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Possilpark: Where people power is driving community’s transformation

It’s no secret that Possilpark has faced problems in its past. Residents are, however, determined that these will not define the future. They want to transform its fortunes. And, tired of waiting for others, they’re setting about taking action themselves.

The people of the district have joined forces in a united front and have set about countering the decades of underinvestment that they believe has held them back for too long.

It’s work which is seeing the north Glasgow community celebrated as an inspirational trailblazer after becoming home to the UK’s first Community Improvement District.

The hope for Remaking Saracen, the alliance behind it, is that it can be a catalyst for positive change.

With Possilpark named as the UK’s most deprived community in 2018, it’s action that many feel is long overdue as the has long sought to shake-off the shackles of the social and economic problems fuelled by unemployment which stemmed from the decline of heavy industry, particularly the Saracen Foundry and railway works.

It’s a movement starting at the area’s core, with work centred on Saracen Street, the district’s main thoroughfare and shopping area – and it’s making real progress.

Brian Kelly, Improvement District chair and owner of Eye Pad Opticians, on Saracen Street

Businessman Brian Kelly has run Eyepad Opticians there since 2016 and is one of the key players in the improvement district’s creation. 

Alongside neighbours Gary Walker, of Walker’s Butchers and the then subpostmaster Omar Afzal, they formed the Saracen Street Traders Association. It was the first step towards Remaking Saracen’s creation.

Discussions started with social landlord ng homes who became the ‘host organisation’ to investigate taking the improvement district model forward with Scotland’s Towns Partnership and its Scotland’s Improvement Districts operation.

Now chair of the improvement district, Brian explained: “We realised that the full potential of the area had not been achieved. We want to keep people on Saracen Street and make them realise there are so many opportunities for shopping here”.

Having only officially come into being last year (2022) the improvement district has already kickstarted a programme of shopfront improvements, enhanced street cleaning and encouraged people to get behind businesses as part of the Scotland Loves Local campaign. It has been successful in round two of shopfront improvements through funding from Glasgow City Council Place Fund with work being organised in the near future. 

This work – and more – is the beginning of what supporters hope will be an ongoing drive to build on local pride and tackle anti-social behaviour while improving the area’s look, feel and fortunes.

Brian added: “The community is at the heart of that. Without the community there are no shoppers. Without the shoppers there are no businesses. The whole thing forms a circle. We all feed off each other.”

It’s that sense of community that provided a lightbulb moment for trying something new as – working alongside social landlord ng homes – businesses explored the creation of an improvement district as a means by which to secure investment.

Talking to Scotland’s Improvement Districts – the organisation behind the creation of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) across the country – they realised that they could create a new model to drive change. One that brought not just businesses together, but other organisations.

And so the Community Improvement District has been born, with a wider collection of voices influencing how the levy paid by business owners in the area can be levered to to the greatest benefit.

Margaret Fraser of NG Homes, right, and Divine Tasinda of Three 60 at the top of Saracen Street

“For us, creating a Community Improvement District was a positive way forward. It made perfect sense,” said ng homes chief executive John Devine, whose team has been working with the community and others to launch the initiative.

The social landlord has made history by becoming the first organisation of its kind to anchor an improvement district.

“For us, housing is about more than just houses,” John continued. “It’s about community, which is at the centre of all we do. We want to create opportunities for people – to encourage entrepreneurship and drive positive change.

“The improvement district empowers people to do exactly that.”

There are few more positive champions of Possilpark than Divine Tasinda, a social entrepreneur who specialises in dance and fashion.

She said: “The beautiful thing about Possilpark is that the people who are in power in the area are actually doing something. You don’t get that a lot.”

Divine has been teaching dance locally since the age of 16. Her business, Three60 Dance, is on the edge of Saracen Street. She has close links with ng homes, which has helped her secure funding, and has taken part in many community activities.

The 27-year-old is excited about the Community Improvement District putting the area on the map, saying: “Possilpark is definitely going to be an inspiration to other areas. I have friends who live elsewhere who are shocked when I tell them the type of help that we receive here”

“Once people realise how much support there is here, it will be an inspiration. Other areas will feel they have to catch up.

“All of this work is going to change peoples’ perceptions of the area.

“We’re very close to town here. It’s a 10-minute walk to Sauchiehall Street. I think we could start to get more residents because once people realise how easy it is to live here. I believe we will become an area in which people are inspired to live, to have a business, to shop. I really look forward to that future.”

Part of the richness of Possilpark is in its diversity – both in terms of people, businesses and wider interests.

Halfway along Saracen Street, Ola Olawale runs 3Dee African and Caribbean Food.

She said: “I came to Glasgow in 2014. I had this kind of business in Dublin. I realised there was an African community here but no African food. We have new people coming in every day and things are getting better.”

Ola Olawale, front, and Banke Olawale of 3Dee African and Caribbean Food

Butcher Gary Walker added: “We always hear people say how good Saracen Street was. We want to make it that way again.”

John Devine is certain the community’s drive and determination through Remaking Saracen will help with the wider regeneration of Possilpark and north Glasgow generally.

He said: “Our hope is that this really continues to create a life of its own. We will support in any way we can and play our part by providing good affordable housing. We’re looking forward to what the improvement district can deliver.

“We would like to see this really kickstart change in Saracen Street, creating a heart for the area where people shop, visit and sample good life as well as creating more community activity.”

Cameron McGregor of Gary Watson Butchers, one of the founding Improvement District businesses

All eyes are on Remaking Saracen

The work taking place in Possilpark is not just making its mark locally, but nationally.

Scotland’s Improvement Districts (SIDs), the organisation spearheading the rollout of districts of all kinds nationwide, is encouraging places across the country to follow Remaking Saracen’s lead and establish Community Improvement Districts.

As the UK’s first improvement district of its kind, lots of eyes are trained on Possilpark to see what other communities can learn.

STP’s Phil Prentice, who has worked closely with the Remaking Saracen team, said: “What’s been achieved in Possilpark by the community coming together is fantastic. And the exciting thing is that it’s only the beginning.

“Remaking Saracen is trailblazing. It’s demonstrating a new way of using the improvement district model to bring a wider range of people and organisations together to deliver long-term and transformational change. Other communities are lining up to follow their lead.

“The power of localism should not be underestimated. Stronger, more sustainable, communities – with people getting behind the businesses in them – can help our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, the climate emergency and cost of living crisis.”For more details about Scotland’s improvement districts – and how your community could benefit – go to www.improvementdistricts.scot.

For more information on Remaking Saracen, go to www.possilparkbid.co.uk