A key idea underpinning Representing Dennistoun is that narratives of place are cultural assets providing communities with a compass in times of uncertainty or rapid change. Some communities suffer from having their stories written for them by others, sometimes well-meaning, sometimes not, that leaves many aspirations ignored and unfulfilled. The strengths and resources of such places, which can be used to forge a positive future, can go unrecognised and unsupported if negative representations created by others are not corrected.
Just as damaging is when a place has no story of itself. This is why the quote from Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, spoken by the character Thaw that “nobody imagines living here” is so intriguing to the aims of Representing Dennistoun.
“When our imagination needs exercise we […] visit London, Paris, Rome under the Caesars, the American West at the turn of the century, anywhere but here and now. Imaginatively Glasgow exists as a music-hall song and a few bad novels. That’s all we’ve given to the outside world. It’s all we’ve given to ourselves” (Gray, 1981, p 243)
Claire McKechnie, a researcher on the Dennistoun project, has been collecting and analysing representations of this East End neighbourhood. Although the community itself has a small number of appearances in fiction and the collective imagination, the city in which it sits and indeed, the city’s East End, contrary to Thaw, is well imagined. Currently, the researchers have been able to identify eight typical representations of Glasgow and the East end in particular. These include the city as a friendly, beautiful or a cultural city. So far so good, yet these also sit aside negative representations perhaps larger in the popular imagination; a dangerous, disconnected or sick city also competes with grandiose perceptions of a modernist or workers’ city.
All these will posses some element of continuing truth and have served a useful purpose at one time (even negative representations can be powerful in securing public funding and investment). But what would the community, indeed communities, of contemporary Dennistoun want to represent their understanding of themselves and their place?
As we progress the project, we will look to support the community of Dennistoun to explore and imagine narratives of its past, present and future for themselves. Early activity included a stall at the Alexandra Park festival this June when, with our community partner, Impact Arts, we asked people to tell us about their Dennistoun.