BBC News, by Christina Ong
21st June 2020
Since the turn of the century, the tenements of Glasgow have steadily grown quiet.
At one time, their back courts were used for drying laundry, exchanging gossip and scampering children.
Now, many have fallen into disrepair and neglect.
In one such property in Shawlands, almost none of the residents knew each other by name – a disconnect that went unnoticed until lockdown began.
But after one man began hacking away at the tangle of weeds on the block’s shared land, unlikely friendships began to form.
The football coach
David Grant, 31, was working in schools and clubs as a self-employed football coach before lockdown.
Like many, he saw his business disappear overnight and found himself stuck indoors wondering what to do with his free time.
He decided to start work on the shared scrap of land – which had become a wilderness of brambles, dense shrub and rubbish after years of neglect.
“I was sick of looking out of the window and seeing a big mess of shoulder length weeds,” he said.
“One Sunday, I had nothing else to do in lockdown so I came out and started hacking away”.
By the end of the day, a handful of neighbours joined in and before long they decided to turn the wasteland into a community space including raised beds, turfed lawn and a paved barbecue area.
The software developer
The first neighbour to help out was Daniel Grant, 33, a freelance software developer, who was feeling cooped up indoors when he saw David at work.
“He was like a lone warrior taking on this project so I had to join in,” Daniel said.
“It was romantic really, this idea that while being locked up you could transform this space.”
It soon became obvious that the project could not go any further without permission from everyone living in the surrounding blocks.
This is where Daniel admits his skills came in handy. He created a website to keep residents updated and distributed a survey so everyone could give feedback.
Through this new digital community, more than £1,100 was raised and residents across the block donated tools, equipment, plants, stones and turf.
More than a dozen neighbours cleared the space in a matter of weeks – all novice gardeners who used tutorials on YouTube as a guide.
But one of the unexpected joys was how the group developed a sense of togetherness during a time of loneliness and isolation.
Daniel said: “My role was really to facilitate getting the community to work together and to be involved.
“I think probably all of us want to know our neighbours and want to meet new people in our community – we just often don’t have a way of facilitating that.
“People come out partly because they want to see the space transform but also because we need to socialise, we need friends and need community.”
Recent architecture graduates, Laura Brash and Rob Grace, also got involved by offering their own expertise.
With Laura between jobs and Rob having recently been furloughed, the couple offered to draw up a proposal based on the survey results.
Having to deal with the opinions of the residents of 80 flats, Rob said: “I was amazed at how on board everyone was.
“Even those who had strong opinions about what they would like done were overall very pleased that something was actually happening.”
Despite not getting involved in any of the gardening work, Laura appreciated being able to help in a different way.
“Gardening isn’t in my skill set so it was nice to do something in a way I felt comfortable,” she added.
The furniture maker
Another resident who offered his skills was George Thompson, 32 – a self-employed furniture maker who found himself unable to work.
With the recycling centres closed, and having more free time on his hands, George decided to reuse his old floor boards that were left over from home renovations to make benches for the garden.
George was living alone when lockdown started and an important part of the project for him was the social element.
“I’m quite good at being alone but I’m also quite sociable,” he said.
“At this point, if I still hadn’t seen anyone apart from occasionally seeing someone in the park – I think I would be losing my mind.”
Works on the backcourt are ongoing but the opportunity to get involved has clearly been a social lifeline for many.
As lockdown eases, the residents are looking forward to making proper use of the space and plan on having a launch party to celebrate when the work is complete.
David added: “Prior to this space, we use to put our bins away and that was it.
“Now, we have folk involved from every tenement block and there are people in the garden every day.”