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The heart of Glasgow

An evening spent volunteering at a charity event and an introduction to some of Glasgow's resident characters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

4 mins read

THE Halogen light fixtures underneath Glasgow Central cast dim yellow spotlights onto the underpass on Argyle street, that shudder and flicker as trains coast in and out of Glasgow’s heart overhead. The ground below the monolithic station shakes and stammers with the weight of the carriages above – this is Scotland’s busiest train station, and it’s great steel ventricles pump passengers in & out of the city, all across the nation.

It’s 8pm in Glasgow on a Tuesday night, the sun had set 4 hours previously, clearing the way for a biting cold and a spitting rain. The strong smell of diesel from the station above mixes with the faint scent of petrichor to produce a distinctive, not altogether unpleasant aroma.

A new lockdown looms over the city – and the streets are filled with people eager to get home.

Clink. Clink. Clink.

The sound of hangers hooking onto the punched steel roller shutters of a pawn shop by a small group of volunteers – draping scarves, jackets, and jumpers down the closed shop front.

Around 10 volunteers are working under the bridge tonight, all in their twenties, they range from young professionals to students – while they’re not all from Glasgow, they all share a love for the city and its people.

The rag-tag gang of volunteers were organised through an Instagram group chat on the 10th of August, and have grown through word of mouth since then, providing their service to over 100 people each night.

By 8:30pm the volunteers had set up, and a mass of the city’s needy had gathered. Overflowing bags with toiletries, food, and clothes were separated onto different temporary tables, hundreds of pairs of shoes of varying colours and sizes lined the bottom of the close storefronts.

The service users vary, they can be single parents or family’s, recent immigrants or locals who have lost their job to COVID-19 – the volunteers tend not to ask questions and only offer advice.

The Glaswegian accent, to the untrained ear, can make a pleasant re-acquaintance between friends sound like a heated verbal assault, at times leaving the volunteers on edge. This is not without good reason however, as just last week a knife was pulled, and a service user was arrested as a prior argument came to a head at the service.

A young Asian barber named Dionne sets up a camping chair – and a line quickly forms as men and women talk excitedly about getting their hair cut for the first time in months.

A volunteer named Rose, a young girl with a soft voice and a loud laugh, took a knee to ladle soup from a pot into polystyrene cups for the service users.

A student from Manchester called Tahmid smiles as he hands out face masks, a lot of the service users can’t speak English, so a smile and a gesture can go a long way.

At around 11pm the crowd disperses – some to council housing, some to temporary accommodation, and some to sleep rough on the streets.

The volunteers organise amongst themselves the leftover items for donation to local food banks & charities before heading home.

As the once busy underpass now lays bare, the heart of Glasgow beats overhead.

Featured Image: Adrian McMurchie

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