Prior to this project Cuningar Loop was an area of derelict land covering fifteen hectares in a meander in the river Clyde, which had historically been used as the site of reservoirs and then for quarrying and mining before becoming an unlicensed, uncapped landfill. The communities around the site faced a number of inequalities according to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, with health and access to green space being particularly poor.
The project transformed the site into an accessible woodland park that would enrich the lives of the local community. Research has shown the links between access to green space and health through improving air quality and opportunities for exercise. The park included amenities for exercise as well as an area of relatively biodiverse inner-city land that provided a haven for wildlife, with 15,000 trees being planted as part of the work. The project also involved remediation, introducing new soil caps that would contain contaminants from the landfill.
At the time there was a Scottish government commitment to reduce the area of Vacant Developed Land (VDL) within Scotland, with Cuningar Loop being the largest area of VDL in the local area. This, alongside goals for the legacy of Glasgow’s hosting the Commonwealth Games provided important impetus for the project. It was considered highly important that local residents be highly involved in the project to ensure that it was working to their benefit in as many ways as possible. Working with artists was one important way of achieving this.
Artists Rob Mulholland and James Winnett were in residence on the project, funded through Creative Scotland’s Year of Natural Scotland Artist Residencies scheme. The artist brief for the project was put out for competitive tender and the two selected artists were appointed in September 2013. The artists were responsible for reaching out to local communities and establishing contact with community centres and youth groups to engender a true sense of involvement with the project. They had substantial freedom to work as they saw fit, updating Forestry Commission Scotland each month with the progress. They also had a few meetings, the last of which involved presenting work and discussing outcomes.
Rob Mulholland produced a large sculpture at the entrance to the park, developed through conversations with the local community and designed to reference the area’s transformation from disused landfill site to woodland park. He also created temporary installations, such as an imaginary architectural dig site that allowed children to actively engage with the history of the site, and put on community skills workshops where residents could learn skills involved in sculpture making. The community sculptures produced in these workshops were later installed on site.
James Winnett worked on the site to develop a body of research and new work exploring the Loop’s changing identity. Engaging local communities in this process to raise awareness of the new woodland park and the benefits it would bring to the area was the underlying focus of this activity. He used his research to produce fifteen ‘Cuningar Stones’, an outcome of the project produced after applying for further funding and installed on the site. Each stone was recovered from rubble found in the landfill site on Cuningar Loop, much of which came from demolitions in the nearby Gorbals neighbourhood, and was carved to reference aspects of the area’s history and wildlife. The content of the carvings was developed through the supporting engagement programme involving adult and children’s stone carving, mask-making and design workshops, audio history recordings, exhibitions, talks and events.
The site is now heavily used by local schools and nurseries as well as social enterprises like Bike Town in Rutherglen. It is designed to be fully accessible and is used by various Additional Support Needs groups. Organisations such as PEEK Scotland and Operation Play Outdoors also use the space to hold special sessions to engage children with outdoor learning. There is also a partnership with community development trust Healthy n Happy in Rutherglen, who use the space for community events and activities. The site has enjoyed extremely low levels of vandalism or graffiti. This is usually taken as evidence of effective interaction with the community.
More recently, narrow holes have been dug under the site to create one of only two UK Geoenergy Observatories for research into how water in disused coal mines could heat homes in the future, taking advantage of the history of the site. This project is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the British Geological Survey.