One of Glasgow’s most famous institutions, the Barras was founded by James and Margaret McIver in the interwar years and developed into an important and popular area of covered market stalls and street traders. In the mid-20th century it was the place to go to in the city for a bargain and in many ways was a place that helped to define the city and the East End in particular. It was an essential feature of the tourist itinerary as recently as the 1990s.
But the Barras is not what it used to be. The markets are quieter. There are fewer traders and visitors. Fewer people means less money and the effect of that can be seen in the air of neglect that pervades many of the streets. Fewer people are interested in working in the retail sector once occupied by the Barras and few have the skills and experience to make stall-trading work as a business. Moreover, there are serious issues around succession as few are interested in continuing old family traditions of stall-holding. Yet there is evidence of recent investment: artists have begun to move into the area in recent years, and new events spaces and venues like BAaD, St Luke’s and Many Studios are beginning to take off and change perceptions of the area.
WMUD were commissioned by Glasgow City Council to prepare a masterplan for the Barras neighbourhood with Nick Wright Planning
The ambition for the Barras
The essence of this study is that the Barras could be much better than it is – and contribute much more to Glasgow. The history, character and energy of the Barras have enormous potential, especially being located so close to the Merchant City and the city centre. The Barras should again be one of the city’s must-visit neighbourhoods rather than the underwhelming area that it is at the moment. Times have changed and shopping habits have moved on and so rebuilding the Barras as it used to be isn’t a viable way forward. What is needed is to create a positive trajectory for the neighbourhood that mixes revitalisation of the markets with new enterprise and investment.
But what are the critical actions that would create that positive trajectory for the Barras? This masterplan, design guidance and action plan seek to answer that question. The document’s immediate purposes are as a Council document to:
- inform Council expenditure from existing budgets over the coming months
- assist the Council in identifying additional resources from future budgets
- be a material consideration in determining planning proposals
The main proposals contained in this document are therefore physical design initiatives focusing on streets, buildings and spaces because the delivery of these improvements can be led by the City Council. The Council’s intention is for these initiatives to have a catalytic effect on the area, encouraging further investment and activity by local businesses, organisations and individuals.
In addition, the report also identifies complementary non-physical actions to maximize the benefits of the physical initiatives. The purpose is to build on recent Council initiatives – like the Calton Barras Action Plan and the Barras Vacant and Underused Floorspace Grant Scheme – in order to set an agenda for intervention in the area over the coming decade.
Supporting non-physical action
The aim of the overall package of proposals is to boost business, cultural and community activity in the Barras. For the Council-led initiatives to achieve maximum impact, a number of other supporting actions should take place:
- Markets and businesses: improving the quality and appeal of the market, enterprise support for existing and new businesses and stallholders, marketing, a structured programme of events, and providing benefits for local residents through training and skills initiatives.
- Arts, music, culture, heritage and community: co-ordinated events programme and marketing, creating more opportunities for performance and art, maximising the benefit of those activities to local residents, celebrating the heritage of the Barras, creating more indoor space for community activities.
- Getting to and from the Barras: better connections by public transport to other parts of the city, changes to parking management to favour short-stay customers and deliveries.
The Council cannot deliver all of these actions – in fact, most of them will need to be led by others, although the Council may have a supporting role. All stakeholders have a role to play:
- Public sector: The Council and its public sector partners will undoubtedly have a lead role on projects relating to public streets and spaces, market regulation and public safety. The Council should continue to have a lead role in facilitating collaborative action amongst all stakeholders.
- Private sector: individual businesses of all shapes and sizes will, ultimately, be the single biggest source of bringing more activity to the Barras. It is in their interests to generate more life and footfall in the neighbourhood.
- Voluntary sector: local community groups and trusts can organise social enterprise activity (such as a heritage and community centre and employability / training / skills initiatives).
With genuine collaborative working, many of the longer-term aspirations put forward by local stakeholders in preparation of this document could be realised.