How the headquarters of a shipbuilding elite is regenerating part of Glasgow

By Nov 03, 2015

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The board room of Glasgow's shipbuilding entrepreneurs

This is the second photo diary in a series documenting the Follow the Money tours. Take a tour of Fairfield, the former headquarters of Glasgow’s shipbuilding industry, which is at the centre of a major community regeneration project supported by Charity Bank.

Charity Bank savers and supporters had the opportunity to 'Follow the Money' saved in our ethical accounts to see how ethical banking is supporting community projects in Glasgow. Our first stop was the Fairfield building, former headquarters to the Glasgow shipbuilding elite. Once derelict it now stands proudly as the centrepiece of Govan’s regeneration, offering beautiful office space and heritage tours run by the community-led social enterprise Govan Workspace.

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The headquarters of the Fairfield shipyard, which at its peak employed around 70,000 people in 19 shipyards.

The Fairfield building, established 150 years ago is a time capsule for the history of Govan, a district situated on the south bank of the River Clyde. Govan was once at the apex of the world-renowned Clydeside shipbuilding industry. Today a comparatively modest shipbuilding operation, run by BAE Systems, replaces the former shipbuilding superyard, which at its peak before the first world war, was part of a local industry which directly employed 70,000 workers in 19 yards.

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Simon Thorrington, Charity Bank's regional director in the North and Tom Bennet, Big Society Capital look at the epic size of the Fairfield superyard

After the second world war the yards of the Clyde were unable to compete with new shipbuilding superpowers like Japan. Govan's local economy suffered a harsh blow and large numbers of people found themselves unemployed. Since the shipyards' decline, Govan Workspace has been buying up run-down sites and turning them into affordable office space to support local businesses and create jobs. Its core aim has been to transform the district’s reputation for deprivation and poverty, and attract more custom for local goods and services.

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Charity Bank savers, borrowers and supporters explore Fairfield's office space

Change is afoot. Inside a bright, minimal office with Victorian quirks, the tour group met graphic design agency Traffic. The agency had moved from Glasgow’s trendy West End to Fairfield, a sign that the restoration project is already affecting Govan’s reputation. At work in a room once used by Victorian shipbuilding engineers and draftsmen, a designer remarked on the sense of history about the place: “In a past life I might have been working in this same room drafting designs for ships."

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A graphic designer at design agency Traffic talks about his experience working at Fairfield

When Fairfield stood derelict, it sent out the message, “Govan is closed,” says Pat Cassidy, managing director of Govan Workspace. So he and his team set out to take the 18,000 square foot A-listed shipbuilding headquarters back to its original Victorian state. Over the course of five years, a rotting structure with smashed windows and gaping ceilings was steadily transformed into a grand building with teak floors, a spiralling staircase and corniced ceilings.

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The boardroom of Glasgow's shipbuilding elite

Govan Workspace's success in the face of huge challenges gave visitors bags of motivation and advice to take back to their own social enterprises: “People start with the will to make it happen, they add in their creativity and they get there. The visit gave me hope and ideas for my service moving forward,” said Maryanne Mcilroy, operations manager at Summerston Childcare.

After decades of shipbuilding excellence, restoring Fairfield has reinstated a huge source of community pride in Govan. In Pat Cassidy's words, the beautifully restored Victorian landmark now welcomes visitors, stating loudly and clearly, “Govan is open for business”.

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The Follow the Money tour group finishes the visit to Fairfield in the lobby, smiles all round.

Our Follow the Money tours this year have now drawn to a close. The impact of the tours on the people who joined us has been profound, “I felt as if I was part not so much of an organisation, but of a community that is doing its best, and successfully so, to make the world a better place,” Charity Bank saver, Bernie Morran told us. From savers to staff, people have shared kind words and recounted their experiences as they saw first hand how a bank that lends only to charities and social enterprises impacts local communities.

So this series of photo diaries is dedicated to sharing the experience of our Follow the Money events with as many people as possible. Thanks for reading and look out for future events where you’ll have the opportunity to meet the organisations we support and learn about what Charity Bank does.