A Tale of Displacement and Struggle

Dalmarnock decline

“Just a person in a wee flat”: Being Displaced by the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow’s East End.

This is an abridged and edited transcript of an interview with Margaret conducted in her home, in January 2009, by Libby Porter. The “voice” in italic text is that of Margaret, Libby’s voice is in normal text. Margaret Jaconelli is a long-time resident of Dalmarnock in the East End of Glasgow. In 2000, the Housing Association that owns the tenement building in which Margaret’s flat is located came to tell her she needed to move because they had decided to demolish the building. It was not clear at this point for what purpose the building was going to be demolished.

Margaret is now facing eviction, and has still not been offered a reasonable amount of compensation by the City Council. We are republishing this interview to show the consequences the Council’s negligence has had on Margaret and her family.

The Housing Association came [to us] in 2000 and said that they were going to pull this building down…So I went down to visit [the Housing Association] and said right, before we do anything here… it all boils down to money. They said well we’re just going to grass [the site] over. I said, listen, do not tell me that in the East End of Glasgow, near the city centre, that all this land is going to be grassed over. It all boils down to money. I know the way everything gets sold, the bricks, everything, the land will get sold.

Later, when Glasgow bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games, it became clear that the building, like many others around it, stood in the way of the Athlete’s Village. This development of approximately 38 hectares will be adjacent to the new National Indoor Sports Arena and cycling Velodrome. According to the brief to the consortia of companies bidding for the development rights for the Village, the site should ultimately contain around 1,200 homes. The significant majority of these will be sold in the open market after the Games, with a portion let for social housing.

Most of Margaret’s neighbours were renting their homes from public housing agencies, including Glasgow City Council, and had been progressively evicted and re-housed since the first announcement of the demolition in 2000. Social tenants are eligible for re-housing in other forms of accommodation, some of which had been newly built within the Dalmarnock area. But Margaret, as an owner-occupier, was ineligible for this re-housing scheme. In addition, her tenure history in her home over the past thirty years made things even more complicated…

We bought our house in 1976. We were only 17 and we bought this house. When I first moved here, in ’76, all the wee maisonettes were over there [gesturing over the road to where there is now a vacant plot], and four big tower blocks were there. We were only 16, we got married and when we were 17 we had our first boy. At that time, you had to go to the schemes like Castlemilk and Easterhouse. And they were offering us away to the schemes. But I didn’t want to go to the schemes. My husband’s family stay in the schemes, so, it would’ve been easier to go there. But at that time I worked in Arnott’s [a large Glasgow department store] and my mum had a big four-bedroom apartment. It was only my mum and dad that was left in the house, so we stayed with my mum and dad for a year. We saved up, got the deposit for this [apartment] and bought this. We were 17. My husband was an apprentice at the time, and I worked. The two of us worked, and we bought this. I worked, and my mammy looked after the wee fella [Margaret’s eldest son]. That was how we took this house. At that time, you couldn’t get a house in Dalmarnock. People wanted to live here. Now, a lot of people run it down, but there were a lot of good people down here, and there still are a lot of good people down here. We could’ve got a house up in Rutherglen [an area to the south of Glasgow] at the time, and sometimes I wish we had, you know [laughing]. But you cannae go back!

We were only in the house a few years and the Housing Association came in and bought it back off us. Then we had to be in it another 15 years for me to go back in to buy it [back] from the Housing Association. We started renovating it for the long-term, because we’ve got four boys and we thought one of them would have wanted it. We had only owned it again for a few years and that was when they came [in 2000] and said the building’s coming down. When they came to tell us the building was coming down, they took my details and asked about what we would need in a new house [a new scheme was being built nearby], and I said I would like an apartment. They said that’s okay, and put me down for that. But then later they said we can’t give you a house, you’re not entitled to it. You’re an owner-occupier. See if they’d given me a wee house down there, I would’ve been quite happy to go. I wouldn’t be here.

Anyway, that was us. We just had to sit tight then, and wait.

Since then, Margaret has been fighting for proper compensation for her family’s displacement. In the years between 2000 and early 2008, Margaret and her solicitor had intermittent correspondence with the Council and the Housing Association about her position. Eventually, a representative from the Housing Association arrived at Margaret’s house with a letter offering her a shared ownership property three to four miles from Dalmarnock. A shared ownership property is a form of tenure where a housing authority (such as a municipal authority or housing association) and the occupier own a part share each of the property. Usually, the occupier also has to pay rent on the part owned by the housing authority. Margaret currently owns her house outright, with no mortgage.

Finally [in summer 2008] someone from the Housing Association came to the door with a letter. She said, “I’ve brought this letter about how to buy your own house.”

And I said, “What do you mean buy my own house?”

She said, “It’s a shared ownership.”

I said, “Wait a minute, I don’t need you to come and show me how to buy my own property. I can quite easily do that, that’s what I would pay a lawyer for. And anyway who said shared ownership? I’ve never mentioned shared ownership.”

She said, ‘Well we thought it would be a good idea for you.’

I says, “Oh did you? You know my circumstances? I’m not interested, take it away.”

Then I went “No no, wait a wee minute, give me the envelope. I’m not even opening this envelope, I’m taking it to my solicitor.”

I went to my solicitors the next day, gave him the letter and he says, “They’ve offered you a shared ownership property—you would own 80% and they would own 20%—in Cranhill, Bellrock View” [an area to the north-east of the city].

I said, “Well I’d be coming out of the frying pan into the fire, so—the answer is no.”

We wrote back and said, “Come in with an offer and let’s sort it out.” Never heard a reply to that. Then on the 11th of July 2008, I lost my wee grandson, he was stillborn. And the next morning I had a letter from the Council. My lawyer wrote back and said we were willing to negotiate. Never heard any more until last week a neighbour round the corner came in and said, “Margaret, they’re compulsorily purchasing you, I’ve got the letter here with your address listed on it. ”I’ve never had any negotiations [with the Council], we’ve never sat down and talked about money.

Margaret lodged an objection, through her solicitor, to the Compulsory Purchase Order in April 2009. Her objection relates to the lack of appropriate negotiation and reasonable offers being made to her concerning the purchase of her property. Other property owners in the area, mostly small shop owners around the corner from Margaret’s home, are also objecting the Order. At the time of writing, they still await a reply from Glasgow City Council, and information about a hearing for their objections.

I went to see my solicitor last week, panicking. I was panicking because I’m not wanting to go away with nothing. You hear that many rumours, people go away with nothing. And he said, “Well Margaret, we’ve got our say in court now, they’re putting you out of your house and they’ve got to come up with the compensation.”

But I only want the compensation to go. I’m 50 now, I’ll be 51 in April. I don’t want to take a mortgage on. I just want to buy a house and that’s it. What I’m most worried about is am I going to have enough money to buy a house? I cannot take a mortgage on at 51, because I’ll be paying [it off] for the next 15 years. I’ve still got the wee fella, he’s 15. He’s my youngest and I’ve got to make sure everything’s alright for him. That’s why I say “No, I’m going to fight it.” Last year I was pretty ill and I wasn’t really interested in what was happening. But now I’m back on my feet and I’m fighting. I’m not looking for millions. I’m just looking for enough to buy a house, a decent house, not far from here.

All the residents of the building, and the surrounding neighbourhood were evicted and re-housed in the years immediately after the first decision to demolish in 2000. Margaret continues to live in the empty building with her family, surrounded by dereliction, awaiting an outcome about her objection to the Compulsory Purchase Order. As the only residents in the block for so many years now, the daily realities of life for Margaret and her family are challenging. Damp, cold, vermin and insecurity are constant pressures. The future seems daunting because of uncertainty…

I’ve been here six years myself…. six years alone. The last person before me, my neighbour upstairs, she went away in 2002, round to the new houses in Dalmarnock Road they built. And I’ve been here for six years alone. I’m paying £140 a week in the winter to heat this house up. I’ve got the fire on all the time in the winter. See if you don’t, it gets dead cold and damp, because the building’s empty. In the summer it’s not so bad, but in the winter I’m spending £140 a week on heating. What happened was the lass [in the flat] above me was moving [in the winter time]. When everybody else had left [their flats], they went and left old beds and carpets down, everything. The lass upstairs said that the Housing Association phoned her and said, “Make sure your house is empty.”

She said “Can I leave my carpets down to keep the heat in for Margaret, because she’s going to be in the building?”

They said, “No you must lift your carpets.”

On the windows up there, they took the window [panes] out and left… it’s like a wire mesh with holes. So, the wind was blowing through. And they left a space like that [gestures with hands about a foot apart] and the birds were getting in. I had to fight last year to get them to come and block that, they just put a wee bit of wood up. Then the water was coming in and running down the walls into my boy’s bedroom and I had to fight for months to get them to sort that out, which they eventually did.

Last year I fought with them to get the gutters clean. I know it sounds unreasonable, because the building’s coming down, but we’ve got a pipe in one of the bedrooms, it’s in between the wall. When it gets blocked, you can hear it, and it bursts. So, I had to fight with them to get the gutters cleaned.

Yesterday, I could hear like a mouse or something that had come in behind the metal door in the close. I phoned the housing and said “Look I don’t know whether it’s a mouse or a rat or a bird or whatever, but it’s scratching behind the metal door.”

And they said, “Well what are you wanting us to do?” I said, “I want you to get the Environmental Health in.” Now for 33 year I have never had anything like! [laughing] For 33 years it’s been not bad, but yesterday… ooh [shuddering]. It might be a bird that’s come in through the gap. So, I’m waiting on them coming to open the metal door…

We can’t go on holiday, don’t get me wrong, my [youngest] son goes on holiday, he makes sure he goes on holiday [laughing]. Usually we go away on holiday as a family, but we can’t now, we haven’t been on holiday in five years. That’s because we cannot leave the house. There used to be guys come in to empty flats in the building, the scrap men. They’ve been in all the empty houses taking the scrap. So if you go [away], you never know… And there’s nobody to watch. We’ve got the alarm system here but it’s still not the same.

I feel like I’m being treated like I’m just from the East End, just a person in a wee flat. I’ve always been an East Ender, born in the East End and brought up, brought our kids up here. My boy doesn’t want to leave here, he’s got pals here. Wherever I go, I’ll not be away far, because I’ve got friends, and my brother and sister both stay in [nearby] Bridgeton. I don’t want to go away from my nieces and nephews. All my family are all local.

The regeneration is going to be fantastic for the people of the East End, because for years and years when I was a wee lassie, I can’t remember anything getting done here. Nothing. And this is the first time that someone is working to bring good things to the East End. But at the same time you cannot forget about people too, because we’ve got feelings. They should be working with me, but they’re not.

I’ve never known anywhere else but this house since I was 17. That’s the full scale issue, its going to a new house. It’s scary, having to go to a new house. See if I wasn’t well or anything went wrong, my neighbour up the stair there, she came every day or she phoned. If I went somewhere else, nobody knows you. See if something went wrong down here, I can always run around to the shops and meet somebody and say I need your help. But see in a new house, you can’t do that. The community’s always been close, if there was something wrong, the community was always together. We’ve had a lot of good times here and a lot of sad times. The past year’s been quite rough for us…this year has been a right bad year. Hopefully, they’ll come in and give us a good offer and let us get on, because we’re in limbo.

We cannot get on with our life.

MARGARET JACONELLI in conversation with LIBBY PORTER