Despite the biting cold, on 15th December 2015, a party of 6 accompanied by camera-man Chris went for a wee stroll around the Broomy.
Rebecca, Arts Project worker for RIG Arts is new to both the area and the organisation and suggested that some of the residents taker her on a walk around Broomhill, Greenock so she could begin to learn about its history.
When on the walk, Tom, an elderly resident and member of the Tenants and Residents Housing Association (TARA), spoke about the architectural changes he had seen in the area. The 1920s houses which boarder Broomhill have been designed with round towers at the corners, each with with a bell-shaped roof. These provide a key visual identifier, marking the edge of Broomhill. Due to their bad condition, however, they’re likely to be demolished as part of the current regeneration. Tom commented on the perceived class divide which has lingered over the area for decades, stating that the people living in houses of the same design which were “just beyond our boundary” were considered to be of a better class.
Tom also told us of the older Victorian houses that have now been demolished. The residents not only had to share an outside toilet, but also an outside sink. They called it the Communal Jaw Box – we didn’t fancy the idea of washing our faces in that on a day as cold as ours was.
Amidst talk of the current regeneration happening in the area – the extent to which, and the length of time that the Broomy has needed it – a man came rushing out between the scaffolding from his flat. “Do you wan’a see ma new windows?” he asked us eagerly. We politely declined, continuing our walk around the area to see what else we could find beyond the view from his home.
We passed by some of the residential blocks recently done-up. 1970s concrete social housing with a lick of paint made for homes that looked comfortable and bright from the outside. It was a shame to see though, the broken benches now sitting neglected and unused in the courtyard, facing nothing but each other. Ghosts of more than only warmer weather, the benches hinted at a time when the residents had an outside place they could spend time in.
Just around the corner we passed the site of the old Caledonian Foundry, now demolished along with many of the other factories and mills that were in the area. Greenock has a strong industrial and maritime heritage, being a port town, and although the buildings which housed these industries have been torn down, hints to the past remain. You’ll find roads called ‘Mill Street’, and ‘Baker Street’, the latter being named after the Baker’s Mill which stood on it. You might one day realise that for 20 years the bridge you had thought was simply straddling a ditch is, in fact, passing over a disused underground railway line which ran between the factories.
You might, like Liz, member of the TARA, stumble upon a burn making it’s way up from the hidden water ways, dividing the water from the top of the hill between the industries in the Broomy: “I’ve never seen that and I’ve been here 40 years”.
Even though the area is undergoing much-needed redevelopment, changing the face of the Broomy which, as many argue, is for the better, important traces of the past remain. Without these hints of history, but also, without the constant surprises that a place we call home can offer us, a place is in risk of becoming stagnant and devoid of personality. Whether it be sharing knowledge of the heritage, or glimpsing the ornate tiling on a residential building, celebrating beauty and a sense of place is integral to maintaining a feeling of ‘home’ at a time when much is changing.