Re-inventing the world's former shipbuilding centre as a tech hub

By Dec 01, 2015

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As the 2015 Industrial Heritage Conference spotlights Britain’s at-risk industrial buildings, here's a look at a spectacular example of restoration in Glasgow, which could be turning Govan into Scotland's answer to the Silicon Roundabout.

When Glasgow was the shipbuilder to the world, the small town of Govan was at the centre of its operations. Today its shipbuilding skills continue to be harnessed by BAE and it remains the hub of Glasgow's shipbuilding engineers. But it has been a rollercoaster ride for the shipbuilding industry in Scotland. Govan’s 19 shipyards employed over 70,000 people at their peak before the first world war and since then many of the yards have faced closure several times.

In recent years global competition has taken its toll. Unable to compete, the shipbuilding industry in Govan has downsized dramatically, a change which led to the abandonment of Govan's head office for shipbuilding and engineering, The Fairfield building.

"As Govan's community began to battle the symptoms of deprivation: drink, drugs and crime, a team of community members and social entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to use Govan's buildings to reignite its potential."

A crumbling symbol of industrial heritage

The grand building slowly fell into disrepair and began to send out the message “Govan is closed,” says Pat Cassidy, managing director of Govan Workspace. At the same time, unemployment in Govan began to rise.

As Govan's community began to battle the symptoms of deprivation: drink, drugs and crime, a team of community members and social entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to use Govan's buildings to reignite its potential. Under the banner of the community-led social enterprise Govan Workspace, run by Pat Cassidy, the team began buying up run-down sites and turning them into affordable office space to support local businesses and create jobs.

So when they were faced with Fairfield, a crumbling symbol of Govan's heritage, which many declared was beyond saving, Cassidy and his team were determined to take on the 18,000 square foot category A (Grade I) listed building.

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Simon Thorrington, Charity Bank regional director for the North of England and Tom Bennet, Big Society Capital look at the epic size of the Fairfield superyard.

"With the help of a loan from Charity Bank, 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."

An ambitious restoration project

More than just restore it, they endeavored to reinstate its Victorian grandeur and update its purpose as both a heritage site and a centre of tech.

With the help of a loan from Charity Bank, 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.

Whilst Fairfield's lower floors are dedicated to telling the story of Govan’s shipbuilding heritage the upper floors have been carefully designed to attract tech and design companies.

The upper level's wood floors and white desks give the offices a distinctly Shoreditch-esque feel. Where shipbuilding engineers once drafted their designs, graphic design agencies and tech entrepreneurs can now be found working away.

"The beautifully restored Victorian landmark now welcomes visitors, stating loudly and clearly: Govan is open for business.”

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A tour of the Fairfield office space

Govan is open for business

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”.