Jim Monaghan: Living, working and building a better community

“Govanhill is a kind of unique place, there is a lot of energy, a lot of things to do.”

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interview by Juliana Penha

Since Govanhill Baths was reopened, on February 2012, Jim Monaghan came to work as administrator and also run the reception. We have spoken with this poet from Ayrshire who is a community worker and also chair of Govanhill Community Council to learn why he decided to make Govanhill his home.

He also told us what his poetry is about and shared his thoughts about some of the most difficult problems of Govanhill: overcrowding and discrimination.

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Govanhill Baths: a universal community space

Jim offered a brief history of Govanhill Baths and also explained that they were trying to get the swimming pool back “Govanhill Baths is a very important community asset. It was built for public health reasons, in a time where there was no sanitation at home so people were coming here to wash, wash their clothes, to do exercises. In 2001, when the council decided to close it, a lot of local people decided to oppose to it and occupied the building, inside and outside, for  147 days, to try to save the place., he said.

Today Govanhill Baths is a community space where Govanhill residents can enjoy a variety of activities from music, dance, theatre and cinema to gastronomy and arts projects. The most important thing is that all nationalities and origins are welcome: “We are the most ethnically diverse community in Scotland and this is one place for people to share.  We have around 50 languages and 70 nationalities living here. So it is important to have a place where people from different countries come together and do what they do here, cook, dance, explained Jim.

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What does it mean to be a community worker?

Jim Monaghan: ‘I think when you live in a community it is important to be involved as much as you can. Because there are a lot of problems in a community like this, a lot of overcrowding, poverty, drug problems, young people with no jobs. It’s one thing is to be aware of the problems,  another to try and change it. I think everyone has a part to play in the community and it doesn’t matter what you do, but do something to make the community a better place. I always felt that, everywhere I lived I had been involved in active community politics or whatever.’

“I think everyone has a part to play in the community and it doesn’t matter what you do, but do something to make the community a better place.”

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Why are you living in Govanhill?

Jim Monaghan:  I am living in Govanhill because it’s an exciting place to live there is a lot of noise, a lot of music, a lot of smells, different foods, different people. There are a lot of good reasons to live here. I think the best reason is the mix of people. We have a lot of immigration, a lot of artists, people that come here because of the low cost rent. There are people that have been living here for a long time, people that just arrived, people that work in the community… There is an energy that people don’t find anywhere else, only in big cities as London. Scotland is a pretty much monochrome place, very white and in most places it is much the same. Govanhill is quite unique.

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Govanhill, Glasgow, Scotland. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2012, all rights reserved.

In your opinion what is the roots of negatives attitudes towards immigrants in Scotland, especially in Govanhill?

Jim Monaghan: I think it changes through times; right now we are in an austerity time, people are poorer, so immigrants become the easiest scapegoat. Its very easy when there is no jobs to say that immigrants are getting the jobs.

Interestingly, Govanhill was always a place for immigrants. Initially for Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, than Irish immigrants; all these houses were built for Irish immigrants working here. After, during one period people from India and Pakistan arrived. And now, again, people from Eastern Europe arrived in Govanhill, from places like Poland and Czech Republic. Initially, around 100 years ago, many Jewish people were fleeing from persecution. Now it is quite a lot Roma people who are suffering the same discrimination and persecution.

I think the attitudes come from ignorance, fear of something different. I think in 1922, a report discussed the dangerous Irish immigrants, saying they were thieves, beggars… The words in that report were identical to what they say about Roma people now.  Of course nothing is true, just based on stereotypes, myths and fear. The same things that happened in London and Birmingham, especially during the 50’s when the afro-Caribbean people arrived, they used the same words, said that they are lazy, thieves, dirty…. Over and over again. It’s a kind of cartoon, caricature of people. There are many problems in Govanhill but is not because of immigrants is because there are no houses.

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What is the downside of living in Govanhill?

Jim Monaghan: The downside of living in Govanhill is probably overcrowding. There are too many people here. We need to build more houses and we need to create more spaces. There is not a lot of space to do that. The problem is not because there are a lot of people that come here, but because there is not enough houses already. There are many other problems that we have but overcrowding is the major one. I would like to see Govanhill spread out, building more houses.

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What do you talk in your poetry about?

Jim Monaghan:  I write about personal things and also about political things. I have been a poet for a long time, since I was a teenager, now I am 52. I was influenced by traditional poets from Ayrshire, South Scotland, where I came from.

I became a performance poet, stand live poet, a few years ago and I am enjoying that. I am always involved in politics and poetry is a good way to make a political point without anyone arguing with you. You say what you want. It is not a debate. There is no vote and I quite like that. But it is also a good fun. It’s a good way to communicate ideals and have a laugh. And it is also a good therapy. You can pick up a pen and write things.

Poetry is an important voice for people, a way of using words to express your ideas. Here in Scotland we have a great tradition on it, as we do in Ireland and England as well. But there is a lot of places that you can be killed for being a poet. So I think it is important if you have a chance to do it, do it.

“Poetry is an important voice for people, a way of using words to express your ideas.”

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