Commonwealth Games: Glasgow legacy is cashed in as residents move into athletes' village

But the sense of exclusion created by Glasgow’s Friendly Games’ steel fences is still strong

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The Independent Online

Ann Allan has lived in the east end of Glasgow for almost all of her life, but her new house is a bit different to the others – not least because a year ago, an elite athlete was probably sleeping in her living room. In March, the 74-year-old became one of the first residents of the Athletes’ Village, which it is hoped will become one of the most lasting legacies of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

For those who benefited directly from the affordable housing created for the Games, the social legacy of the event is undeniable – but there is also troubling evidence that it actually increased the stigmatisation of east end residents, who felt excluded from the sporting jamboree on their doorstep.

According to forthcoming academic research seen by The Independent, locals reported being dismayed by the “overt securitisation” of the east end during the Games. The police’s strict system of road closures and the erection of steel fences topped with CCTV cameras to protect the athletes’ village made them feel like they lived in a prison compound.

Once home to around 6,500 athletes, the 33-hectare site has been converted into 700 houses and flats and has the feel of a Scandinavian village, with wood-cladded properties arranged in neat rows. In a nod to Games past and future, the streets bear names like Melbourne Place, Vancouver Walk and Gold Coast Lane.

Mrs Allan initially had her reservations about living in “the village”, as the locals call it. Downsizing from a five-bedroom maisonette to a two-bedroom house, she arrived only a month after it opened. “I was reluctant to come here at first, because I’d been in that house for 37 years and I didn’t want to leave my neighbours because they were great. But it was far too big, and I love this now – I wish I’d done it years ago,” she said.

The east end of Glasgow has a long history of regeneration initiatives. Back in 2012, a Scottish Government report on the future legacy of the Games pointed to “substantial new investment” in the area, which it said would benefit “some of the most deprived communities in Scotland”. But a year on, is it working?

On the surface, it would appear so. Mrs Allan said the quality of the homes in the athletes’ village has attracted people from all over the city and has increased the area’s ethnic diversity. “I’ve never lived in a mixed community like it, every third or fourth house is a different culture,” she added.

But according to Ian Campbell and his partner Tracy Warwick, this process of change was already under way before the event came to town. The couple live in a three-bedroom house in the village directly across the road from the Emirates Arena, a vast venue built specifically for the Games.

“Ten years ago, if a young boy was to walk along Parkhead Cross at night himself, and he wasn’t known in that area, there’d probably be trouble,” said Mr Campbell, referring to a major junction north of the village. “But there’s been that many new faces over the years, seeing a stranger isn’t that big a thing any more. It’s calmed a lot of these areas down and taken the gang culture away.”

The couple were among the first applicants for a home in the village, signing up with Thenue Housing Association as soon as they heard it was being built. They arrived in February, having previously lived in a nearby two-bedroom flat. The extra space means they can provide separate bedrooms for their sons and has allowed Ian to create an office, from which he runs a home security business. For them, the social legacy of the Games is tangible.

“It’s enabled people to live in homes that they’d never have been able to afford before,” said Ms Warwick. “These people would maybe never have had the chance to live in a three-bedroom townhouse – they’d have still been living in flats in Parkhead. A lot of people came from areas where the living was harder. To them, this is different, and they’re happier. It’s changed their life.”

But new research conducted by academics from the Open University, the University of Stirling and the University of Leeds points to a darker legacy. The academics studied the experiences of 50 east end residents in the build-up to the Games and beyond. Around half kept diaries of their thoughts, while others took part in focus groups.

One resident reported seeing five police cars and a helicopter on his way to Sunday mass, while another resident told researchers: “They assume that if you are from Parkhead you take drugs. One morning I got up in the Games there were something like 20 police in my street.”

Dr Gerry Mooney, a senior lecturer in social policy and criminology at the Open University and one of the authors of the research, said that “no efforts” had been made to bring the athletes and the local community together – a fact that was illustrated by an extraordinary scene which took place shortly before the Games began.

“One of the stories we got was that when the athletes arrived, people went over to the fence to see them coming in – and the athletes were throwing over badges from the various countries,” he said. “Two people said to us: ‘It was as if we were living in the third world’.” One athlete is also said to have asked: “Is that to keep us out or to keep you in?”

The research concludes: “The Games point to a world of consumption, glamour and excitement that is beyond the reach and financial resources of the vast majority of people in the east end of Glasgow”, adding that this “only served to increase feelings of insecurity and of exclusion”.

Dr Mooney said he believed the notion of a Games legacy was “hugely problematic” as it was so ambiguous. “On one level this is the obvious legacy,” he said, gesturing towards the great grey hulk of the Emirates Arena. “But the general issues of poverty and so on in this area are hardly touched by having this here.”

Back in the athletes’ village, Ian and Tracy agree that many east end residents felt the Games were being put on “for the tourists”, as the ticket prices were beyond their financial reach. The couple did not attend any events themselves. But a year on, they are not complaining.

“For us personally, it was worth it all, because we knew ultimately we were going to get this house,” said Mr Campbell. “But for everyone else living around about us, people thought there wasn’t anything in it for them.”

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