One city's slow move away from the tenement slums

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The Independent Online
ANN WALLACE'S life was transformed when the tenement she had lived in since childhood in Easterhouse was demolished and the family moved into a housing co-operative flat just a few yards away.

"We used to have to put candles at the windows to keep the ice off them," Mrs Wallace, a 34-year-old mother of two, said yesterday as she and other hard-pressed residents of Easterhouse backed Tony Blair's drive to rescue sink estates.

Easterhouse was famously described by the comedian Billy Connolly as a "desert wi' windaes". Many of those are boarded up. Once seen as a solution to the housing conditions of inner-city Glasgow, the tenement houses became dogged by crime, unemployment and, for many years, a drug culture.

The scale of Easterhouse's problems did at least attract attention. Millions of pounds of public money have been poured into the area to try to reverse the spiral of decline. Last year saw the formation of the Greater Easterhouse Partnership, bringing together key public agencies, business, community groups, the police and volunteers, all dedicated to the economic and social regeneration of Easterhouse.

Better housing is top of the partnership's list of objectives. Whole streets have already been demolished, starting with ghettos of disorder like Brunstane Road - "a terrible place", as a resident, Liz Smith, recalled yesterday. "There were fights in the street all the time."

Ms Smith now lives less than half a mile away in Bulcurbie Road, a mix of two and three- storey houses and flats, many owner-occupied. The old and the new stand cheek by jowl in this part of Easterhouse. The contrast is stark. Beneath the tenements, the grass is uncut and fouled with dog mess, cans, broken glass and other litter. Incongruously, on an empty green a vaulting-horse lies on its side, its stuffing trailing out.

Just up the road are small front gardens with flowerbeds, mown lawns and shining glass handles on the doors. A daub of white paint serves to mark the number of one of the tenements; paint on the veranda rails and metal windows is peeling and door panels split.

"In the run-down houses people don't bother," said Vicki McLeish, from one refurbished flat. "If you get a nice place, obviously you want to keep it like that." Henry Stirling, heading for the front door of his housing co-op home, paused by the roses and assorted flowers that have won him a prize, to be presented at the community centre on Saturday. Aged 55, his last job was shot-blasting, when he was 18. "The new houses are the best thing that has happened here," he said. "But there are rules and regulations and you have got to stick to them." No noisy parties was the first he could remember, followed by keeping the surrounds of his home tidy. All the tenants seem to approve of the strict rules and of the ultimate sanction of being evicted. There was general agreement that smarter homes led to less vandalism and some of the streets were "fairly quiet", but doubts remain over whether there was less crime or drug-taking.

Bernadette Toner, a 32-year-old single mother living in one of the worst of the remaining tenements, said her block was "rife with drugs and weans with alcohol abuse. There's nothing for them to do, so obviously they're going to get up to mischief." Ms Toner railed against the city council, which, she said, refused to do any repairs to the flats and had told her to hire a plumber to fix a leaking valve. "I get pounds 63 a week to keep me and the wean and they're telling me that."

While she would like to see the grey tenement block renovated, Ms Toner does not want to leave the street. For all its troubles, the people of Easterhouse proclaim a simple loyalty to the place. "It just needs improving. There's a lot of good people here," was the message to Mr Blair.