One of the oldest festivals in Europe – Govan Fair – is consulting on ways to revive the ancient gathering which goes back to at least 1756. In the spirit of these ‘together in the UK’ times, they were given great insights from the creator of Totally Thames – a festival which involves businesses along the length of that great river.
It is local people in Govan who are asking. They’ve found inspiration in places like Gdansk where history bus tours are led by local people who’ve lived the history. They’ve inspired research to uncover fairs of past times and how they were run. Unfortunately they’ve not been able to uncover the tarmac on a car park which conceals Doomster Hill, an ancient site where justice was once dispensed by the Kings of Strathclyde and where people gathered for important occasions.
The ship building history of Govan honed by skilled men who crafted vessels of every type - remains hidden. Unless you visit the fascinating exhibitions within the recently refurbished and now commercially used, beautifully appointed space of Fairfield Offices on Govan Road opposite Elder Park. There, of an afternoon, a person can view details of shipyards and people, see giant spanners and the works they sometimes tumbled into.
This quiet but highly professional presentation of local history puts the Riverside Museum to shame for it does not project a fraction of the information the Fairfield offers.
So maybe Govan Fair folk and local people will devise something that pleases them and which will enhance their Fair celebrations for generations to come. By consulting with Big Brother Thames, they’re off to a good start. If they can deliver in the way the Fairfield Exhibition of shipbuilding does, then the future of the event is secure.
A Thames tidal wave of enthusiasm gave the current Govan Fair organisers a flotilla of good ideas to improve the stability of the annual event.
Adrian Evans, Director of Totally Thames, a Festival spanning the length of that great river which flows through the heart of London, was guest speaker at a seminar on the Govan Fair’s future this week. He outlined the ebb and flow of events which led to Totally Thames. His inspiration was the exceptional artist George Wyllie. ‘He brought this huge origami boat and floated it down the Thames in the 1990s,’ said Adrian. ‘That made a big impression on me. It was immense. It was amusing and made me realise Govan – where he came from – was a special place.’
The festival he has developed from nothing on the Thames now has many very good working partnerships with businesses along the length of the river. His organisation is responsible for around 25% of the events while the others arise locally and are included in the Totally Thames programme. He urged the Govan Fair organisers to: ‘Look for the opportunities. Pursue them aggressively and celebrate the fantastic and unique history you have.’
Architect Andy McAvoy left Govan at the age of five but admitted he’d been ‘infected by the Spirit of the Place’ on his return in recent years and acknowledged George Wyllie had been an inspiration, too.
Andy has spent at least three years researching the buried history of Govan. ‘It was a gathering place. It was the confluence of two rivers – the Kelvin and the Clyde. So people could wade across from North to South and from East to West at low tide. The Weavers would taunt their Deacon to come out of the Water Row Inn in an annual ritual to take up his post. That led to the ‘Ghost of Water Row’ an art work in light set on the site where that inn had been.’
Andy’s research showed that a Fair predated the procession which is almost the only current activity. ‘There was commerce and interaction of people. There was a horse fair and a labour fair. Where commerce was, people gathered. But ship building caused a massive re-writing of the landscape. That’s when Lady Elder stepped in with Elder Park to have a green space protected for people.’
The Govan Fair has probably been in existence since well before 1756 when there is some documentary evidence to show it flourished. Andy outlined the various ups and downs of the Fair and said that Lord James Stringfellow, Govan Fair Chairman who chaired the seminar and Liz Gardiner of Fablevision who introduced all the speakers, were issuing a call to arms to bring in new energy to develop the Fair in a way that could be sustained and would grow the event.
The fair at present is mostly an annual parade on the first Friday of June with shows being set up last year because of Lord James’s show family connections. Other entertainments and attractions are being considered to encourage more local community participation.
The ‘incredible history’ of Govan and its Fair was supported by Graham Jeffery of the University of the West of Scotland and Director of the Creative Futures Institute and Dr Alan Leslie of Northlight Heritage concerned with archaeological excavations.
They referred to a bus from Gdansk with local people aboard tell the local history of their shipyards and city to visitors. This idea had been successfully adapted for Govan and could be again. And the site of Doomster Hill – currently under a car park – should be reclaimed as an ancient place of justice and important meetings.
The seminar was held in the Board Room of the re-furbished Fairfield Offices on Govan Road by courtesy of Govan Workspace.
It was followed by a walking tour of Govan which included the Old Kirk, the Pearce Institute, Doomster Hill and Water Row, the derelict Govan Graving Docks and the vibrant Film City which was once Govan Town Hall.
Govan Workspace boss Pat Cassidy admitted he never expected the response they got to a Doors Open day talk given by Professor John R. Hume. The expert on shipping and shipbuilding on the Clyde could have filled the Fairfield Board Room three times over – easily – with his lecture on Fairfield shipbuilding company.
As it was, more than 70 people were carefully allocated seats in the fine wood panelled meeting place on Govan Road. Professor Hume had some magnificent illustrations showing how the Clyde around Govan had progressed from simple salmon fishing net areas into modest shipbuilding yards for sailing ships. This quickly grew as iron ships and steam engines developed. By the late 1800s the Fairfield yard was the largest on the Clyde and probably the largest merchant ship building yard in the world.
Professor Hume’s love of his subject was clear. His fine attention to detail fascinated his attentive audience. And the event served to remind people that not only was Govan still producing ships in the yard behind the historic Fairfield offices but the Fairfield building itself was in the process of being transformed.
Restoration work on the A listed building started in February this year following emergency repair work to secure the fine, red, sandstone block.
Abandoned in 2001, the former world class headquarters was purchased by Govan Workspace in 2009. With an investment totalling £5.9m it will provide high quality offices when finished in the autumn of next year. ‘We will also have Community Heritage space here to tell the history of shipbuilding in the local yards,’ said Pat. ‘We didn’t start off with that in mind but it soon became clear there was a wish and a will for something to fill that gap.’ Now a major volunteer programme is underway to recruit people to piece together the jigsaw of Fairfield’s history and tell the story of shipbuilding in and around Govan as experienced by the people who worked in the industry or who lived locally. See the website: www.fairfieldgovan.org.uk
The 24 hour radio station – Sunny Govan 103.5fm – which broadcasts across the whole of Glasgow and beyond - has recently moved to new premises at 960 Govan Road in the heart of Govan.
Said Heather McMillan the Station’s MD: ‘After spending nearly five years in a car park on the fringes of our community, we were delighted to be given the opportunity to move into the Portal in Govan Road. With a lot of help from our volunteers, we have been able to fit out our unit at the Portal. It’s been great to see so many people drop in and take an interest as they pass by.’
She added: ‘If you haven’t already done so, come down and say “Hello!’” We are proud to be a small, accessible social and cultural tool to be used by local people for personal and communal empowerment. Our new base right in the heart of the community will help us do just that – so pop in and get to know our team.’
The station is also offering a 12 hour course on broadcasting. Run over six weeks it will teach some of the practical and legal aspects of operating a studio, making and presenting a programme, editing, advertising and observing the OFCOM code of conduct. With a limited intake of five people at a cost of £200 each, Sunny Govan is offering a very special deal. For more information or to book a place call: 0141 445 3741 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information see their website: www.sunnygovanradio.com.
Govan Road marks the dividing line between Glasgow Southside and Glasgow Pollok for the Scottish Parliament constituencies. And on Saturday 16 April it saw the SNP on one side of the road and the Labour Party on the other.
While the Labour Party had a stall and leaflets and loads of red ballons on the new Govan Cross Public Square, the SNP had star of screen and stage, Elaine C. Smith marching shoulder to shoulder with Nicola Sturgeon who aims to retain her seat in Glasgow Southside.
Said Elaine, who switched from Labour some years ago: ‘The question is – who will represent Scotland best? Who will fight Scotland’s corner? I believe it is the SNP and I’ve supported Alex Salmond for several years. He gave me advice on how to approach people when out canvassing. Believe it or not, speaking face to face with strangers is quite nerve-wracking for me because I’m used to facing an audience who are sitting in the dark and at a distance! So Alex’ advice was – talk about anything other than politics. Let that person raise the subject that is on their mind and then address it.’
Nicola, who was fresh from launching the Party’s manifesto, glossed over the fact that the spot for the photo opportunity included a Subway sandwich shop in the background. It was into another branch of that franchise that the Labour leader Iain Gray rushed when he tried to avoid a group of Citizens United Against the Cuts campaigners who wanted to speak to him.
But in Govan the sandwich shop was shutter and across the road the Labour Party team, led by Johann Lamont who is fighting to retain her Glasgow Pollok seat, was out in force. Councillors Alistair Watson and Jahangir Hanif were there and Councillor Stephen Curran who is standing against Nicola Sturgeon, had already been to Govan and gone on to Pollokshaws in his campaign trail.
Carefully ignoring each other, the two party teams lobbied passersby, especially those heading for the busy Saturday market at the Water Row side of Govan Cross. The votes cast on Thursday 5 May will finally show how many people have crossed the road, politically.
The community in Govan joined millions of people around the world on Wednesday 1 December to commemorate World Aids Day by raising awareness of a disease that afflicts 33.4 million lives worldwide.
At the Pearce Institute on Govan Road, members of the local community braved atrocious weather conditions to attend an event hosted by the Jubilee Social Centre. There they heard from Reverend Michael Angley Ogwuche of Govan’s Jubilee Social Centre, the international Christian charity, before watching a documentary investigating the Aids/HIV situation across Glasgow and the world.
Said Reverend Michael: ‘ It is important that on this most remarkable of health days we as a community do something. It is very important that people know that HIV and Aids is a problem that has not gone away.
‘There are 33.4 million lives affected by this disease across the world and over 6000 in Scotland. The problem is still covered in a shroud of stigma. As long as you live on planet earth then you need to be tested for Aids and HIV. We need to keep up the fight against the pandemic.’
The audience then watched a documentary, made by the Jubilee Social Centre, called HIV Reframed. It investigates Aids and HIV in the Glasgow community and tackles misconceptions and myths relating to the illness.
The film highlighted the difference between having HIV and being ‘Aids sick’ – the latter being the stage when symptoms are active in the sufferer.
John Flanagan, Councillor for Govan, also addressed the room, saying: ‘People should not discriminate through their misconceptions about HIV and Aids. Awareness should be promoted, it is a disease that continues to affect people across the word and within this city.’
Before finishing with refreshments for all, a minute’s silence was observed for all Aids/HIV sufferers around the globe, joining the million of others doing the same worldwide. The message of the event and documentary was this: Aids and HIV is associated with death, but to be educated is too know that long happy lives can still be enjoyed by people with this condition.
During Glasgow Fair 2010, young Govanites opened a new chapter in local history. They ceremoniously took off protective covers to reveal the refurbished windows of Fairfield Shipyard offices in Govan Road, which have been boarded up for nine years.
This completes the first phase of a £4.5m restoration project led by Govan Workspace Ltd. Said Pat Cassidy, Managing Director of Govan Workspace: ‘The young people have done a fantastic job. They’ve been out since early morning picking up litter and planting window boxes and tubs with flowers. This is an important day for this community. This historic space will become offices with the community heavily involved. This is a celebration of what Govan has achieved particularly through shipbuilding. And it is about time these achievements were celebrated.’
Already £3.6m has been found and the Fairfield development partners are confident the remaining £.9m can be secured to allow the second phase of the refurbishment to start by Christmas this year.
Added Pat: ‘We’ve been able to make the place wind proof and watertight. Now we need to finish the job to transform these historic offices into usable, quality, workspace.’
Part of the plan is to dedicate an area within Fairfield House to the history of shipbuilding.
Commented Tommy McMahon, secretary of the Govan Youth Information Project (GYIP) management committee: ‘ You could say the young people who had the job of taking off the window covers today, are the latest generation to be working at Fairfield offices!’ They were all part of the summer programme run by GYIP for several hundred local youngsters during the school holidays.