A light hum of the M8 is audible from the garden of Kinning Park Complex. There’s a shed full of bikes; pastel-coloured wooden boxes for basil, oregano and thyme; green and blue plastic bottles hanging from thin wires repurposed as planters. “It looks much nicer in the summer!” exclaims Clare McIntyre, Communications Officer at KPC, who is showing me around. While plants and flowers would certainly add something, the garden is impressive as it is.
In addition to the plant boxes, there is a water tank collecting rainwater where the gardening volunteers can fill up their water-can, a green shed where plastic is shredded and recycled, and another shed where a group of volunteers repair broken bikes that get donated to KPC. Most of them get a new home with a refugee or asylum seeker living in Glasgow, so they can get around the city easily. There’s also a wooden plateau with big barbeque where a band played a gig in the summer, transforming the atmosphere into that of an outdoor music festival. We aren’t even inside yet, where a table with free food, a swap-shop, a bike that takes hot soup into the city centre for those who need it and affordable artists’ studios still await me. Already, the ethos of KPC is 100% clear: this is a place of collaboration, positivity, change, and – most of all – a place of community.
The building that now houses Kinning Park Complex was a school for most of the 20th century, before turning into a neighbourhood centre. In 1996, the council wanted to close the building, to prevent spending money on much-needed repairs. However, the community recognized the beauty and history of the building and occupied it for an incredible 55 days. Now, it is an independent multi-use community centre ran by the not-for-profit Kinning Park Complex Community Interest Company. The idea of community is, as expected, still very important.
In addition to serving the local communities, some of which are ranked in the top 5% in the Scottish Multiple Deprivation Index, people from further afield use the space too. “Everyone who once got involved keeps coming back”, explains Clare, “even if they have moved away and don’t live in the neighbourhood anymore.” With only a small number of paid staff, people who use the building or volunteer are very significant to the place it has become. “We want everyone who comes in here to take a little bit of ownership of the building,” Clare tells me. “It’s their building. We don’t have just staff here that tell everyone what to do. A lot of things we do in this space, we wouldn’t be able to without volunteers, so we try not to differentiate between them and the staff. It’s a collective effort of KPC Team to keep everything going. We’re also always encouraging organisations to use our space, and we’re supportive of anyone who’s starting up a new venture or group but maybe doesn’t have the capacity to pay for space yet. If we can help them in some way, maybe in exchange they can give us something else. I guess that’s what this building is about, since the sit-in. It is so important that we are able to give something back to the community.”
Music, dance and sport classes take place regularly, as well as meetings, film screenings, conferences, parties and KPC’s own Community Café. On Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday lunchtime, plus Thursday evening, kitchen-manager and resident chef Danny McLaren, also known as the MadChef, cooks a pay-as-you-want meal. The food comes from FareShare, an organisation that collects surplus food from supermarkets and distributes it to community projects, food banks and charities. “It’s great to come in and see a lot of people there,” says Clare. “When I was first here, you’d sometimes see no one at the community meal. Sometimes people think that it’s a food bank, or only for people who can’t afford food, and they feel bad for coming in. But that’s not what it’s about. This is open to absolutely everybody. It’s a good way to meet people, get your lunch or your dinner, and save food from going to landfill. Now, we’re busy every week. The café is definitely the most fulfilling thing to be part of here.”
After all, the community meal is about so much more than just food. The cooking allows volunteers to get to know each other and bond, even if they are from completely different backgrounds or countries, or speak different languages. Clare remarks that this happens a lot at KPC. “People find something they both like, they both have a passion or an interest in, and all the other differences don’t matter any more. I think that’s a really good way to get to know someone. You can’t force people to talk to people they don’t want to, but if they find a common ground, it happens naturally.” In addition to that, an important aspect of the meals is showing the people who come that by eating here, they are also contributing to reducing the amount of landfill food waste.
A long-term goal is for KPC to be a completely zero-waste space. In addition to intercepting food waste from supermarkets, they shred plastic to make badges, buttons and earrings, have their food waste picked up to be used for fuel, and host up-cycling and craft workshops. Their own fashion brand, KPCouture, seeks to start conversations with people about sustainable fashion. “Rather than ramming sustainability down people’s throat, we are trying to make items that can compete with general brands out there and use that as a way of telling people what we are doing. It’s not so much about the selling of the product, but rather an interesting way to engage people, especially those that wouldn’t normally be interested in sustainable fashion.”
Another highlight for Clare has been working with Code Your Future, an educational program teaching refugees and asylum seekers skills to become coders and developers. The set-up of this program at KPC again demonstrates the anti-capitalist nature of operation in the building. Code Your Future uses the space for free; in return, the graduation project of half of the class was to make an app for the centre. Linked to the Waste Not Want project, they created a food-mapping app where users can submit suggestions for sustainable places to shop, eat, or drink. They hope to further tailor the app to the individual user, showing that it also possible to be sustainable if you have little or no money to spend. “To see that we were able to support a project that gets people on their way to employment, and that the apps they have made are actually useful and will be used by people, and how much it meant to them… that has definitely been my favourite thing.”
As Clare speaks passionately and full of enthusiasm about this space and the people who use it, I cannot believe the fundamental issues that threaten KPC to remain in use in the long-term: these include the short-term lease from the Council, the lack of core funding, and the need for major repairs. On the top floor, enormous blue plastic sheets are suspended in the space below the roof. You’d be forgiven for thinking these drip catchers were in fact an art installation. “We have to strategically place the buckets and things around the building to catch the water,” Clare explains. “We need a new roof, everything needs rewired, and we need new heating. We would also really like a lift to ensure our space is more accessible.” This refurbishment is currently in the process of taking place, but KPC depends on support from the Council and funding bodies.
Despite this, Clare is never pessimistic. “I definitely believe that if someone tried to take the building off us tomorrow, we would have strong army of people again to say ‘no!’ There are just not any other spaces like Kinning Park.” Respect, community, sustainability and cooperation are an intrinsic part of KPC’s identity: it’s clear that places like these must be treasured.
Image Credit: Natàlia Phoebe