‘They’ve just blown up my childhood!’ That was the emotional, spontaneous, reaction from Finlay McKay, one of the hundreds of people watching Red Road flats being demolished on Sunday 10 June in Glasgow.
Firefighter Finlay was born and brought up on the 25th floor of the Petershill Drive triple block. ‘Staying there was fantastic. I loved it. I’ve still got the pals I had then and living there made me the person I am today. But now, seeing the building come down so very, very quickly….I’m shocked.’ The 42-year-old had brought his daughter Cara (9) and her friends Connor (6) and Taylor (8) to see the GHA’s latest move in its massive re-generation plans. Since GHA was formed in 2003, Scotland’s largest social landlord has invested more than £1.1 billion in refurbishing, modernising and improving homes across the city.
Said Finlay: ‘I left in 1991. My Mum and Dad are dead, now. I’ve moved to my own house in Swinton and tell stories of growing up in the Red Road flats, but that’s the last physical link with ‘who you are’ – gone for me. I thought the building would come down in stages, so I’m shocked it happened so suddenly.’
The controlled explosion used around 275 kilos of explosive to bring down the triple block in seconds. The lower ten storeys of the steel-framed building will be demolished later using long reach machinery. The entire site will take months to clear. Steel will be re-cycled and the rubble crushed to make foundations for roads and buildings.
Around 2000 people were temporarily evacuated from their homes in the area, including residents of a care home, to allow the operation to be completed safely.
Said GHA Executive Director of Development and Regeneration, Alex McGuire: ‘The Red Road flats were popular in their day and are known around the world, but their time has come to an end. We’re pleased the demolition of the first of them went according to plan.’ The remaining seven multi-storey blocks will be demolished by 2017.
William Sinclair, Managing Director of demolition contractors Safedem, said: ‘The Red Road flats have presented a unique series of challenges ranging from the size of the buildings to the steel frame structure.We’re delighted to be involved in another successful demolition for GHA – our 17thwith them since 2005.’
MSP Patricia Ferguson also spent her childhood in a flat in a Red Road block. ‘My family left a room and kitchen in Maryhill to come to a fantastic flat on the 21st floor of a different block from the one demolished today,’ she said after watching the event. ‘The thing to remember is – that tenement with the room and kitchen – is still standing. It has been re-furbished and continues to provide good homes for people. But there is no doubt, the Red Road flats have come to the end of their time and it is right that they come down now.’
A BBC Newsnight film on living in the Red Road flats is due to be screened on Monday 11 June at 22.30.
By Martin Graham & Erik Geddes
400 people took to the streets for a march from Red Road flats to the city centre to express their grief at the recent suicide of three Russian asylum seekers.
The Serykh family jumped to their deaths from the high flats at 63 Petershill Drive after their asylum claim was rejected.
Led by Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees and Positive Action in Housing, the marchers made it clear that refugees are welcome in the city and that the Home Office and UK Border Agency should adopt more humane policies when dealing with asylum seekers.
As the marchers reached the City Chambers, they held a mass sit down and chanted ‘Say it loud and say it clear, refugees are welcome here.’
Organisers were told by police that they could not gather in George Square due to construction work, so the group moved on to Shuttle Street, where there were speeches from Green MSP Patrick Harvie, STUC representatives and SNP MSP Anne McLaughlin.
Many of the speakers criticised Labour MP for Glasgow North East, Willie Bain, for failing to attend and show his support.
Speaking afterwards, Anne McLaughlin said: ‘The Home Office are refusing to speak to MSPs about asylum issues, claiming that it is a reserved issue and outwith our remit. But I will continue to fight for the rights of asylum seekers in Glasgow.’
Campaigners are calling for a public inquiry or a fatal accident inquiry into the deaths of the three Russians.
Denis Davies, a volunteer with Unity, a charity which operates an advice and support network for Asylum seekers in Glasgow, was on the march. He says the march went well but claims political support from the local MP was short in supply.
He said: ‘The core of the march was asylum seekers and people form the Red Road flats, so it was quite representative of the area.’But Willie Bain never came, and we’ve not had much support from him in the past.’
‘The Home Office do what they want to do and it makes the lives of very vulnerable people more difficult than they already are.’
‘The Home Office seem to be changing their story as and when it suits; I understand that they are now saying that the Serykh family jumped because the father was mentally ill – but their asylum claim was refused on the grounds that they were not mentally ill.’
Willie Bain MP was last at Red Road on the Monday morning following the incident. He discounts claims that he is not doing enough. The former law lecturer says that a more ‘integrated approach’ is needed to try and stop future tragedies.
He said : ‘I’ve spoke to the Prime Minister about this. I’m trying to see if the border agency can work a bit more closely with the NHS and social work to try and pick up some of the particular vulnerabilities and health issues that some asylum seekers might have.
‘In this case here it’s very clear that there was an underlying mental health issue. ‘Neither I nor anybody that spoke to him believed that Sergie Serykh or his family believed they were capable of self-harm, which of course is what eventually happened.
‘The one lesson that we can take is that there has got be a better understanding of working together between the home office and the other local agencies to prevent other such tragedies in the future.
‘The biggest thing we can do is get through asylum claims more quickly, and that is why the Home Office has taken on more case workers.
‘The Asylum seekers that come to me don’t like being in limbo, they need to know more quickly where there future lies and if they can work in the UK or not.’