It occurred to me earlier this year as I was walking down Victoria Road that there are an unprecedented number of social enterprises in this one street! It led me to look up in the GSEN Directory how many other social enterprises there are in the immediate area around Queens Park. I made it 16! And that was not even including amazing community projects such as the Swap Market or the range of creative independent businesses that are thriving in the area.
Having been part of a team running the Neale Thomson and the Crossmyloof Bakery tours during Doors Open for the past four years, I thought it would be worth setting up a tour of some of these social enterprises to run during the Glasgow Doors Open Festival in September this year. Even with only including seven of the 16 social enterprises, the tour took around two and a half hours, and so many of the 16 had to be missed out. Those included were ones that are open every week day and form a natural route, representing an astonishing range of types of businesses.
Each day at 10 am from Monday to Friday a group of five to eight people gathered outside the newly refurbished and developed Merry-go-Round. We entered the premises to be welcomed by a member of staff who then told us the story of how Merry-go-Round started, and all the good work it does not only running a shop that sells second hand garments, toys and equipment for little people, but distributing bespoke kits to families who have been referred to them, diverting tons of clothes from landfill, and providing activities and a place to relax for mums and dads. The newly extended and refurbed building looks amazing, and was a delight to wander around.
From there we made our way to Locavore. There the lovely Doro met us as we positioned ourselves as best we could out of the way of customers eager to buy some fresh produce, or fill a bottle from the milk machine. Doro told us how Locavore has developed over the past seven years. With two moves under its belt, it is now filling the extensive premises in Victoria Road, with sections devoted to a cafe, fresh fruit and vegetables, organic and local cheese and dairy; grains, pulses, flours, herbs and spices; fresh and frozen meat; eco household cleaners; bread from local breadmakers ... But Locavore is far more than a local supermarket selling food grown as locally as possible, it also sends out 1,000 veg boxes a week, runs local farms to grow food, and provides businesses with wholesale supplies. Its latest initiative is taking place at Bellahouston Park through a one year use agreement with the Council. This has included growing loads of potted herbs, drying garlic in polytunnels and letting other growers start using the site to grow veg, mushrooms and keep bees. The extensive area there will allow them to move their veg box packing and office to sheds on the site. Their application for a community asset transfer from Glasgow City Council is now underway and we wish them all the luck with that!
From Locavore we moved down the street to Govanhill Baths’ Rags to Riches Project. Greeted by the smiling face of Clare we were shown the range of upcycled and recycled items available for sale. Rags to Riches started as a second hand charity shop raising funds for Govanhill Baths. From the shop they moved on to provide workspaces and educational programmes to inspire and reskill people in the local community, producing a range of locally crafted affordable upcycled products many of which are beautifully displayed in the shop. The shop also provides an outlet for local makers using recycled materials. Rudely, I was busy on my phone texting our coffee order over to our next port of call, Milk Cafe!
Half way through our tour it was fitting to have a sit down and a coffee whilst we heard about the wonderful work of Milk Cafe from the friendly staff. They told us that Milk was set up to empower and support refugee and migrant women living in Glasgow. The small cafe provides a cosy, relaxed and welcoming environment for all, and works to promote integration in the local community. Its work includes opportunities to gain appropriate skills, and build confidence in speaking English, form filling and interview skills. It also provides a variety of free classes and workshops open to all women in the community, and is well used by local folks to run their own creative events in the evenings.
Well refreshed we moved on to South Seeds. As we walked along we talked about the changing face of the high street. Whilst shops in Victoria Road have changed dramatically since I first came to live in Glasgow in the mid 1970s, it is again a thriving street, - no Woolworths, no massive pram shop, not so many butchers, bakers and candlestickmakers maybe, but loads of interesting premises demonstrating a new way forward in keeping people in the local community for many of their shopping and socialising requirements.
South Seeds is the oldest of all the social enterprises we visited having started in 2011. It is a community organisation which aims to work in partnership with residents and organisations within the local community to help improve the look and feel of the neighbourhood. To this end they run a range of projects to increase energy awareness and help people learn more about growing food and reducing the amount of waste we produce. Often our visits demonstrated just how valued their work is by local people who sat with staff members who were supporting them with domestic energy issues and helping them to reduce their energy consumption in practical ways. Recently back on their agenda is their Tool Library which has a good selection of tools available for community members to borrow.
These days crossing the road in Victoria Road has an added dimension. You have to remember that there is not only the usual two way car traffic to negotiate but also the almost completed cycle route into town. How fitting that we were making our way to Bike for Good South in their new premises down Langside Lane off Victoria Road. Shgufta was there to meet us, and give us a whistlestop tour of their extensive space. With reconditioned bikes for sale, staff working on repairing and reconditioning bikes, space for you to fix your own bike ( with the added benefit of used spare parts on hand to buy), bike lessons and bike groups going out on guided bike rides ... it was clear that Bike for Good has a busy schedule! Partly dependent on staff and partly volunteer led activities, by the end of the visit many of our Doors Open visitors were clearly considering purchasing their own bikes, donating their old ones, or simply coming along to boost their bike riding confidence by joining a guided bike ride. With additional space now available, Bike for Good are considering ways of maximising the use of their premises – with film night and yoga sessions already underway.
From Bike for Good it was a beautiful walk through Queens Park to the Glad Cafe. We were fortunate all week with amazingly good weather, and the stroll through the park added to the enjoyment of the tour. We stopped briefly outside Camphill House to remember the earlier efforts for the common good that philanthropist Neale Thomson had carried out in the area when he set up Crossmyloof Bakery in 1840 in the buildings behind the Glad Cafe. Thomson dramatically improved the working conditions of bakers, and we mused on the ways in which our social enterprises today are doing their best to impact on the environment and the community.
As I was leading the tour, I played my advantage, and ended the tour back on home turf! The groups could see for themselves our cafe in action, and we sat in the venue to talk about the sort of music, films, exhibitions and talks that we put on. We talked about the vital relationship between the money that our Glad Rags Thrift Shop brings in to support the free and affordable music lessons that the Glad Foundation provides.
All in all, everyone went away really inspired by what they had heard and seen on the tour. There were many comments about how some people had previously visited a number of the businesses but had had no idea about their back stories, what made them tick, and the range and depth of each one’s activities. I have no doubt that all 16 of the social enterprises surrounding Queens Park are contributing massively to the revitalisation of the area in a passionate, generous and sharing way, and I think this was clearly evident to the visitors who had had the chance to hear the stories of seven of them for themselves. It was fitting that four of the premises we were visiting on the tour were either closed or closing early on the Friday, in order to join the Climate Strike in George Square; here was yet another example of a real commitment to their core environmental purpose and a sense of solidarity with those who care throughout the city.
The Glad Cafe
October 4th 2019