The day before he was elected First Minister for a second term, Alex Salmond sat with Glasgow families in the Accord Centre in Dalmarnock to hear, first hand, their concerns about its demolition. In an easy and interested manner, he talked to many of the 50-60 people there. And he listened closely to what they were saying.
The uninspiring building was to be flattened and used as a bus park for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. But those who use the place – people with conditions such as Down’s Syndrome, autism and other special needs and their families – have protested loudly and brought a temporary halt to the proceedings. They had understood the facility would be replaced ‘like for like’. Instead they had been offered space in an existing community centre which was not suitable for the special needs of the folk who used the Accord Centre on a daily basis.
Said Grace Harrigan, whose 25-year-old son Craig Anderson has Down’s Syndrome: ‘I believe Glasgow City Council thought we would not put up a fight. They thought we were young mums they could bully. But 120 people use the Accord Centre and we are part of a citywide carers network.’ She said the carers had made many approaches to their local Councillors. ‘They did not even phone back or email us back. The two MSPs stopped answering our emails.’ Explaining that the area has been, traditionally, a Labour stronghold, the local centre users and carers were very disappointed by this lack of response from elected representatives. ‘After all, these were the people we voted for,’ she commented.
Having once met Billy McAllister, an SNP Councillor for a different part of the city, she contacted him in desperation. ‘At last, someone seemed to be listening,’ said Grace.
About the same time, one of their supporting groups – Citizens United – which had challenged Iain Gray on such cuts and caused him to run out of Central Station – took up their cause in a face-to-face meeting they were given with Alex Salmon during the election campaign. ‘He told us that he, personally, would look into the situation as soon as the election was over,’ said Citizens United leader Sean Clerkin. ‘And he’s kept his word. I think the Labour-led Glasgow City Council will have to giveway to these demands and give these families a ‘like for like’ centre. If they don’t they will be breaking up a community of the most vulnerable people.’
Carers from Riddrie who were part of the support network for the Accord Centre told the LOCAL NEWS: ‘We know we’ve got to stick together or we’d get nowhere.’ Ina Ross and her son Graham look after another son, Stephen who is 37 and has Down’s Syndrome. ‘The Accord Centre is a life-saver for us. He considers coming here is going to his work. With all the talk of closing it, he’s frightened he won’t get back to his work,’ said Ina.
Another family whose 32-year-old son, Paul, has been attending the Accord Centre since he was 19, said the knock-on effect of the proposed closure had been noticeable in his behaviour. ‘It has been shocking. He’s swearing and behaving badly. He is clearly very upset,’ said dad Andrew.
Helen McCourt explained that the community centre she’d been told her 28 year old daughter Laura would attend was in Easterhouse. ‘I don’t drive so it would take me two buses to get there. She would be taken there, given tea and toast and then have nowhere to go and nothing to do. She has Down’s Syndrome. I need to know she’ll be safe and she wouldn’t be in that environment. In the Accord Centre she has lots of things to do and friends and people she knows.’
When Alex Salmond arrived he was shown round the Centre by manager Vivienne Ferguson. Then he met the families. One of the first people he spoke to was wheelchair bound Joseph Loughran who is 24. ‘Did you vote SNP,’ questioned the soon-to-be First Minister. ‘Yes!’ was the resounding reply. Joseph’s parents Helen and Joe said that a community centre was not a suitable place for Joseph to go to because it was open to the public and that made him vulnerable. ‘He has many complex needs. They can be met in the Accord Centre. He knows the place and feels confident here. We know he’s safe here in a caring community,’ said Joe.
Several of the regular users of the Accord Centre spoke up for themselves directly to Alex Salmond. Cheryl McArthur (32) told him: ‘I don’t want to go to a community centre. All my friends are here. And I’d love to come here five days a week.’
Laura McLauchlan (27) said: ‘I come here three days a week and would like to come five days.’
When the conversation turned to establishing what, exactly, the Accord Centre families had been promised, Alex Salmond asked for minutes of meetings. Quickly scanning them he pointed out that a ‘like for like’ centre was described ‘if possible.’ Said Mr Salmond: ‘Those are weasel words. The intention is clear.’
Promising to follow up the meeting, he left after almost two hours of discussion.
Later his office issued a formal statement: ‘During the election campaign I met many people who benefit from the Accord Centre. They put a good case to me for the future of the facility. They told me that a commitment had been made to them by Glasgow City Council some years ago, that if the centre had to go to make way for the Commonwealth Games as part of the local authority’s programme of modernisation, then they would be offered a like-for-like replacement. I was asked to come and see the centre so that I could understand why those who benefit from the services it provides believe that the alternative they are being offered is not appropriate. Today I was proud to meet staff, carers and service users as well as local people campaigning to save the centre. I think it is an important service for the community and I will continue to urge Glasgow City Council to ensure it is re-housed in suitable premises.’
Glasgow City Council is preparing a detailed response to the issues raised by the families who are fighting for the Accord Centre for publication on this website. Their spokesman said that 22 of the registered users of the Accord Centre had agreed to move to a Centre in Riddrie and were due to start on Monday 23 May.