In late 2007 Govan Workspace was contacted by Fairfield’s then owners, Clydeport, who had been unable to find a viable future for their shipyard property and asked if we would consider looking at it for potential use as a business centre. Vacated in 2001, when it was deemed surplus to requirements by shipyard operator BAE Systems, the Grade A-listed structure had fallen into such serious disrepair that it was placed on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register. The local community were increasingly unhappy about the damaging effects of this boarded-up property on the main approach into Govan, and called for action. Govan Workspace was concerned too, having already identified the shipyard offices in a conservation report as a high-profile opportunity to lead the regeneration of central Govan. We agreed to look at the business centre proposal, and spent the first six months of 2008 carrying out a study of options.
By all previous standards involving the development of Govan Workspace’s projects, the pace of events at Fairfield has been swift and dramatic.
The three options considered worthy of investigation included residential accommodation, office use and heritage & office use. Residential use proved impossible on account of costs and the structure’s awkward dimensions. Office use proved achievable in physical terms but not financially, however, the third option – a hybrid of business and heritage space emerged as the strongest proposal, preferred for a number of reasons.
First, because a robust financial appraisal showed it could be viable and self-sustaining in the long term if sufficient capital could be raised to get it off the ground. Second, because it included heritage and educational dimensions that were of interest to local people and likely to capture support from public and charitable bodies. Third, because it provided real opportunities for the local community to be directly involved in events celebrating their heritage and gave the wider public access to Fairfield’s areas of special architectural and historic interest.
But what also had been discovered in the options study was that the building was in a dangerous condition and that money would have to be found urgently if it was to be saved from terminal decline. From mid-2008, therefore, Govan Workspace embarked on a round of applications to raise funds for emergency repairs. It was an exercise that succeeded much quicker than expected. First to dip its toe in the water was Historic Scotland with a commitment of £558,000 followed by £682,000 from Glasgow City Council, £249,000 from the Scottish Government’s Wider Role Fund and £111,000 from Govan Workspace’s own reserves. In all, £1.6m was raised to save the building.
The funding was conditional upon Govan Workspace taking ownership, which it did on 12 March 2009 at a cost of £200,000. Having already been out to tender, it was able to appoint a contractor just two days later, work starting on site on 16 March 2009. The future of the building was finally secured with the completion of the repairs contract in July 2010 when local children performed the ‘opening’ ceremony by removing the boards from the windows.
Stabilisation of the building fabric through the Phase 1 Emergency Repairs contract allowed plans and funding applications to be made for the full restoration of the building. Like Phase 1, this too was to move forward at an unusually brisk pace, with commitments of £3.9m secured by the end of 2010 from Historic Scotland (£500,000), the European Regional Development Fund (£1.5m), the Heritage Lottery Fund (£645,000), Central Govan Action Plan (£250,000), the Govan Area Committee (£15,000), and the Dean of Guild Trust (£10,000). Govan Workspace is contributing £985,000 mainly through bank loans.
The Phase 2 restoration works started on site on 14 February 2011 and are expected to be complete by October 2012.
Conserving a Community’s Heritage
Govan Workspace believes that the restoration of the A-listed Fairfield Shipyard Offices will make a major contribution to the regeneration of central Govan. Since 2004 it has been campaigning for Govan’s heritage to be granted the recognition it warrants and for a proper conservation plan for Govan to be put in place. That campaign contributed to Govan being awarded Conservation Area status in July 2008.
The company’s focus on conservation is based on a belief that Govan possesses a fairly unique historical and social character that should be at the heart of redevelopment plans and have the potential to rekindle community renewal. Fairfield is significant not only on account of its remarkable architecture but because of the rich historical associations it captures which encapsulate Govan’s former greatness. For more than 50 years Govan was the elite workshop of the world for the construction of metal propulsion ships, and produced the finest, largest and most beautiful ships of the era. The Fairfield shipyard was the jewel in the crown and its offices were the nerve-centre of the yard. As the main employer in the area for many generations, there is scarcely a family living in Govan today that does not have a connection to the yard and to the building. The story of the yard is inseparably linked to the social history of the community. At Fairfield, therefore, there is much more at stake than the fabric of the building; the structure itself is central to Govan’s identity, and its long-term survival an important part of the community’s regeneration.
Indeed, a significant part of Govan’s wider heritage also owes its existence to the shipyard: the Elder Park; a park built by shipbuilders for a shipbuilding community; the Pearce Institute; a community and educational facility provided by the owners of Fairfield; and Govan Old Parish Church, Govan’s own People's Cathedral, constructed with significant support from shipbuilders.