few days later the kitchen, along with the flat and much of the street, had gone. The final demolition phase and disappearance of the scheme was nearing completion.
After some research with local newspaper contacts, I tracked down the man in the picture. Tony Kelly had lived in the scheme for many years and had been recently relocated to one of the new homes in the ‘New Oatlands’ scheme nearby. We arranged a meeting at his new home. Tony was happy in his new home, it had all the ‘mod cons’ and he did not want to appear ungrateful or critical. But he couldn’t help himself reminiscing and romanticising the ‘old days’, the old Oatlands and the community that once thrived there.
“That picture you found me took me back to a happy place, to the old Oatlands, It was a great wee community. You knew everyone and the kids played in the streets from dawn till dusk.” Maybe Tony was just typical of his type – an old man looking back to the ‘good old days’. But looking out of his window to the new homes, to the new streets, and there was as much sign of life as there was in the old scheme that was being demolished.
The only noise came from the dual carriageway road system intersecting his house and the houses across the road. There are no local shops or amenities, no weans playing in the streets; it was hard to see the New Oatlands as an improvement on the old. The regeneration/demolition of the Oatlands could be traced back to 1995 when its last surviving tenements, magnificent Edwardian red sandstone blocks that ran the length of Rutherglen Road, were condemned for demolition.
A previous attempt to refurbish the interiors of the flats by the then Glasgow Housing Department had not only failed but made them more uninhabitable and more susceptible to demolition. It seemed to be easier to demolish than try to rectify the problems. But crucially by this point also the area was already labelled the dreaded term ‘sink estate’ by the council – claiming that crime and drug addiction were rife. This effectively meant that the best way to tackle such social problems would be to sweep away the buildings altogether and that in turn would rid the area of the ‘problems’.
Ten years later in 2005 and Oatlands was Scotland’s second largest single community regeneration scheme. A £200 million investment with a mixture of both social and private housing and the promise of new community facilities to create the New Oatlands where I would find Tony Kelly. Glasgow City Council handed over the Oatlands to a private house builder for the symbolic rent of £1 a year, and construction began.
Although only a few minutes’ walk from the old Oatlands, this newly created urban landscape has little connection with its past. When a community’s residents are displaced, so too are their memories and identities, their sense of belonging and history. By 2011 the new motorway extension for the M74 was opened taking the last remnants of the old Oatlands with it. The New Oatlands continues to build slowly, heavily reliant on private house sales which are occasionally hit by recession.
I ask Tony what he remembers of the last days of his old scheme and how he feels now it’s gone: “Seeing my old house being demolished, it tore a part out of me, just to see it took away like that, a lifetime destroyed. And just like in Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles – all the people, all the lonely people, where did they go, where did everybody go?”