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Community comes together to plan brighter future
BYLINE: Jennifer Cunningham
SECTION: Pg. 10
THE grimness of Sighthill, one of the blots on Glasgow's northern boundary, has been beamed around the world since the death of Firsat Dag, a Turkish Kurd asylum seeker in August.
However, for the past year, architecture students from Strathclyde University's community design unit, led by Dr Ombretta Romice, have been drawing up plans for improvement.
The improvements come at the suggestion of residents who include long-term tenants, students from Glas-gow Caledonian University and asylum seekers.
Their ideas are both simple and practical. Relatively simple adaptations to the tower blocks would promote communal activity. One possibility is a "winter garden", created by removing the floor between two flats and reglazing the windows to provide an attractive communal area.
Asator Ghazarians would like to see meeting places for clubs, gardens with trees and walls as windbreaks. Just a year ago, he and his wife, Roubina, arrived in Glasgow as part of the dispersal of asylum seekers by the Home Office. They are still waiting to hear if they will be granted refugee status, trying hard to curb their impatience at not being able to make use of their skills: Asator as an architect, Roubina as a doctor. The birth of their daughter, Fareh, in March has been a special joy in a difficult year.
Officially Iranian, because that is what it says on their passports, they are in fact both Armenian. Asator studied architecture in Yerevan, Armenia's capital, but after a year designing motels and petrol stations, his residence permit expired. Roubina faced the same problem, plus the additional one of not being able to work if she returned to Iran - her Christian hands would be regarded as unclean by Muslim authorities.
The couple were invited for a holiday by Roubina's cousins in London. When they arrived at Heathrow last June, they claimed asylum, and were sent to a hotel near the airport for a fortnight before being sent to Glasgow, a place they had never heard of.
Since the death of Firsat Dag and an attack on an Iranian asylum seeker in the same block as theirs, Roubina has been very fearful and is battling against depression.
"I feel now it is unsafe here. It is very difficult to do anything if you think anything could happen any time you go out," she said.
Yet they and Charlie Riddell, 60-year-old secretary of the Fountainwell Tenants' Association, share a vision of the potential for Sighthill. Both believe it could be a vibrant community.
Mr Riddell arrived in Sighthill five years ago after a lifetime working as a freelance artist and illustrator, most recently in Nigeria. His perspective on life, overlooking the Necropolis from the 19th floor, is different from most of his neighbours. His pet scheme is to convert the underblocks - the open spaces between the stilts supporting the towers - into cafes to provide a meeting point at modest cost.
With the high-rise blocks having paid off their original investment, the question for architects is whether they should be demolished or refurbished. According to Mr Riddell, most people enjoy living in the flats, but the problems stem from a lack of investment in the area, combined with an influx of tenants with problems.
The shops became rundown, and several businesses, including a supermarket, moved out. A simple idea suggested by the students was for a market selling ingredients for ethnic foods.
It is a practical solution, light years away from the architectural fantasies that resulted in the tower blocks, requiring only a relatively small investment, but significant will-power - and there is no doubt that exists.