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A Landmark of Govan Aberlour
On the sloping grassland by the Clyde, four kids run about; silhouetted cavorting figures, whacking long grass with sticks, climbing over shrubs, changing formation, silent and quick across the distance.
Behind the boys stand the blocks of cream and red flats that form the southern edge of Govan before it hits the Clyde – Napier Street, Napier Drive – windows touching-distance from the grass, the river throwing-distance. Across the Clyde there is more wasteland. Train tracks. The backs of buildings. To the right are the SECC and the Finnieston Crane. In the other direction there are the slate grey curves of the Riverside Museum.
It’s stark, bleak, strangely beautiful: the river, the overgrown land, the flatness, and the sky dense with clouds in the early evening light.
Across the wasteland from the frolicking boys stands a building with falling-down walls and the bones of a roof. Here, on the dry docks is where boys and girls, men and women, come to drink. The wreck, a former pump house, has a fence around it, erected by the building company that has recently bought the land. This whole stretch of river is fenced off but people find a way through, as did Johnny and Kim who’d spotted a gap in the silver fence posts and walked along a high wall, holding back great bundles of weeds grown wild in the recent sun, stepping over broken glass and minding the drop to cans, bottles, tree roots, dead branches, bricks and metal.
The derelict building and its environs are a mix of fecundity, decay and dying industrial grandeur. Cobblestones, brick, iron. Everything is on a massive scale. Huge capstans, metal posts, holes and pits. Sheer-sided canting basins filled with river water down which broken metal ladders dangle. Inside the roofless building Johnny reads the graffiti tags of boys he has worked with in the past and who are now in jail. Repeat offending. Drugs. He and Kim are youth workers from Aberlour’s Youthpoint project.
They come to the dry docks to see the young ones, those who could be at school or college or in a club, those they might influence. Sixteen years Johnny has been coming (something about Kim here?) He says on sunny days the place is full of drinkers, sitting on the edge of the basins, legs hanging down their steep sides. The grassland between the dry docks and the pale housing is where sex is had; underage, unprotected.
Kids love this place. This is a playground with everything. Stuff to chuck, walls to spray-paint, ladders to climb, girders to hang from. From the girders dangle white cords on pulleys. There are steps down to a pit: cans, bottles, metal, junk, water at the bottom. And tiny metal steps up to the high eaves. Kids climb both sets of steps, Johnny says, often when they’re drunk. He is worried.
Nobody has actually died beneath the broken beams of this building, he says. But only last year a boy overdosed here and died at home in his mother’s arms. So because no lives have been lost, the authorities have not prioritised the area. Nothing is done. Except for the twenty-five thousand pound fence erected by the new owners of the land, about to transform it.
There was once a power to this part of the Clyde. Money sailed to and from these docks and men with jobs trod the cobblestones towards Govan and their houses. Now it seems that to squeeze through the fence and walk the wasteland to the derelict building is to cross some kind of line, to reach an endpoint, or to tumble off into some further trouble. Johnny looks again at the graffiti tags and says he feels he’s failed the boys he used to visit here. There are many reasons: some financial, some circumstantial.
His and Kim’s work is hard to fund and its success hard to quantify because it’s the rough end, the serrated edge of street work with the most challenging of young people. Aberlour has its weeknight clubs but the kind of kids that come to the dry docks don’t go to the clubs. Here, they are out of sight of Govan. Far away from pensioners who would pass with their sticks and trolleys or grandchildren in prams. Away from nurseries and schools, shops, pubs, libraries, leisure centres.