SEARCH for Kinning Park on the map and you see a cartographic cable of yellow motorway lanes slicing through Glasgow’s southside, with an unlovely clutter of industrial estates and people-free zones all around.

But dig deeper and you find a proud tradition of labour organisation. And today, thanks to a small group of determined local people undaunted by a difficult asset transfer process, that tradition is being reborn at Kinning Park Complex (KPC).

Back in 1870, Kinning Park was home to around 6000 people -- many working in engineering and boilermaking workshops and Gray Dunn & Co’s biscuit factory.

It had its own council with some of the first Labour councillors in Britain, and Kinning Park Co-operative Society, which grew into one of the city’s most successful co-ops and prompted the creation of a Women’s Co-operative Guild whose leaders helped run the suffrage movement in Glasgow. In 1905 the burgh lost its independent status and was absorbed into Glasgow.

Despite worries about neglect within a larger council, a large schoolhouse was built in 1910 – the building that became the Kinning Park Complex.

It remained a school until 1976 and was then converted into a neighbourhood centre, which hosted educational, sport and leisure classes as well as an afterschool club called KP School’s Out Service, which ran almost every evening.

During the late 80s and early 90s, south-west Glasgow - including Kinning Park – became a hotbed of anti-poll tax protest, with demonstrations organised by community groups in centres such as KPC.

Later, in 1995, there was more local activism opposing the construction of the new M77 motorway in Pollock Country Park. The Pollock Free State protest camp was established and, once again, users of the Kinning Park Neighbourhood Centre were involved.

The city council managed and staffed the neighbourhood centre, but over time it stopped doing repairs and the old red sandstone building on Cornwall Street became run down. In 1996, the City Council decided to close its doors … and long decades of activism finally erupted.

Locals began a campaign to keep the centre open, arguing that the community needed childcare facilities and public space to practice arts, sports, music and community events.

A 24-hour sit-in began, organised in shifts to make sure the building was always occupied.

There was a march on the City Chambers, led by the mothers and toddlers group. Banners were painted and artists and activists got involved ... including Helen Kyle.

Although she lived nearby, Helen’s connection with the Kinning Park Complex began after a trip to Paris, when the Govan-based community development worker discovered she could find no mention of Scottish culture or trace of Scotland as a nation, merely as a region of Great Britain. So she decided to set up a voluntary organisation called Scotland in Europe to bring the story of Glasgow, its artists and culture to the attention of our European neighbours.

When news broke in 1996 that a round of council cuts meant the neighbourhood centre would close, Helen realised it was an opportunity to create the perfect venue for her arts project; a venue that could stand on its own two feet against all the odds. A microcosm of Scotland’s position and her own project.

After 55 days of occupation, the council decided to give the running of the building to the community, which handed control to Scotland in Europe and a management group of local users. The lease had to be renewed on a monthly basis, but that was good enough for the impressive list of artists brought in to use the empty classrooms, which included Peter Howson, Belinda Gilbert Scott and Richard Walker.

Helen Kyle’s group ran KPC until 2008, helped establish an arts organisation and ran the building with an ever-changing set of volunteers and artists.

Helen recalls: “There had to be a constant and imaginative way of getting through the days, and we did this by organising small events in the complex such as dance nights, music shows and fundraisers. It was important that the people directly affected by the building’s planned closure got to make the final decision about the way forward.”

Back in 2009, no-one could guess another 10 years would pass before the community was finally in control.

In April 2013, the building’s lease came under dispute as Glasgow City Council decided to re-think its policy of reduced rents for community groups and charities renting their premises.

They also transferred ownership of many buildings (including KPC) to a private company called City Property, which threatened to hike rents from the original £1 per year to almost £2750. After refusing to sign and being handed a notice to quit, KPC had to organise another campaign to remain open.

Now organised as a Community Interest Company, they succeeded in winning a one-year lease with the council, with an option for a 25-year lease. The danger was that City Property could increase the rent to a commercial level of around £20,000 at any time, but without the 25-year lease, it would be impossible for KPC to get the grants needed for large-scale repairs.

With the Community Empowerment Act of 2015, it looked like the cavalry had finally arrived. In 2018 the company reformed as a community-controlled SCIO – a legal structure, purpose-built for the charity sector in Scotland – which meant KPC could use community asset transfer legislation to take over the complex.

But once again, it wasn’t that easy, because City Property is an arms-length organisation and these appear to operate outside the terms of the Community Empowerment Act when it comes to transferring public assets.

The community found the process bruising. They had to fund two valuations and faced delays at key stages. The transfer was eventually agreed – but only after protracted negotiations.

One community development activist said: “KPC’s experience was more like a negotiated market sale than a community asset transfer. Almost no discount was offered in spite of the huge community benefit KPC could provide.”

City Property owns so much of the former City Council’s assets (as do Jobs & Business Glasgow and City Life) that its arms-length status could make it difficult for other communities to use the community asset transfer – especially if the council has to mortgage off its assets to finance the recent equal pay deal.

But for the Kinning Park Complex, the transfer to community control is finally going through now. And in November 2018, the team got a long overdue break, with the award of £1.2 million in funding from the Scottish Land Fund and the Big Lottery Fund.

Ironically, after decades of fighting to stay open, the Kinning Park Complex will actually close (temporarily) to repair a hole in the roof, fix the electrics and heating and refurbish other parts of the building.

It’ll be a tricky operation since the complex now has around 15,000 visitors a year and houses a range of sports classes, children’s dance events, a bicycle workshop, gardening group, community kitchen, recovery café, affordable workspaces and the headquarters of the think tank Common Weal.

But after a 21-year battle to take control of their building, that should be a doddle.