Documenting Britain

Project M

The work being undertaken for Documenting Britain is focused on one locale within Glasgow. Project M will attempt to examine an urban area and its people and see if different narrative strands emerge from that work.

Young Activist: Katy at the ‘Dead Wall’

In 1869, a battle of wills and money was going on in Glasgow. Before the building of the new suburb of North Kelvinside on the southern edge of Maryhill, two landowners could not agree on a mutually agreeable remuneration for their lands to join enabling a public carriageway. Thus, one of them built a ‘dead wall’ that stopped access to parts of the new suburb into neighbouring land.

Over 145 years later, Katy stands before this wall with her handmade placard, which she had taken to a large rally at City Chambers protesting at the overcrowding at her inner city school. Her school was built against much local opposition after the closing and merging of four local schools into a single ‘super’ one. A ‘flagship’ school that sounded rather bizarrely like a McDonald’s ‘you want to super size that?’ marketing ploy. Just three years after it opened, and with nearly 700 children enrolled, Katy stood in protest waving a placard in George Square.

From 2006, protests against school closures were occurring all over Glasgow, opposition escalating to the point of occupation by some parents of their children’s schools. By 2012, nearly 50 primary schools across the city had been closed in less than 10 years.

With Katy’s new super-sized school, the council let in so many children—turning every conceivable space into classrooms—that many of the supposed benefits just vaporised. No library, no computer room, no art room, no music room… not enough classrooms. The kids spend every day in overcrowded lunch halls and playgrounds while being taught in doubled-up classrooms of nearly 60 children where the library used to be. Lots and lots of kids crammed into a building that looks very nice (and with excellent staff) but that lost the resources it initially had. Glasgow City council boasted that they were offering schools ‘buildings fit for the 21st century’ but what happens when these buildings become so overcrowded that some of the very resources that made them fit for a 21st Century education are simply eroded?

In late 2014, the children themselves started to protest during a consultation period after which the council offered very little to solve the problem and stated it would (probably) become better in four years time. A cross-your-fingers mentality rather than proper planning and solving of a problem. Four years would be too late for Katy and hundreds of other children who would be in High School by then. A whole cohort of children being told they could just put up with bureaucratic ineptitude. A rather disrespectful way to treat a city’s children.

For children like Katy, deciding to protest at City Chambers carrying homemade placards, making their voices heard, and taking a stand on their daily educational experience is an early lesson in activism. However, as restrictive conditions currently remain in their school, another lesson can also be learned: that we can have a voice but it is not always listened to.

The dead wall is a local landmark of stupidity and selfishness, in deed and in action. A road was eventually built leading behind it and the wall became just an irritation, no longer an obstruction. Other historians claim it is not the site of the dead wall but really a wonder of architecture by Greek Thomson. So perhaps what appears ugly and obstructive is actually towering and grand. Perhaps honourable decisions can be made although in the case of Katy and her school of nearly 700 children, the Labour dominated council seem to be a long way off doing that.

For more information on the issues Katy is involved with, see