RUCHILL, on the northside of Glasgow, is a community that does not have its problems to seek. Sitting between the working-class districts of Maryhill and Possil, the area is among the most deprived communities in Scotland by many indicators, be they poverty, unemployment, substandard housing or lack of community resources.

As Glasgow emerged from the Covid pandemic, Glasgow Life – the “arm’s-length” registered charity that runs the city’s arts and leisure facilities – was slow to reopen many crucial buildings. The Glasgow Against Closures campaign has succeeded in its fight to reopen many services, such as Maryhill Library.

However, Ruchill Community Centre remains closed. Locked down, due to the Covid pandemic, in March 2020, this essential community resource has never reopened.

Community activist Karen Love and well-known Scottish actor Dave Anderson – both stalwarts of the Maryhill Library campaign – are deeply involved in the fight to reopen the Ruchill centre.

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The list of services that used to be provided at the centre brings home just how important a resource it was, and the serious implications of its continued closure. “There were lunch clubs for the residents of two local care homes,” Love tells me, “and breakfast clubs for the kids whose parents couldn’t afford it, karate, drama and arts ...”

The list goes on. By contrast, the North United Communities club at the small golf pavilion nearby – which is trying to fill some of the yawning gap created by the closure of the community centre – is “only able to open for the kids two hours a day for three days a week.”

That’s a drop in youth provision from 60 hours per week to six hours. It’s a catastrophic loss for members of the community who long to give their children constructive alternatives to being on the streets or sitting in front of computer and TV screens.

For Love, Anderson and their many fellow campaigners, Ruchill Community Centre should be considered by Glasgow City Council to be a provider of essential services. To their minds, the reopening of it should, therefore, be an urgent priority.

If it was open, many people would, Love tells me, “definitely” be using the centre as what she calls “a warm space” come the winter. The term “warm space” is significant here. Community activists are using the phrase in preference to “heat banks”, which they consider stigmatising.

The National: Karen Love, local resident and campaigner pictured outside Ruchill Community Centre on Bilsland Drive that closed in March 2020Karen Love, local resident and campaigner pictured outside Ruchill Community Centre on Bilsland Drive that closed in March 2020

WHATEVER the terminology, it is shocking that, in the UK in the year 2022, people should have to contemplate going to public buildings such as community centres and libraries, not for the activities that take place within them, but because they cannot afford to heat their own homes. It is more shocking still that, in one of Scotland’s most deprived communities, when the cost of living crisis is biting with increasing savagery, even that desperate option is not available to extremely vulnerable citizens.

Like Love, Dave Anderson joins the protests that are held every Saturday to demand the reopening of the community centre. “I’m here to help support Karen and the other residents of Ruchill,” the actor tells me.

“My granny, my ‘Nanna’, used to live up the top of Ruchill, underneath what was the water tower.”

Indeed, Anderson still works in the area. Glasgow’s famous lunchtime theatre company A Play, A Pie and A Pint – of which he is founder and key member – has a rehearsal space nearby.

“If there’s an area in the city that needs a resource like this, it’s Ruchill,” Anderson comments. Both Glasgow Life and the City Council “have a lot to answer for”, he adds.

Anderson and Love are in agreement that the SNP is in danger, as the actor puts it, of “inheriting the disillusionment” with Labour that has propelled the Nationalists into power at Holyrood and in many local authorities, such as Glasgow.

“We haven’t seen a single SNP councillor up here,” Love says, disappointedly. “Even the Lord Provost, Jacqueline McLaren, has never once come to the community centre, and we’ve invited her loads of times.”

THE message from Glasgow Against Closures campaigners to Nicola Sturgeon’s party has been clear from the outset. The SNP is expected to do better by Glasgow’s most deprived areas than their Labour predecessors. Otherwise – irrespective of people’s views on independence – they will have a fight on their hands.

Ironically, while the community centre sits closed and shuttered, on the opposite side of Bilsland Drive, work continues apace on what is being referred to as a “gated community” of private houses being built in the grounds of the old Ruchill Hospital.

The longer the community centre is closed the greater will be the fear – which, Anderson tells me, is being expressed by some local people – that Glasgow City councillors want to destroy the centre to make way for a roundabout that will service the new estate.

“I don’t know how true that is,”

the actor says, “but it is not beyond imagination.”

True or not, local people demand, and surely deserve, an answer from Glasgow Life and the Council as to why the centre remains closed.

The question has been put time and time again, but all Ruchill residents get back are vague statements about “budgetary constraints”.

Little wonder that local people have come to the conclusion that they are simply not a priority for their elected representatives.

This is, Anderson comments, a source of considerable frustration for “the people who arrive here every single Saturday at 12 noon” to voice their support for the campaign to reopen the centre.

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Both Love and Anderson worry about the fate of many people in communities like Ruchill throughout Scotland and the UK as the winter draws in. Those worries are compounded when Tory politicians suggest outrageous, patronising solutions.

“Buy a new £20 kettle to save a tenner on your energy bill! That was Boris Johnson’s idea,” Love comments, with understandably dismissive anger.

For Love and her community, the ongoing closure of Ruchill Community Centre is part of the cost of living crisis.

As domestic fuel bills rise in the winter, its reopening becomes a matter of increasing urgency.