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Behind the fence: the side of Glasgow games you’re not meant to see

The miles of high fence separating east end Glaswegians from games athletes. Hilary Mooney

Since the Commonwealth Games got underway, much praise has been heaped on the city and its population for the event’s apparent success so far (even if Usain Bolt was alleged to have suggested otherwise). So to write something that is strongly critical of particular aspects of the event and its consequences perhaps runs a high risk of being declared too negative – and “off message”.

Yet in winning the games for Glasgow, important questions were asked about the social and economic effects of such an event. And important questions remain about how the games are working for some Glaswegians. We have been particularly aware of these as part of a research project into the city’s east end funded by the Openspace Research Centre.

There were protests around different proposed aspects of the games long before the event began and even as they started. For instance, a two-day protest began on the day of the opening ceremony by some low-paid workers in Glasgow council’s workforce over payment for additional hours and over management-imposed shift changes (which the council tried and failed to ban through the courts).

Other protests have focused on some of the impacts of the games on different communities. These have included protests over the forced eviction of a family whose house was being demolished to make way for the athletes’ village, and over the closure of a day care centre to make way for other games infrastructure. And at other times there have been voices and protests around the cost of staging the games in the context of austerity and rising levels of poverty. Much of this received little media focus.

The great regeneration promise

Involving local people in a partnership to make the games a success was an often-repeated claim made by organisers and council officials at the time of the bid to host the games in 2007. This was said to mean “working with” the communities in the areas most affected by the games. The event promised to bring prosperity, economic growth and badly needed urban renewal. “Legacy” was the byword for a flagship event that was presented as meeting the long-term interests of Glasgow – and especially those who lived in relatively disadvantaged east-end areas such as Dalmarnock and Parkhead, where the opening ceremony and other events have been taking place, and which is home to the athletes’ village.

Yet just weeks before the games began there was mounting anger among the residents of Dalmarnock and Parkhead that their lives are being hugely and negatively affected. “Treated like animals”, feeling “caged in” and being “kept out” are among the claims that have been made repeatedly by a number of the residents in the areas most affected. Such resentment has been as local amenities, a community centre and local shops in Dalmarnock, were bulldozed to make way for games venues and other related infrastructure.

The organisers will retort that there have been improvements to the area. They have built the Emirates arena and the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome, while the athletes’ village will be converted into a mix of social and private housing. The national hockey centre has been built at nearby Glasgow Green, the swimming centre at Tollcross upgraded – also in the east end – and there have been improvements to transport infrastructure. Previous government surveys have also indicated that many residents are positive about how the games will affect the area in the long-run.

Yet these undoubted steps forward risk being undermined by the way that the organisers are interacting with the area. There have been longer-term complaints about the frequent disruption to utility supplies and there is a general feeling among many residents that the needs of local people are being overlooked by the organisers. These have largely been sidelined by the officials, dismissed as a temporary blip in a hugely successful event that will only benefit residents in time to come.

The fence goes up

Such anger about the disruption to daily life in these communities reached new levels with the construction within a few months of the start of the games of eight-foot fencing around the athletes’ village – fencing that has also almost entirely barricaded the residents of Dalmarnock into their housing scheme. Residents in the streets immediately adjacent to the village are effectively cut off from it. A temporary road entrance/exit represents the only way in and out of the area.

The red line highlights the security fence around the athletes’ village area. Google Maps, CC BY-SA

The fence is topped by CCTV cameras along its length, with security gates in place to allow into the village only those with the proper security passes. On the whole, the security budget for the games has topped £90m. Like the upheaval beforehand, there was little if any prior notification that it would be implemented in such ways and with such an impact.

People’s access to their properties, their ability to park beside their homes and even to enter their own area have been severely curtailed. Fears have been voiced that in the event of a fire or other incident, emergency vehicles would find it difficult to access some of the streets. Claims have been made that passes will be required for locals to access their own area. There are also health worries because local community health facilities and teams have also been moved out from the games areas. And there was a recent rat infestation within Parkhead and Dalmarnock due to the extensive building along the River Clyde.

The feeling has been strongly voiced that local people are being excluded, actively pushed out and contained in what some have a termed a “prison”. At a large community meeting in the Emirates indoor arena in Parkhead in late May, some residents said to us that, “had this been the [more prosperous] west end, such things would have never been allowed to happen”.

Local estates have become like cages, according to residents. Hilary Mooney

Security for who?

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that securing the games is partly about securing them from the residents of the inner east end. As well as the fences, security gates and CCTV, the highly visible presence of police, military personnel and security staff sends out a strong message that the locals are not to be fully trusted. There is also the fact that a large proportion of the security staff both in the east end and elsewhere in the city have been draughted in from London and elsewhere outside Glasgow – so much for using the games to create local jobs.

Far from the warm words about urban renewal, the treatment of the east end only reinforces the longstanding stigmatisation of the area and its people. There are growing demands by many residents for some kind of compensation, but the response from the organisers and council officials has been relatively muted so far.

The view has been allowed to develop that the games are not for ordinary people in the east end to be part of or enjoy. So whose games are they? Who will benefit? It might not be very fashionable to say it during all the excitement of the event, but the strong sense among many residents in the area is that it is not them.

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