This is the End

"When are you going to do something with those photographs of the town centre opening?"
My cousin Liz asked me.

I don't know was my reply, and I don't know is still my reply as I write this.

Those photographs were part of a long term project of mine but it's one that I'm struggling to complete.
To give you some context.

Denny is my hometown.
Long ago it had a lovely old town centre full of quaint little buildings.
There were a couple of cinemas, one of them a wooden building called 'the bug hut'.
Several pubs, some cafes and little shops. Some housing and 3 churches.
The east side of the town centre dominated by the cooperative buildings, the grocers, the butchers, clothes shops etc.
Around the edges of the town were the foundries and paper mills.
In the 1970's Denny and Dunipace Town Council was amalgamated into Falkirk District Council and in their infinite wisdom (stupidity) and in the name of progress, half the town centre was demolished and replaced with six new buildings and a car park.

I don't remember the original town centre, only the modern one and I remember it as being a bit square and very grey. That was the case until the late 1980's or early 1990's when the flats were renovated and given a red and yellow coating. Which made them look like rhubarb and custard boiled sweets.

That would have been fine had they been cared for but they weren't.
Over time they deteriorated, water seeped in and the rough casting fell off. Where it was patched it was patched in the wrong colour.
Gradually shops started closing and one by one the units became empty.
Some of that was just unfortunate, where the parent companies went bust like in the case of Crawford's the baker or the Clydesdale Electrical shop.
Some of that was changing consumer behaviours in the case of the video rental shops.
And others were government cutbacks in the case of the Job Centre and the civil service offices.

The town suffered and still does suffer from larger out of town shopping on all sides.

Fast forward a decade of the same decline and add a dash of Falkirk Council dumping lots of problem tenants into the town centre and we reach the beginning of my project.
The town centre had become very gloomy and quite oppressive.
It had been nominated for the (not so) prestigious Carbuncle award for most dismal town.
It didn't win, John O'Groats won but refused the prize.
Campaigners in Denny asked to accept it hoping to use it as a catalyst for action.

It is the summer of 2010.
I was in the middle of doing college work and study to set up my business.
That summer there was a huge protest held in the town centre. A walk around the block, led by Denny and Dunipace pipe band and many different groups from the town.
Our Members of Parliament, Members of the Scottish Parliament and local councillors were there.
There were speeches, there was a petition, there was a Facebook campaign.
And there was me photographing it.
The goal was to have the old flats knocked down and replaced with something. What that something should be wasn’t yet clear.

The protest worked.

A year later I joined some of the other protesters and we formed a little group to put more pressure on the local council to spend some money and redevelop the town.
They had agreed to knock down the buildings but there was no timescale and no further plan.
Our group helped shape the direction of travel that this process would take.
It took another petition and lots of lobbying (bugging) the council to get them to listen. Eventually they did.

The old town centre buildings were demolished in 2011-2012 and it took until May 2018 for the flag to be unfurled on the replacement.
I didn't set out to document this, it was simply in my face every day.
I just photographed things that were happening and then after a while I realised that I had a series developing.
So I just went with it.
If I had planned it as a project then I'd probably not have moved town half way through it.
Nor would I have shot half of it on film.

Also, bonus tip. Don't start a business and then move town.

Speaking of film, I'm in Adam and Ann's little Carbuncle town documentary film about all of this.
There's a part in this film where I'm basically the presenter.
It was on the day when they started knocking the first part of the town centre down. The 22nd of November 2011. It caught us by surprise.
We were so close to missing it entirely so what we did was very improvised.

When the film was finished Adam called me up and said "You might have a new career out of this".

Looking back on that time kind of depresses me so I've never actually seen the film but I'll link it below if you're interested.
I have almost 10 years worth of photographs.
Starting with the paper mill being demolished and other events that linked in to the redevelopment. Things like the opening of the new Dale bridge.

I tracked the progress of the demolition

And the progress of the new building taking shape.

Until the day the ribbon was cut.

I went back specially to photograph this day. I realised that my project needed an end point and thought that unfurling the flag and cutting the ribbon was probably as good a note to end as any.
But what’s weird is the weather. It was very hot and sunny.
For so many of my photographs the weather was horrible. The walk around the block day was miserable.
The weather is almost like a protagonist in my photographs as much as anything.
It’s gloomy and brooding when we’re up against it and protesting.
When progress is made the skies are blue.
Then when it all reaches a conclusion, a happy ending if you will, it’s all beautiful and sunny.
That’s odd, don’t you think?

So returning to Liz's original question, I don't know what to do with the photographs from this project.
It would be good to print them and put them on show, maybe in the new buildings.
How I fund that, I don't know.

Gallery quality prints are expensive and I don't see me selling too many prints of unloved buildings getting knocked down to offset that cost.
It's not what you'd hang on your wall.

What I do know about this project is that this is the type of story that I'd like to tell using this newsletter format.
Without having to title it “We won the Carbuncle award and you’ll never guess what happened next”

Further Reading:

Carbuncle Town Trailer.

Carbuncle Town Full film.

Denny & Dunipace History Society.

2010 Carbuncle Awards. I forgot that I’m quoted in this article. I don’t remember the occasion. But looking back at all the comments/suggestions I got pretty much exactly what I asked for. It’s almost as if I had some hand in the plans.