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UK Urban Forum event at Speirs Locks, Glasgow


While attending the workshop, we had a chance to see Glasgow as a city of artists (with the famous and prestigious Glasgow School of Arts founded in 1845) that is going through a revitalisation of the part of the City Centre known as Merchant City.

In Glasgow, one can see how cultural industries can play a role in future development by walking through the Merchant City, which 30 years ago was declining and empty and has been revitalised through a mix of cultural and social entrepreneurship, commercial development and physical improvement projects - not only filling the gaps between buildings with new commercial buildings and trying to bring people back to live in the renovated housing, but also creating ‘hubs’ for artists (a cluster of cheap studio spaces for artists) makes it newly alive. We visited Trongate 103, which is a mix of film, painting, architecture and other design studios, with an exhibition space, and a Russian-style cafeteria. The second project, Wasps Studios, implemented in the old market halls, now has 200 people applying for studio space.  


The Speirs Locks project is part of a Glasgow Canal revitalisation project led by ISIS Waterside Regeneration and Glasgow City Council, with the support of British Waterways Scotland. Speirs Locks is to become a place for strengthening the artistic idea of the city of Glasgow - a ‘cultural quarter’.

Speirs Locks is a 14 hectare (140,000sq m) site of industrial and derelict land to the north of Glasgow city centre alongside the Forth and Clyde Canal. Now it is home to Scottish Opera, the National Theatre of Scotland and GAMTA (Glasgow Academy of Musical Theatre Arts). One of the buildings, called Glue Factory, is now an art exhibition space. There is also a Chinese supermarket and a housing estate on the other side of the canal.

There is a master plan for the site produced by 7N Architects. The vision could develop in the future, but some steps in the master plan are already being taken: an underpass to the city centre with flower lanterns running under the M8 highway, and a path to the canal designed as a landscape link continuing from the flower underpass.  


The workshop addressed two questions:

  • How can Speirs Locks become a ‘beacon’ for the creative and cultural sectors, neighbourhoods and other communities in Glasgow?
  • What small-scale actions might be taken in the area in the coming years that would make a big difference to the sustainable development of the social and creative economy of the city?

The session began with a general discussion on how we see the situation of the site, with some opportunities and challenges. Later, the workshop was divided into 4 groups, each seeking answers in a different field, but all connected to the main questions:

  • What brilliant ideas could appear at Speirs Lock?

Some of the ideas: venue for festivals; a site for graffiti art; a community bakery; fields.

  • What activities and actions could help Speirs Lock to start working?

Some of the ideas: promoting education exchange; learning by doing – costume-making by kids from a nearby school; showcasing – creating a series of annual shows.

  • How could opera and theatre activate smaller businesses on the site?

Some of the ideas: promoting the ‘hub’ model of affordable, rentable, space; partnership of public-private sectors; experiment with voucher or barter schemes; mixed economy.

  • What are the main triggers for the social and economic growth of the site?

Some of the ideas: creating a guide system around Speirs Locks based on its strong personality and heritage; a coffee shop; a video conferencing facility; upcycling.  

The session ended up with the conclusion that Speirs Lock should continue with events and changes that have already started – but with wider exposure of this “exceptional ‘making’ of things”. Speirs Locks could also grow stronger by involving local communities more and continuing with pilot schemes.

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