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New Report: Why Do Historic Places Matter?

South Glasgow is the proud home of several historic architectural gems, the most well-known being Pollok House.  It is maintained and funded by the National Trust for Scotland, which itself was established in this Maxwell family home in 1931.  Places like Pollok House are preserved, in the words of NTS, to ‘encourage people to connect with the things that make Scotland unique while protecting them for future generations.’ [1]

This is not dissimilar SGHET’s own mission ‘to recognise the importance of heritage, history, and environment issues in South Glasgow and to implement a strategy towards greater knowledge for all.’ [2]

But while historic and heritage trusts are founded on the belief that historic places matter, the work to preserve and protect South Glasgow’s built environment is not solely the purview of heritage organisations.


Pollok House, owned by Natuonal Trust Scotland, in February 2022
Pollok House, a National Trust Scotland property, in February 2022


Kinning Park Complex

For example, on 3 May 1996, residents of South Glasgow began a 55-day sit-in to save the Kinning Park Complex, built in 1911 as an addition to the Lambhill Street School.  In 1976, it was converted to a neighbourhood centre that offered a significant benefit to local residents.

However, when the Council scheduled it for closure in 1996, the community rallied and was eventually given stewardship of the building.  Though it has seen challenges with funding and maintenance since then, due to community involvement and heritage funding, a newly refurbished centre is scheduled to reopen this year. [3]


Photo of Kinning Park Complex. Photo credit, Julian Bailey
Kinning Park Complex. Photo credit, Julian Bailey


Govanhill Baths

Likewise, the Govanhill Baths, built in 1914, were threatened with closure in 2001.  On 21 March 2001, several residents occupied the building , some even chaining themselves to the cubicles.  On 7 August 2001, the Battle of Calder Street ensued when the Council and police tried to forcibly remove the Save Our Pool protestors. (N.B. The original protest website has been preserved online and can be viewed here.)

The successful occupation lasted a total of 140 days, the longest ever of a British public building, and in 2004, the Govanhill Baths Community Trust was formed to refurbish the building and return it to public use. [4]


Govanhill Baths on 12th July 2020 before restoration work started.
Govanhill Baths on 12 July 2020 before restoration & adaptation work started


The campaign to reopen the baths has gone on for over 20 years with adaptive restoration now finally commenced, and in the meantime, Govanhill Baths, a grass-roots activist organisation, used the space – and uses other places locally –  to provide ‘wide-ranging health, wellbeing, arts, environmental and heritage projects’ in an effort to regenerate the neighbourhood and meet the needs of the community. [5]

Govanhill Baths’ current website includes an archive of the building’s importance to Govanhill over the past 100+ years, which includes oral histories of residents describing their experiences at the Baths. [6]


Govanhill Baths under scaffolding during restoration and adadptation in March 2022
Govanhill Baths under scaffolding during restoration and adaptation, March 2022


It is clear that historic places matter, not only as heritage from the past but as part of our present and future well-being.  They are places where people come together and where a sense of community thrives, especially when they are championed by neighbourhood-based groups.

While we may come from vastly different backgrounds, the built heritage of South Glasgow is something we all share.  Part of the purpose of the South Glasgow Heritage and Environment Trust is to foster this sense of community among the people who live south of the Clyde, whether we have lived here for generations or are new arrivals.

Our built heritage has an impact on us, whether we are fully aware of it or not.  But why is this?  Why do historic places matter? And why should city planners and urban developers care?

These very questions were posed in a study led by Dr Rebecca Madgin of the University of Glasgow.  In their recent report Why Do Historic Places Matter? Emotional Attachments to Urban Heritage, Dr Madgin and her team sought to answer two questions:

  1. How and why do people develop emotional attachments to historic urban places?
  2. How do these attachments influence decision making within the urban environment?

Using evidence from Scotland and England primarily focused on the time period from 1975 to 2019, the findings of the report were supported by analyses of documents, as well as oral histories and ‘workshops which captured the thoughts and feelings of people involved with and/or impacted by urban change, including built environment professionals and local residents.’ [7]


Emotional connections are magnified in times of change

Dr Madgin’s project recognised the fact that emotional attachments are often not worn on our sleeves and rise to the surface most often during times of change.  This is clearly demonstrated by the efforts to save community buildings in Kinning Park and Govanhill and the continued work of groups like SGHET and the National Trust for Scotland. [8]

The report noted that previous research had tended to focus on economic or sustainability outcomes, but it argued for the need of ‘more engagement with the emotional dimensions of heritage by demonstrating just some of the ways in which emotion…shapes the reasons why and extent to which historic urban places can continue to matter.’ [9]

It is of note that this is exactly how the Kinning Park Complex addressed its own refurbishment, by hiring New Practice, an architectural group that aims ‘to connect people with the decision making processes that underpin the urban experience.’ [10]

Unfortunately, though, urban developers have often not given much regard to the emotional impact of change on communities, whether it be positive, negative, or neutral.  This was one of the major issues during the housing development boom in mid-century Glasgow, when residents were moved from homes in communities where they had lived, sometimes for generations, and alienated in high-rise flats that were likened to ‘an architectural representation of a filing cabinet’ by Jimmy Reid in 1972. [11]

Instead, Dr Madgin’s team, among others working in heritage, notes that more value can be given to people-centred approaches, rather than solely relying on top-down, expert-based decision-making processes.  Doing so would offer ‘a rebalance between what is valued and who ascribes value [in order to increase] focus on pluralising heritage values in ways that can include different voices and places.’ [12]  In other words, the communities where historic places exist would have some say in determining the landscape of their built heritage.


Old Victoria Infirmary incident in February 2022

It is clear, however, that developers and the Council are still hit-and-miss in the ways they engage communities in meaningful ways before selling, repurposing, closing down, or demolishing the South Glasgow built heritage.

Most recently, there was public outcry when Sanctuary tore down the iconic 133-year-old cupolas of the Old Victoria Infirmary after failing to adequately engage with community groups who proactively sought to give input and were largely ignored.

In 2018, a community-led group called the Victoria Forum made several public attempts to address Sanctuary’s masterplan with regard to development of the formerly public-owned building, noting specifically the insufficient attention paid to a ‘lack of social or economic analysis’ and ‘public realm and place-making outside the site boundary.’ [13]

While the group made recommendations that were generally more focused on best use and outcomes, they also acknowledged the impact redevelopment of the Old Victoria Infirmary would have on social bonds and identity.



Sanctuary, rather than meeting with the Victoria Forum or attending any of the many community sessions they hosted, responded that their ‘wide-ranging consultation process saw more than 600 people attend a series of open sessions to express their views on the design and redevelopment of the site’ and that the ‘vast majority of local residents [were] happy with the outcome and cannot wait to see our plans come to life.’ [14]

However, 600 people is arguably not an adequate representation of the community, and there is no indication as to what was discussed at these sessions or what the local residents were specifically ‘happy with’. [15]  One can convincingly argue, though, that based on the sustained response from the Victoria Forum and the shock exhibited by locals when the cupolas were destroyed, neither Sanctuary nor the Council adequately addressed public needs and emotional attachments to the old building.



On Twitter, Past Glasgow wrote, ‘I was standing near the gate and nearly every person who walked past was looking at and talking about the destruction.  The sense that something has been lost was palpable.’16  Luckily, the B-listed administrative block, the Gatehouse building, and the Nightingale Pavilions will escape the same fate.


Langside Hall

In contrast, a larger segment of the community has already been engaged to provide input regarding changes in use at Langside Hall, which is owned by the Council and managed by Glasgow Life.  In 1902, the building was painstakingly moved from Queen Street to its current location in Queen’s Park to fulfil the Council’s commitment to provide the Southside with a public building.

There was little investment in the upkeep of the building from about the 1970s on, and once the upper floor had deteriorated to unsafe conditions and the boiler failed in 2017, the building was closed.  Langside Halls Trust has taken on the responsibility of conducting a feasibility study, securing funding, and ensuring community engagement to reopen the building as ‘a fully accessible, larger (40%) and more flexible venue, with more social space and one that is environmentally sustainable for a building that is Grade A listed.’ [17]


Langside Hall on the junction of Pollokshaws Road and Langside Avenue
Langside Hall on the junction of Pollokshaws Rd and Langside Avenue, March 2022


As the Trust began to gather feedback from the community, they found that of the respondents to a questionnaire regarding use, over 80% would like to see films and live music, 79% would like a theatre, 74% wanted space for art exhibitions, and over 60% were interested in comedy shows and classes for exercise, arts, and crafts. [18]

While full funding has yet to be fully secured, both Architectural Heritage Fund Scotland and Glasgow City Heritage Trust are currently on board, and there is hope that some funding might be forthcoming from the Council’s People Make Glasgow Communities initiative. [19]

So while the preservation of historic sites is difficult to guarantee, it seems clear that such places are important to the heritage and well-being of local communities.  The desire of so many local residents to maintain the use and their everyday experience of places such as the Kinning Park Complex, Govanhill Baths, and Langside Hall, as well as the dismay at the loss of the everyday sight of the Old Victoria Infirmary cupolas on the Southside’s landscape demonstrate that historic places do matter.

The people of the Southside do have emotional attachments to their built heritage, and developers and government entities should, as Dr Madgin urges, take a greater interest in this reality as they plan for inevitable change.


By Erin Burrows

Published 16th March 2022



[1] National Trust for Scotland, ‘What We Do’, National Trust for Scotland (National Trust for Scotland, 2022), https://www.nts.org.uk/ <https://www.nts.org.uk/what-we-do> [accessed 14 February 2022].

[2] ‘About Us’, SGHET <https://sghet.com/about-us/> [accessed 14 February 2022].

[3] ‘About’, Kinning Park Complex <https://www.kinningparkcomplex.org/about> [accessed 14 February 2022].

[4] ‘Occupy: 20th Anniversary Celebrations’, Govanhill Baths, 2021 <https://www.govanhillbaths.com/archive/occupy-2/> [accessed 14 February 2022].

[5] ‘Govanhill Baths’, Govanhill Baths <https://www.govanhillbaths.com/> [accessed 14 February 2022].

[6] ‘Before Closure’, Govanhill Baths, 2020 <https://www.govanhillbaths.com/archive/before-closure/> [accessed 14 February 2022].

[7] Rebecca Madgin, Why Do Historic Places Matter? Emotional Attachments to Urban Heritage <https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/socialpolitical/research/urbanstudies/projects/whydohistoricplacesmatter/> [accessed 16 March 2022], (Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2021), p. 1.

[8] Madgin, p. 8.

[9] Madgin, p. 8.

[10] ‘New Practice’, New Practice <https://new-practice.co.uk> [accessed 14 February 2022].

[11] James Reid, Alienation (Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 1972), p. 10.

[12] Madgin, p. 1.

[13] Victoria Forum, ‘Victoria Forum Responds to Developer Masterplan’, Victoria Forum, 2018 <https://newoldvickydotorg.wordpress.com/2018/01/21/victoria-forum-responds-to-developer-masterplan/> [accessed 4 March 2022].

[14] ‘Council Criticised for Failure to Support Community during Victoria Infirmary Development’, Glasgow Times <https://www.glasgowtimes.co.uk/news/16832820.council-criticised-failure-support-community-victoria-infirmary-development/> [accessed 4 March 2022].

[15] ‘Council Criticised’.

[16] Past Glasgow (@PastGlasgow, 21 February 2022), ‘I was standing near the gate and nearly every person who walked past was looking at and talking about the destruction.  The sense that something has been lost was palpable.’ (tweet) <https://twitter.com/PastGlasgow/status/1495844779363549190> [accessed 4 March 2022].

[17] Langside Area Partnership, ‘Update, Langside Halls Trust’ (Glasgow City Council, 2021) <https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/Councillorsandcommittees/viewDoc.asp?c=P62AFQDNZL2U0GT1DN> [accessed 4 March 2022].

[18] Drew Sandelands and Gary Armstrong, ‘Langside Halls Revamp Proposal Released as Glaswegians Asked to Give Their Views’, GlasgowLive, 2021 <https://www.glasgowlive.co.uk/news/langside-halls-revamp-proposal-released-19821827> [accessed 4 March 2022].

[19] Langside Area Partnership, p. 1.


Further reading:

Borysławski, Rafał, and Alicja Bemben, eds., Emotions as Engines of History (Oxon: Routledge, 2022)

Contested Histories in Public Spaces: Principles, Processes, Best Practices (London: International Bar Association, 2021)

Maerker, Anna, Simon Sleight, and Adam Sutcliffe, eds., History, Memory and Public Life: The Past in the Present (London: Routledge, 2018)

Marchant, Alicia, ed., Historicising Heritage and Emotions: The Affective Histories of Blood, Stone and Land (Oxon: Routledge, 2019)

Martin, Claire, and Charles Landry, ‘Charles Landry: Applying Emotional Intelligence’, Landscape Architecture Australia, 151, 2016, 40–43

Scottish Government, Our Place in Time: The Historic Environment Strategy for Scotland (Edinburgh: Scottish Government, 2014)

Sullivan, Gavin Brent, ‘Collective Pride, Happiness, and Celebratory Emotions’, in Collective Emotions, ed. by Christian von Scheve and Mikko Salmela (Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 266–80



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