David Cameron’s great vision for combatting the austerity being imposed on the UK is the “Big Society”. No-one really seemed to know what it was all about except that it involved people working for free. But as with all things in time it’s become clearer. If you’re on the dole, you get to stack shelves at Tescos for free as “work experience”, because they will cut off your dole if you don’t; if you are the relative of a disabled person you get to support them out of your own income as they get cut off disability benefits, while the crooked pals of Cameron make millions and shut down criticism. That’s the big society for you.
When you actually want to do something to improve your own society, your own community, rather than making money for Cameron’s old school chums or boosting the profits of corporates, that’s quite a different matter. A group of community activists in Maryhill became sick to death of the eyesore that is Maryhill locks, tennis courts and running track which have been allowed to fall into disrepair at the hands of Glasgow Life - an arms length management organisation, controlled by Glasgow City Council. Despite numerous community attempts to see Maryhill Tennis Courts & Running Track maintained and used, the Council and Glasgow Life have bolted gates closed, and allowed the running track to become overgrown. Led by Stephen Koepplinger, a well known local activist, who has previously won awards for his community work, they decided to spend an afternoon, clearing it up so that it could be restored for community use, setting up an event and encouraging people across Glasgow to get involved and help improve Maryhill.
You would think Glagow Life would be grateful. You would think Glasgow City Council would cheer on the community minded individuals involved. You would think they might offer some assistance, maybe suggest that a few staff could be assigned to help, perhaps the use of equipment, or some cash to buy materials
But no. Glasgow Life threatened them with the police.
Dear Mr Koepplinger
I am writing to advise you that I have been made aware of a Facebook page publicising an event titled ‘Maryhill Locked Out’.
With regards to the Maryhill Park Running Track and Tennis Courts I can confirm that no permissions have been granted for the activities outlined on this page. The page indicates that “volunteers will set to work restoring the running track and tennis courts at 3.30pm”. Glasgow Life are responsible for the management of this track and tennis courts and have not authorised any such work.
Glasgow Life have brought this matter to the attention of Strathclyde Police as we are concerned about potential damage to Glasgow City Council assets and any attempts at unauthorised access or subsequent ‘work’ to either the running track or tennis courts will be reported to Strathclyde Police immediately.
I understand that you are one of the organisers of this event and would wish to advise you of our position.
Glasgow Life have been in discussion with local clubs and Glasgow City Council regarding potential developments at these sites. If you have suggestions for these facilities I would recommend that you approach Glasgow Life on a formal basis to present your proposals.
Glasgow’s facilities belong to the people of Glasgow. It is shocking that Glasgow City Council have allowed them to fall into such a state of disrepair, and it is disgusting that they threaten those who seek to restore them for their intended purpose with police involvement. Glasgow has some of the worst obesity and physical activity problems in Scotland. The Commonwealth Games are coming to Glasgow and being heavily touted as “a good thing”, yet all the locals have seen thus far is its community being destroyed and its facilities removed.
Despite local community leadership in Maryhill working to see sports investment, and increased physical activity, the Council has actually been obstructive. There is a big regeneration scheme underway at Maryhill Locks. Many tens of millions of pounds are being poured into the area to build a private housing scheme, but local people have been locked out of sports facilities, and despite enthusiasm and people with a track record of providing cycling and sports provision in the area, the council refuses to budge.
One can only speculate as to why the council and its quangos should feel so threatened by communities taking responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, at a time when they are destroying communities ostensibly for the purposes of promoting health and well-being.
Answers on a postcard.