Three streets worth of derelict houses clung to the steep side of the hill like the remnants of ancient teeth in a prehistoric skull.
They were my new neighbours in my new church placement at St. Martin’s in Port Glasgow in September 2015.
By the end of the year they were gone. A while after that the land was smoothed out, grass began to grow. If you were to look at the hill now for the first time you would never know that here was a place where people lived and loved and had families and grew up. You would never know that it was a thriving community fondly remembered by those who had their home there now rehomed and living in other parts of the port.
I have heard the tales of Woodhall: Sunnyside, Brightside and Pleasantside in homes throughout Port Glasgow. They are stories of real community.
Stories of multi generation families who lived on the same street: mum and granny and auntie and brother and uncle.
Stories of the person, and it seemed there was always a designated person in each street, the children ran to for a plaster when they fell and skinned their knees.
Stories of women who brought up their own families and found love and enough from their own stretched resources to support others.
Stories of men who supplemented the family diet with rabbits and other wildlife that they were able to catch.
The streets round St Martin’s aren’t the only part of Port Glasgow’s community that has disappeared. Before the houses went – most of the ship yards went. There is one left now.
When I came to St Martin’s 18 months ago a project begun and run by church members – the smart shop – served the community. It had a shop front amongst a small suite of shops and offered signposting to employment and produced CV’s for people applying for work. It employed two workers of its own.
“Friday’s a quiet day” said Alison the organiser when I went in one morning – but by 11.30 every seat and computer terminal was taken and it was standing room only.
Unfortunately changes in funding policy meant that the smart shop had to close its doors last summer.
It might sound like a tale of loss and woe but that is not the whole story.
As I reflect on 18 months working in the Port ( as I have learned to call it ) the words that come to my mind are change and energy and resilience.
New houses are being built – not yet in the streets round St Martin’s though we hope for the day when the church building will be integrated into the community once more – new houses that folk take pleasure in living in.
St Martin’s may still have its geographical challenges – but it welcomed 14 new members over the time and upgraded the outside of the building. Folk there are ready and looking forward to the next step. They are thinking about how they might serve the community as part of that next step.
The ship yards may be diminished but folk who began their working lives there are working in newer industries now and more modern skills are taking the place of the crafts of the old heavy industry.
And people are still good neighbours to one another.
And families still love and care and provide and share.
It is different – even from 18 months ago let alone 18 or 80 years ago.
Though the landscape changes and work comes and goes and the challenges people face are different from the generation before – the Spirit remains.
The Spirit remains, like the view of the Clyde from the church; an unexpected beauty, sometimes hidden by rain, sometimes washed in colour but always the landscape of our day.
– Sandra Black, interim minister, St Martin’s Port Glasgow September 2015 – March 2017.