GOW is the collective acronym for the Gibson Street, Otago Street and Westbank Quadrant 'triangle community', so called, because the streets join to form a triangular backcourt. The group provides a fantastic example of what can be achieved when Glasgow West End residents put their heads together to transform an ugly and neglected backcourt into an attractive area they can be proud of.
Instead of dilapidated binsheds with overflowing bins and an accumulation of discarded rubbish, the residents now feel that:
"The GOW backcourt is now a pleasure to spend time in. Even the arduous task of taking down the rubbish (especially for those on the second and third floors !), is a joy in comparison to the dank, dark old days.
Those who have been involved in the project have made friends, gained confidence and new interests and have worked up an appetite to continue to support GOW and keep everyone feeling good about their communal space.
Each year GOW gets involved in the West End Festival when the Gibston Street Gala takes place. Gibson Street is closed to traffic and stalls abound, providing information, selling food, books and jewellery. There are musical and dance acts and even a mini carnival for children.
The day of the festival is also GOW's Annual Open Day, which adds to the enjoyment. At this event you can find the Tchia 'Ovna tea tent, a stage of acoustic musicians, country dancing and theatrical performance. The Gala for people to come along to this great part of the West End and relax and enjoy the family fun.
Inspired by a one off clean up organised by students the GOW community group formed in 2001 as a response to local residents' wishes to tackle a host of problems. The main area they wanted to tackle was the backcourt, which like many other backcourts in Glasgow was very neglected.
Not only were the bin sheds were dilapidated and unsuited to modern levels of waste generation but chronic fly-tipping had resulted an accumulation of mounds of discarded rubbish.
The backcourt was pretty unsavoury as
along with the overspill from the bin sheds came unwanted guests in the form of rats. Another hazard was discarded needles from drug users who bedded down in basement areas alongside dumped household appliances, baths and mattresses.
All in all, the GOW triangle was a forbidding and ugly area.
In 2000, a group of students from 97 Otago Street decided to have a clean up and posted around notes inviting residents to come along and help. Armed with heavy-duty black bags donated by Glasgow City Council, they and other residents made some inroads into the dreadful mess, filling a huge number of bags.
GOW community group tentatively formed in late 2001 and in February 2002 had their first public meeting held in an empty local shop. The aim was to find out what the residents wanted from the backcourt and to find out what was possible.
With the assistance of Kelvin Clyde Greenspace, both in terms of practical help (cutting back of overgrown trees and bushes) and advice (how to obtain funding, a bank account and organise GOW etc.), the group gained confidence in realising a backcourt intended to be used by all, not just abused by a few.
A survey and consultation report was produced identifying and prioritising the problems faced and the desires of the residents for improvement of the communal space.
Some of the main items on the GOW residents' wish list included :
Other backcourts in the city faced similar problems to GOW and as a result of an initiative taken by Kelvin Clyde Greenspace an umbrella body was formed in 2003. This was the Sustainable Backcourt Initiative (SBI) which included five Housing Associations as well as GOW residents Group. In addition to identifying common problems and engaging with Council Services in an effort to solve them, SBI obtained funding to commission a feasibility study for 4 backcourts in the City. This included GOW which is privately owned whilst the others provide predominantly social housing.
In 2005, City Design Cooperative, a landscape architect and urban design practice won the tender to produce the feasibility study with costings for the renovation of the 4 backcourts.
At the SBI Conference held in October 2004 to present the findings of that study the initiative came to the attention of the Scottish Executive Tenemental Recycling Group. Glasgow City Council was included in this pilot and the SBI backcourts were also incorporated in the Glasgow scheme using the now familiar blue bins.
The pilot ran for the 2005-6 financial year and in addition to physical renovation and improvements there was a community approach to encourage residents to recycle a range of items so diverting them from landfill. Delays in planning permission until late 2005 caused some problem for researchers but all the demolition, reconstruction, landscaping and clean-up work was completed by March 2006 and the scheme proved to be viable.