Gallic charm wins over the toughest estate in Glasgow

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The Independent Online
A mood of scepticism lurked over Easterhouse in north Glasgow yesterday as the locals claimed indifference to the visit of President Jacques Chirac and the Prince of Wales.

The French President had personally requested to be shown around the estate, one of the most notorious in Britain. He was keen to view the so-called regeneration, including work by the Prince's Trust, and compare it to France's more dismal suburbs.

A bright orange poster, surrounded by flags, in the butcher's window on Lochend Road offered the first sign of cheer, although it turned out to be double-edged. "Welcome, Prince Charles and President Chirac," it read. "Get your free beefburgers, lunchtime."

Tommy Boyle, 52, the owner, said: "A few weeks ago when the beef crisis was at its worst, tempers were running even higher. But the people have cooled down a bit. I'm offering President Chirac a big steak I have saved for him."

Mr Boyle's father opened the business 35 years ago, when Easterhouse was first established. But they watched as what started as an urban innovation, designed to cope with city overspill, collapsed into a nightmare.

Mr Boyle said: "The worst period was the 1960s. All these people, no sports facility, a bad bus service, completely isolated. It was shocking and that's when the trouble started ... We've come through a lot."

The Prince of Wales was visiting Easterhouse for the third time since his Trust began its involvement. It has set up housing and education schemes, and has given grants of pounds 21,500.

But the young people of Easterhouse were unenthusiastic hosts. Donna Devine, 15, and her friends were initially scathing of the preparations for the VIP arrivals.

"It's a scam, rubbish, Easterhouse is never usually like this," Ms Devine said. "They have done up the school, mended all the broken windows and painted the fences."

This was Easterhouse on a good day. Much of the graffiti had been cleaned up, although the roof beside Ladbrokes betting-shop read "Jesus Who?" But the crumbling grey flats, rusting balconies and hopelessly cheerful net curtains, spread endlessly to the horizon.

The older generation was concerned by the visit for different reasons. They complained they were tired of their homes being presented as the stereotypical estate from hell.

Eileen McAlpine, who has lived in Easterhouse since 1962, said: "I love it here, I wouldn't move anywhere else ... they didn't even have bathrooms where we had come from."

But as the bagpipes marked the arrival of the royal Jaguar, few could resist the mood of excitement. Mr Chirac kissed babies enthusiastically, obviously perplexed by the Scottish accent: and Prince Charles explained to him the deadly rivalry between Rangers and Celtic football clubs.

Alistair Heggie, 36, an unemployed builder, said: "Prince Charles asked me when the new houses were getting done, and I said two years. He said it would be nice if it was a wee bit sooner. It's really good he's here."

Among those scheduled to meet the Prince in advance was Gary Tibbitt, who set up an electronics business with help from the Prince's Trust. Mr Tibbitt, 24, said: "Easterhouse is getting a big face-lift, which had put a lot of people off before in terms of business."

There was disappointment later on for Mr Boyle, the butcher. When he took his position with a tray of burgers, it was raided by the local children before the President reached him, and he never had a chance to offer him the steak.

But while the children of Easterhouse retained some suspicion about their homes being turned into an international estate of hope, they were happy to admit they had been charmed by their visitors.

Ms Devine said: "It's really exciting, I thought Jacques Chirac was just an old man. I didn't really know who he was before today, but he shook my hand. He wasn't a snob at all."

Mr Chirac, in turn, praised the regeneration project as "fantastic". He said: "It's a wonderful, wonderful success. We can take many ideas from this back to France."

Another view, page 17

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