For Helen Carroll, the Talisman is more than a derelict building – it is a symbol of the way her community has been “left behind and ignored.”
Having lain empty for almost 25 years, the former pub is now little more than a scorch-marked brick-and-concrete shell. Surrounded by homes, flats, shops and a children’s play park, Carroll, the chair of Springburn Community Council, describes it as both an eyesore and a danger blighting the area.
Its concrete floor, though largely intact, is covered in broken glass, splintered wood, pigeon faeces and a frightening collection of other, unidentifiable detritus. Parts of the ceiling have started to collapse while grimy stalactites work their way, drip by drip, towards the ground.
Broken staircases are easily accessible. Worst of all, the entire front entrance has decayed so much that nothing now prevents entry to the cavernous, crumbling interior.
For locals, demolition is seen as more than just a way to remove the physical and social footprint of a problem building. There is also a sense that it can be the catalyst for change, perhaps even a way of wiping the slate clean. Springburn, said Carroll, “is owed” that type of transformation.
Having first run an online consultation, local activists decided to source funding for a “design charrette” – a formal, collaborative project exploring the possible future of the area. It encouraged people to “imagine a Springburn where the renewed sense of community is at the heart”.
The document resulting from this community collaboration lays out a range of ideas as part of bold plans to revitalise the area, including stronger community learning links with the local college campus, a regenerated town centre and a “community, heritage, visitor and travel hub” in the former library.
The Talisman was the subject of several development proposals, including one that would see the site cleared and transformed into the Talisman Community Park. The park would form part of a “continuous green connection” linking Springburn and Eastfield parks via a bridge across the Springburn Expressway, a four-lane A-road that Carroll said “pulled the community apart” since its construction thirty years ago.
There is no shortage of ambition, but concrete solutions are thin on the ground.
The Talisman was previously owned by businessman Mohammed Mirza who acquired the building in 2001, eventually taking over all of the empty shops below by 2009. He is also the owner of the adjacent Park Gate Retail Centre, with the two sites separated by a narrow strip of land owned by Glasgow City Council.
In June 2010 the council agreed to sell the land between and behind the two sites to Mirza for £100,000, on the condition that the Talisman was finally demolished. A council report from June 2010 described Mirza as “apprehensive about undertaking [the Talisman’s] demolition, without any assurance that the ground at 141 Balgrayhill Road will be sold to him.”
In February 2011, Mirza was granted planning permission for the construction of additional shops and parking in the area in and around the Talisman site, with the land to be purchased from the council. However, demolition never took place and the deal collapsed.
We obtained title deeds which show that the Talisman and the shop spaces below were sold for £20,000 in 2018. The building is now owned by RMF (GLW) Ltd., a real estate agency registered to an address in Paisley. The company’s most recent accounts state that it is dormant with assets of just £1.
Towards the end of 2019, the site was the subject of a fresh flurry of attention following pre-election claims that demolition was finally in sight. However, internal council emails seen by The Ferret reveal a different picture behind the scenes, with officials warning that no immediate action was being taken.
The campaign was dealt a further blow in September 2019 when the Scottish Government abandoned a manifesto commitment for the creation of compulsory sale orders (CSOs), admitting that the plans would not proceed during this parliament. Glasgow council previously told a Holyrood committee that the introduction of CSOs “should be implemented as soon as possible”.
Internal emails reveal that the council recently removed the roof from the front porch and a column of brickwork that was propped against it “in the interests of public safety.”
However, in an October 2019 email to former Labour MP Paul Sweeney, a council official said that the building’s structure is not regarded as being dangerous. Forcing the owner to bring the building into a “reasonable state of repair” is not considered to be “an appropriate use of resources”, given that the owner seems to have no plans to use or even secure it, the email said.
In an email to Councillor Kenny McLean on 22 November 2019, another official confirmed that “no action” was being taken on the Talisman “other than assessing the complex legal issues” around a council intervention.
“If this were easy it would have been done years ago I’m told”, the official said. “There will be nothing coming soon albeit there could be traction if the regeneration master plan for the area gets traction.”
A council spokesperson told The Ferret that they were “aware of the situation” regarding the Talisman site and were “currently considering the issues around that before going on to look at potential options.”
To Springburn Community Council’s Carroll, the excuses simply aren’t good enough. She reserved particularly sharp criticism for local politicians who promised action during the recent general election campaign.
In November 2019, SNP councillor Graham Campbell – the partner of SNP MP Anne McLaughlin, who won the local seat – told the Evening Times: “I will wear a hard hat and drive the bulldozer myself” in an article claiming that the battle to get rid of the Talisman was “finally won”.
“[Politicians] got our hopes up, but they must have known that they’re not going to do anything,” said Carroll. “I’m really angry. I feel used.” She bristled as she described what Springburn had lost over the years. The rail works that were at its heart have disappeared while homes were flattened to make way for drivers hurtling to and from the city centre.
The Springburn Public Halls, a neglected but iconic building, was controversially demolished in 2012, while the Winter Gardens, an historic structure, has been reduced to a rusting skeleton in the nearby park.
“People here always talk about the stories and what’s been lost”, said Carroll. “It’s always sad. So many homes and buildings and so much heritage has been destroyed for a fast buck and communities have suffered. And yet the Talisman stands.”
Despite the setbacks, Carroll seems more determined than ever that the battle will be won.
“That building is a beacon showing that nobody gives a damn”, she said. “The council and the parliament are hoping we stay quiet but we won’t. Getting rid of the Talisman would be a symbol that things are going to be ok – going to get better. We still want it gone by Christmas this year – we need it gone and we’re not giving up.”
For the people of Springburn, the demolition of the Talisman would be an important – albeit long overdue – victory. Meanwhile, a very different battle has been fought just a few miles away.
Derelict church crumbling in Polmadie
On the southern side of the Clyde, tucked between the Gorbals, the water and the M74, a gleaming development of new homes and flats has risen from the rubble of decades of neglect. But the site has not been without controversy.
The council failed to have the land valued before handing it over to developers, Bett Homes (now Avant Homes), for a symbolic rent of just £1 per year. Taxpayers were forced to pick up a £3 million bill for new road-building as part of the development. Then, parents of disabled children hit out after part of their school playground was given away.
Now, residents say that another promise has been broken – a pledge to transform a historic building within the development into a new community centre.
In stark contrast to the brand-new buildings that now surround it on three sides, St Margaret’s Polmadie – a B-listed church more than a century old – is crumbling. Following the dissolution of the congregation in 1984, the building was put to a number of uses while its condition continued to deteriorate.
It is now owned by the council, having been acquired through a compulsory purchase order in 2005. In 2016, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – the local MSP – unveiled a new piece of public art, named Oatlands Girls, beside the crumbling church building.
Its doors and windows are now boarded up and a heavy wooden fence has been erected around its perimeter, although neither has held back the ravages of the Scottish weather or the encroachment of plants rising from cracks in the stonework. An entire section has already visibly collapsed and holes in the roof provide access points for the latest tenants – a flock of pigeons.
One of the last remaining physical links to the area’s past, the church was supposed to be transformed into an asset for this new community, with £500,000 set aside for this purpose in the original development plan.
Local activists and the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust (GBPT) worked together in an attempt to save the building, with proposals to transform it into a community and business centre developed in 2009.
But in 2012, in the face of escalating costs – estimated at £4.5 million – and an inability to secure sufficient funding, the plans were abandoned. Further attempts to raise the required funds also proved unsuccessful.
The council confirmed that despite extensive efforts to convert the building for community or commercial use, no appropriate tenant could be found.
“The estimated running costs would have been too high for any group to take on, and the necessary capital funding could not be raised”, said a spokesperson. “The building has been declared surplus to requirements.”
As a result, St Margaret’s continues to decline while, in its shadow, a temporary community centre has been erected at a cost of £180,000.
Secondary school teacher, Alan Gillespie, bought one of the new-build homes in Oatlands in 2017. He is disappointed that no progress had been made on restoring St Margaret’s, despite the promises made.
“The builders told us that the church was going to be converted into a community hub”, he said. “This was very welcome as you worry about the lack of amenities in a new-build estate. But three years later, there’s no movement on the renovation.”
Gillespie is now concerned that the community has been “priced out” of a renovation. “It’ll take millions,” he said. “Because it’s listed, I don’t think it’ll be pulled down soon, so it just sits there rotting away.”
For Mhairi Hunter, the local SNP councillor, St Margaret’s “is a really important site, particularly for local people who remember the old Oatlands.” Yet, it is “a fairly typical example of a building just being left.” She said the practice of leaving empty buildings to deteriorate “has been a cause for complaint for a long time in Glasgow. ”
However, Hunter argues that things are now changing in the city, with a property and land strategy designed to assess the condition of historic buildings and determine the necessary investment to bring them back to life. Through this process, in which the council intends to partner with organisations like the GBPT and Historic Environment Scotland, it is hoped that investment can be maximised.
“The role of communities in this will be crucial,” said Hunter. However, she is also realistic about how much can be saved in a city where resources are limited and derelict, historic buildings are commonplace.
“My personal view is that I don’t think we can save everything,” she said. But through condition assessments, maintenance and investment, “we will save more and give those buildings a sustainable future”.
Hunter hopes that many buildings can be repurposed for community use or transferred into community ownership. For St Margaret’s, however, new approaches have almost certainly come too late.
While a temporary community hub in the church grounds is being run by the Oatlands Development Trust with support from the council, the church itself is being put on the market.
“We have been advised this is necessary before any demolition can take place,” said Hunter. “The plan is still to retain elements of the building so that there is still that physical link with the past.”
But for local resident Jeanette Hill, who highlighted the plight of the church to The Ferret, the loss of St Margaret’s is a missed opportunity for the area and its people.
“I think our community would really be improved by having this church renovated like St Francis was for the Gorbals,” said Hill. “We are a huge housing development with little amenities. It is such a loss to the community as it could have been a valuable and beautiful asset.”
“It seems we don’t value the east end’s history.”
Documents about the derelict Talisman
All photos thanks to James McEnaney. This story has been published in tandem with the Sunday National.