THE story of Glenboig could be the usual tale of a Lanarkshire mining village destroyed by pit closures and the closure of Gartcosh and Ravenscraig. But it isn’t, and that’s because of one thing – the strength and doggedness of the local community.

A hundred years ago it was impossible to think Glenboig would ever be left high and dry. Back then it was a thriving industrial town, famous for the production of furnace-lining bricks and pipework for the iron and steel industry, which was flourishing in nearby industrial towns.

Glenboig, just 12 miles east of Glasgow, had soared from a hamlet of 120 inhabitants to a town of 4000 people, with its own railway station, churches, shops and a world-recognised reputation for producing firebricks.

Nearly every home belonged to the Glenboig Union Fireclay Company, whose bricks were regarded as the best in Britain, winning regular orders from Russia, Canada, India, Australia and South America and awards for Glenboig products from all over the world.

In the early 20th century, the company bought over competing fireclay works and mines in Cumbernauld, Gartcosh, Castlecary, Faskine, Palacerigg, Bonnymuir and Dykehead.

When Glenboig bricks were used in the building of the Queen Mary ocean liner it seemed the company, the town and its worldwide reputation were indestructible.

Glenboig was also well connected with the Monkland and Kirkintilloch railway line running through Coatbridge to the east of the village in 1826 (possibly Scotland’s first public railway) and the Glasgow and Garnkirk line running on the other side of Glenboig from 1831.

The Bedlay Colliery opened in 1905, with a thousand men still working there 60 years later. But times were changing.

Glenboig’s railway station closed in 1960 – mining and brick-making followed in the 1980s.

In 1982 the mineshafts were filled in and the people of this once busy town found themselves workless and marooned, with unemployment fuelling drug and alcohol misuse.

Glenboig had gone from being a well-connected manufacturing centre to an isolated, bypassed town in a matter of decades. And that’s the way it would have stayed, if the community hadn’t decided to act.

The crunch point came in 2000 when North Lanarkshire Council announced the impending closure of Neighbourhood House – the main public building left in Glenboig. The community decided to fight the closure and set up the Glenboig Neighbourhood House organisation (GNH). Little did they know what they’d begun.

Back then, Teresa Aitken was a local lass working in the care sector for Marie Curie Cancer Care. Her friend Teresa Keating was a senior teacher at the local primary school. Both of them worked together as sessional youth workers in the village. Benny Grant ran the pigeon club and, together with Teresa’s husband Henry Keating, these four people kick-started the transformation of Glenboig. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

Teresa Aitken recalls: “Our aim was to keep the community alive. Funding had been put into Airdrie and Coatbridge and the villages were left behind. The Neighbourhood House wasn’t much – but the community moved in, like squatters.”

The newly formed voluntary group changed one room of Neighbourhood House into a kitchen, the other into a café and opened one day a week with volunteers. That brought people out to have a chat and let the steering group identify gaps in social provision. The roof on the pensioners’ club had caved in so the Trust set up a history group, which quickly grew from 12 to 50 folk.

They used their own cars and volunteer drivers to take elderly people from the five villages that make up Glenboig to the group and back home again and realised how isolated elderly people had become.

Within months a wheen of services for the elderly were being delivered, including gardening, home repairs, a regular wellbeing phone call, lunch and other meals six days a week, shopping, prescription collection and delivery, cleaning, respite holidays four times a year, tea dances, Burns suppers, Christmas lunches and regular trips.

The local bus service was so poor, the GNH volunteers then raised funds to buy two mini-buses adapted for wheelchair users.

Their next focus was on children, aiming to teach useful social skills pre-school and to keep older kids away from anti-social behaviours with an after school activity club called Jellybean.

Trained youth workers pick the kids up from school and take them to a centre to develop social skills, learn cooking and other activities, before parents collect them at the end of the day.

Buoyed by all these successes, GNH started mopping up every unmet need in Glenboig. In 2014 they took the post office on as a social enterprise – it now includes a general store with a fruit and veg section.

When 350 private houses were built locally, the contribution from the private developer, which would usually go to the local council, was put towards match funding, which GNH used to develop a community play area.

Teresa explains: “We’d undertaken a big consultation with the kids and asked them to design their ideal local environment. They wanted paths around the loch and we made sure those paths were built. But the kids and GNH wanted more.

“If you look at council parks, they’re much the same. We raised over £300,000 for a play-park and it’s been built to the kids’ specifications.”

By 2017, Neighbourhood House was becoming derelict and needed a new roof. So GNH relocated its massive portfolio of services to the community centre, which was open for 20 hours a week but empty the rest of the time.

Now, ownership of the site is being transferred from the council to the community, and the voluntary organisation GNH has evolved into Glenboig Development Trust, (GDT).

It has raised almost £2 million to re-develop the community centre with a large hall, new Post Office, shop, training kitchen, café and gym. They still need £200,000 but are certain they’ll find it – not least because Scotland’s largest urban nature park, the Seven Lochs Wetland Park, is being developed nearby. 750 new houses will soon be built opposite the community centre, Glenboig’s population is set to double over the next 10 years and GNH’s original volunteer team of four has expanded into a social enterprise that employs 22 people, including Teresa Aitken.

It’s an incredible result for a town that was facing virtual closedown 18 years ago.

Teresa says; “Most of our income comes from grants, not core funding from the council or government. Is that fair on us? Probably not. But visitors from Sweden, Wales and elsewhere tell us that Glenboig’s got everything.

“That’s because we didn’t sit and wait on the council, who don’t have the resources to deliver this level of service in every community. If we’d done nothing, the village would have stagnated and Glenboig would have folded like a pack of cards.”

Her advice for other forgotten rural communities? “You start with what’s in front of you – we started small, we never envisaged so many branches on the tree, but as you see more needs you find more answers.

‘‘Being local gives you passion and drive and our fabulous board are part of the community too. Towns and cities think they have it all on their doorstep but we had nothing – that drove us.”

It worked. Glenboig has a lot more than nothing now.