A Glasgow Keelie’s Visit to the People’s Palace & Child Poverty

In Defence of People’s Palace and Winter Gardens despite the Council £19.7 million funding gap[1].

On a recent visit to the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens Museum I was in the downstairs area only with a disabled person and we were hoping to enjoy the atmosphere of the Winter Gardens but were disappointed as it was closed.

However, I was quite surprised at the displays, the Glasgow-lite version of ourselves which we offer international and local visitors.  Whoever wrote the commentaries has focused on economic prestige but white-washed the social history reality of how it came about. For some reason Glasgow’s 4 Empire Exhibitions 1888, 1901, 1911 and 1938 are thought to merit a wall display. They ‘celebrate the City’s status as Second City of the Empire’. They simply glorified Empire as a golden era ignoring that its success was built on Africa slavery and the corporate looting of India masking oppressive regimes, violence, the bloodshed of estimated 35 million Indians perpetrating utter impoverishment.  A schoolchild would find the content questionable.  

The tour into Glasgow’s social history then descends further into misogyny and how great the Steamie was, a women’s’ place to ‘gossip and laugh’ helping them ‘cope’ as they ‘cleaned the city’s grime off their clothes’, no context of the historical social structures and practices that oppress women. In the Glasgow Fair exhibit the highlight of the ‘anti-slavery booth’ further emphasised the missing context in the previous exhibit. Magically, the jolly Glasgow Fair picture is used to demonstrate the Green’s long history as a place of free speech and political protest! Where were the pikes versus guns of the Radical War 1820 Insurrection and State spies? Where was the Church-State violence against women and others in the Witch trials? Where were the state murders of local weavers who simply tried to combine (unionise) to get a pay rise? Where was the Red Clyde? Where was the Suffragette and Chartists Struggles? What an astounding exhibit this room could be! Just a weird room of dumbed down presentations bleached of any integrity. Where on earth has our Glasgow gone?

Social History (they might not know it) is near the top of the Business and Budget 2021-22, Plan A agenda 2.6 ‘The ongoing legacy of slavery, racism and the Black Lives Matter movement demands a re-examination of Britain’s colonial past and ongoing structural inequality. Whilst the rise in domestic violence during lockdown has brought a sharp focus to violence against women and women’s safety’. One of Glasgow’s Key Priorities in Glasgow Life BUSINESS AND BUDGET PLAN 2021-22[2]  P 12 is to address Glasgow’s historic role in slavery and empire, particularly in relation to the city’s Museum Collection and supporting Glasgow City Council’s anti-slavery motion. Accurate Social History is important because ‘We can learn the lessons of our city’s past to teach us how we can make a better future’, as Glasgow Life inform us.

Screen Scotland run by a BBC subsidiary, located at Kelvinhall is certainly an asset with the Botanics, Kelvingrove, the Hunterian, Riverside and the Science Centre all within walking distance.  A quick glance at the Child Poverty statistics show that a disgraceful 29% of children in Hillhead Ward are living in poverty. But ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and summer holiday clubs, family gatherings and clubs can make use of the 6 extensive high quality Free access public museums and Botanical Gardens and science based spaces there, joining up networks to maximise the quality of life, while growing up in poverty.

In the Calton Ward adjacent to the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens there is a staggering 49% child poverty with 22% unemployed. It has 3 local Free museums. Two are closed with the third in jeopardy, half open. The People’s Palace, run down over several years and closed for a time, is now reopened but its Winter Gardens are closed with its Botanics completely destroyed by the City Council. These Museums are assets not just for the local 49% but for all of us to see ourselves as others see us – they could inspire our young people to reflect their own diverse histories, climate change, natural history and help explain the poverty of the life almost half our local youth experience. It’s surrounding area Calton, Bridgeton and ‘fantasy Legacy area’, Dalmarnock has such high child poverty that Glasgow’s Community Plan 10, Thriving Places, has selected the area as Glasgow’s first ‘Thriving Places Neighbourhood’. Unable to increase incomes, ‘this place-based approach, based on experience and international research, enables positive activities which communities value, to grow, improving the circumstances and opportunities for their children’.  With several primary schools, nurseries and High School just adjacent to the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens, 49% child poverty and so poor as to be designated a Thriving Places Neighbourhood, it seems culpable negligence to shut venues, destroy its Botanics and bleach the integrity out of its Museum Collections denying these young people and families access to opportunities intended to act to mitigate the depowering and isolating nature of poverty.  

Councillor choices have definitely been made and it’s clearly not in favour of the East End marginalised communities. City Council talk and no action, hot air. But further, they are brazenly adding to our hopelessness of the promise of a Botanics by its complete removal in order to commercialise the space, whilst the locals who need it to thrive are amongst the poorest in UK. This looks unlawful since it does not help to safeguard the mental health and wellbeing of the people they are paid to safeguard.

The current proposals from the Consultation[3] would not include the options of permanent commercial/ temporary community commercial/ private event hire and probably a restaurant we can’t afford (Q8) if that were not a Council consideration. The fact that a Glasshouse ‘takes a lot to run’ and ‘we need to look at ways to subsidise that’ is to say ‘make it pay for itself’. Surely solar panels, a wind turbine and ground heat pump would be enough. Electric cars got free-of-charge power to run them for years why not this building?  We have already paid for it but Glasgow Life and the Council allocated our money to other museums. They decided to underinvest in the 49% youth that needs it most. Simple.

Despite the youth of Calton being by far, in the greatest need of quality community facilities including Museum collections which are worthy of their lives and which demonstrate to visitors that we value and invest in our youth’s futures, the Councillors have chosen time and again over the years to defer and thereby to disinvest in them and put a new roof here or a new access road there or a full refurb of Burrell or Kelvinhall in fact ignoring the health impact which disinvestment makes to children of the east end. The Thriving Places policy lays this out clearly. With Glasgow life expectancy the poorest in Scotland, including for well-off Glaswegians, and violent crime twice the national average and 36% fuel poverty – rising[4], a social history collection worthy of our folk would contribute to and enrich this dialogue. Whilst it is nice for the 49% to look upon the riches of the Hutton Room in the Burrell if they can afford the fares, the jaw box at the People’s Palace tells them that people like us lived like this, less than 50 years ago. Many of us still remember this. Our plight has been real and seen and through the act of preservation and conservation our existence has not been denied. Put yourself in our place.

 

Therefore, like a sore skelp any con-sultation about the future of Peoples Palace and Winter Gardens, including asset transfer or full privatisation is the latest attempt to write us out, as clear to us as the current People’s Palace (ground floor) Display has just written us out. The building’s designation has been clear since 1898, therefore you are really consulting on its fiscal future. Green energy is the affordable answer, yet your ALEO commercialisation model for the building persists despite the utter poverty of those it serves.  

There are local experts willing to advise but they are sidestepped by the Councillors/Glasgow Life in favour of architects New Practice. The Councillors have accepted ‘models’ that don’t work, further disadvantaging the 49%: ‘Families! Pay us your taxes to manage your museums and we will let you volunteer to do our job free in your spare time!’ This model rewards themselves by shifting their responsibility back to us – it seems we will all pay twice. And when the volunteers are too exhausted to continue, the facility will become fully privatised accessed by elite who can afford it, not the 49%. 70,000 supporters, experts grounded in the space, plus generations of us, are not welcome, your questionnaire sore skelp attempts to put us back ‘in our place’.

But this is about ‘our place’. The Council threw in this con-sultation just to keep the pot boiling while they shred the trees, concrete the ground, turning-it-PRIVATE. Our lovely Winter Gardens will become commercialised, infested by the ALEO parasite that now lives off the Municipal host, bleeding us dry. We have already paid the council for the upkeep of this building. Museums elsewhere have had disproportionate amounts of that money, by Councillors’ choice.          

Their chosen model sucks out our profits into the partners’ pockets, not ours. They squander it on banquets for visiting dignitaries (see Common Good fund) and by selecting ALEO’s models that don’t work (Ms McConnell CBE words), mismanage our dough by paying Glasgow Life Executives, City Properties and Un-elected Officials enormous salaries (£140,000plus pensions) for running down and giving away our local sports and community facilities.  

Our voice is only heard within the confines of their ‘model’, within their acedemiaspeak and directed towards their predetermined commercial goals. We expect our critical thoughts and opinions will be neatly placed in the appendices of their expensive Report, so why bother? Their crushing disregard reinforces our invisibility- we are less important, our 49% are less respected, not as influential as our Unelected Executives. They invest £millions in flagships elsewhere but not in us, making us aware that our culture, the sum of generations of diaspora, is worth less and is less dignified.  It would make you greet if it didn’t make you so angry.

Commercialisation of the building peppers this questionnaire like red flags, loaded from the start. We have become accustomed to the Councillors violence against us. We have seen them stop at nothing to push this model, demolish whole districts and families (Jaconelli) for a fantasy ‘legacy’ now hollow and empty. The sell-off of a whole golf course for less than the average house price (£100,000) or a Council Executive’s annual salary. Asset strip 60 community facilities to fix their mistakes, demolish schools and sell the land, the list goes on. This model is not sustainable. They white-wash our history by bleaching out its integrity -our social history is simply not safe in their hands. We are not safe in their hands. And multiply this by all UK cities and elsewhere because it’s a familiar story. You are either for it or against it. You cannot say it is just your job to carry it out. How many times have we heard that before tragedy occurs? The system needs removed.

People’s Palace, Winter Gardens and Glasgow Green are land and buildings which draws together the sum of all folk such as engineers, sports people, scientists, activists, writers, artists, poets, musicians, crafters and other folk amongst us from the Calton, Glasgow and the World to this place. People’s Palace, Winter Gardens and Glasgow Green is our place with a wider network which tries to protect it. This place is not movable or replaceable because the location, the space and time of ‘here’, is where we live.  Despite being employed to safeguard us, this Council’s weapon is neglect and we are under constant attack from it.

The ground at our place, called Glasgow Green, contains the DNA of 1000 years of mass congregation from traditions like washing our faces in the dew on 1st May, to emergency sharing free food soup kitchens with our hungry, to State control the criminal injustice of being publicly murdered by State Execution for asking authority for a fair deal for our children.

The People’s Palace contains the impoverished social bones and artefacts of our ancestors, honoured by repeated visitations of their children and great-grandchildren. Despite neglect hundreds of thousands[5] visit each year. Our Social History artefacts provide visitors with visceral memories of our common upbringing, diverse ancestry, skin colour, language, class, schooling, work, family, religion and political attitudes. This forms our cultural identity, the loss of which leads us to struggle to understand who we are.

Our Winter Garden offers open and free warm shelter from life’s brutalities.  It offers an interpretation of ecology and climate change set within and in contrast to the brutal urbanism of a major post-industrial city. It brings our youth in contact with the reality of the exotic transporting us across the world to imagine those places where grow curious fruits. They are immersed in the warmth and the sensory coddling of the joy of mother earth. Stepping back outside our 49% now have experiences on which to base choices about climate change and world issues.     

Thus The People’s Palace and Winter Gardens and Glasgow Green presents a necessary root for our existence and reflection of being ‘us’ fulfilling part of our lifeblood of being human. Is it any wonder 70,000 are so protective of it and don’t want it changed?  Our current Collection displays rarely fulfil the museum and greenhouses combined potential to reflect all the facets of ‘history from below’ from society, to climate, landscape, urbanism, memories, history and the State’s apparatus. Engaging with common memories underpins honest comparisons of how we live now and how we ought to live and so this place is crucial.

By contrast, our People’s Palace highlights the discriminating interpretation of our place by Government, Glasgow Life and the Council towards the 49%, the poorest and marginalised of our kin. Our low status blinds them. They do not wish to see us. They experience our objects as sentimental or as unwanted reminders that we exist and our experience is brutality, part of our cultural identity is bleached out of existence by the tool of neglect, ensuring disrepair in order to rationalise and reinforce their decision to erase us. This lack of integrity points to a deep seated aversion to us which drives their fiscal decisions about us. 

By systematically denying meaningful dialogue with our passionate, renowned and dedicated experts they demonstrate their desire to erase our culture and cultural identity. By shredding our Winter Gardens in favour of a commercial space they demonstrate their ambition to pass on to future generations a Capitalist agenda of environmental catastrophe as well as their duplicitous attitude to COP 26 and insincerity to honestly cooperate on urgent world necessities.  And they give themselves awards and honours and promotions for this?       

People’s Palace, Winter Gardens and Glasgow Green represents these themes over centuries. Our actions within Glasgow in this place is spotlighted and the State is repeatedly found unacceptable. A simple look at a banner accuses Authority of perpetuating inequality, or of misogyny or of cruelty. A look at the ‘single-end room’ confirms the wealth inequality society accepts, the segregation and discrimination against the poorest.   Glaswegians reflect upon their individual struggles gazing up into the artefacts of solidarity, powerful banners, flags and lanyards charged with indignation and dripping with the bruises of injustice. These tattered fragments are pointers to the successes we can achieve when we join together seeking justice. These objects direct us towards a hopeful future.  

Therefore A building of two volumes, the People’s Palace and the Winter Gardens explores society and landscape, currently a place of greater potential for climate education than any museum we own.  It is the only museum in Glasgow about Glasgow for Glasgow. Its collection therefore is crucial to our health and wellbeing in all its diversity, to Glaswegians including ex-pats and to Scotland’s future identity. It is necessary for a thriving neighbourhood and crucial for our future, the 49%. Preserving the original remit of Full Free Access to an intelligent collection and a Botanical space would be the responsible route for the Council, starting immediately and without any commercialisation of any part. It is a responsibility we owe to the preservation of our ancestors struggle and our future environment education of all our youth grounding their understanding while preparing them in advance for the vital role they will play for us all, in the very near future.

[1] City Council 2022- 23 Budget: 

https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=56373&p=0

[2] https://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/media/7176/business-plan-2021-22-gl-board.pdf

[3] https://new-practice.typeform.com/PPWGSurvey?typeform-source=www.glasgowlife.org.uk

[4] https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=35134&p=0

[5]2019 – Visitors numbered 223774  down from 34257  35% on previous year https://asva.co.uk/app/uploads/2021/02/ASVA-Annual-Visitor-Trends-Report-2019.pdf