Coatbridge is situated approximately ten miles from Glasgow and forty miles from Edinburgh, in the heart of Scotland's old industrial base. I spent my teenage years in Coatbridge and always remember the experience as being dull and boring. However, I was a teenager, always bored and with nothing to do....I do remember that I spent a lot of time at the swimming pool, but that could have been due to the crush on a lifeguard or two. I also remember visiting the cinema a lot, but can't quite remember watching the films.....but as I say, I was a teenager....Anything other than those two activities required travelling to neighbouring towns. This meant a parent (god forbid) taking and collecting us or a very long and tedious bus journey. I also remember the feeling of depression which seemed to overshadow the town. This was in the days when the industrial base of Scotland was very much in decline (as opposed to the total demolition of today) and whole families were losing their jobs on the same day (many having been employed by the same company). The dark and dingy looking tenement buildings which lined the town only added to the overall feeling of hopelessness and with little money to go around, the town quickly filled with cheap and somewhat nasty shops. As a teenager, I would not have been seen dead shopping in the town, preferring the hour long trip to Glasgow to find something fashionable to wear. The saddest fact about Coatbridge was that there were some of the most attractive examples of sandstone buildings in Scotland spread over a fairly large area, but, as most people did not lift their eyes above street level, they never saw the beauty of the architecture nor the intricacies of the stone carvings. Coatbridge was once a thriving merchant town and was home to many a wealthy trader. During the industrial boom time, the influx of families had meant the building of High Rise Flats or Tower Blocks. By the time I had
reached teenagehood, these were eyesores which strangely enough had been placed in some of the most prominent parts of the town, raised above the stately buildings of yester-year. Peeling paint, broken windows, damaged lifts and general poor maintenance had led to their decline, and no-one wanted to be housed in these prisons. I recently returned to Coatbridge to stay with some friends and was amazed at the change in the town. I could hardly believe that I was in the boring place where I had grown up. The town itself had transformed and was now a hive of activity, busy and better quality shops, a bright new arcade, flower baskets and the most striking feature for me was the impressive fountains which had replaced the derelict tenement buildings. The old ironworks, which had long been deserted and left as a momento of the boom times, but did nothing to allay the depression of the inhabitants, had in fact been turned into a state of the art retail park. I had intially been concerned about taking my two children with me as I was sure that they would find nothing to do, but they were thrilled with the facilities on offer...... First stop was Koko's, an indoor adventure playground housed in an old church. They could runaround and play until they fell exhausted at the table where they could eat a perfectly adequate lunch. The following day we visited the Summerlee Heritage Museum and were we impressed. The fact that this museum is offered free of charge is such a surprise as I am sure anyone would be willing to pay to visit. The exhibits on offer outdoors include steam railway engines, old farm machinery, tractors, diggers, trucks and buses. The excitement of taking a tram ride (nominal charge) from the entrance to the coal-mine was a real thrill. I could not quite remember trams but knew that they had run in the town in earlier years. The visit to the coal-mine was very exciting for the children as they donned their miners ha
ts and lamps. We were given an excellent tour of the mine which was followed by a tour of the miners' cottages through the decades. These were suberbly laid out with all the original features being incorporated. A short walk led us to the best use of an old warehouse that I have seen. It had been turned into an industrial museum...and what a museum at that. Noisy it certainly was but made us appreciate the level of noise in an industrial setting. Fascinating fact sheets fronted each exhibit and we gained a lot of information on the history of the town. The inclusion of a play park and good cafeteria meant that a whole day could be spent here and enjoyed by all. The time capsule was the favourite place. An indoor water and ice paradise. We decided to go for the complete package...water, ice and play area.....this was available on a family ticket which meant a substantial saving on individual ticket prices. We went ice-skating for the first two hours. Skates were of good quality and safety helmets and gloves were available for children. The ice was immaculate and cleaned at the end of each session and the cafe provided lunch time snacks of reasonable quality. The children then moved into the soft-play area (under 12's) where they bounced and fell, jumped and slid until they could hardly move. The only way to cool down after their exertions was to hit the pool or should I say pools. The interior of the building is arranged in such a way that you are taken from the age of the dinosaur all the way through to space travel. The decor is immaginitive and different. There are flumes and slides, a wave pool, jacuzzi, baby play area, lazy and fast flowing rivers and lots of areas to explore while you swim and play. We spent several hours going from flume to pool to slide to jacuzzi etc. The changing facilities were a bit different as they were communal but this also meant that there were family changing cubicles which even included
baby changing tables. Toilets were spotless and showers were hot but perhaps a few more would have been useful. We ate tea in the cafe, which was equivalent to any McDonalds, but the children enjoyed that. There was also a bar where we could buy a drink at the end of our exhausting day. Other facilities on offer included a well-equipped gym, training pool and health suite.......we just did not have the time to use everything. The shopping facilities had improved so dramatically and I happily toured the area which I had so much detested as a child. Even the previously horrendous looking tower blocks had taken on a new life and now stood proudly looking down over the town from their vantage point. They had been transformed into very chic residencies with security cameras, parking passes and attendants. No more litter, broken prams and old beds at the foot of these buildings. Many of the old buildings of the town had been cleaned and the original colour and stature could be seen. Somehow my old school still looked like a prison but I am sure that was more from memory than anything else. The Lochs, a fine example of inland waterway had been taken from what I remember as being a group of giant-sized puddles and transformed into a beautiful feature, including a large adventure playground, long walks, road-train rides, a visitor centre and cafeteria. This was a great surprise and another day was spent with the children having a wonderful time. I was amazed at the number of quality restaurants and pubs which has sprung up over the years, we had very few when I lived there. You can eat any type of food from traditional through to Indian. Night clubs provided after pub entertainment. I was really delighted to see that the town where I had grown up i had come so successfully out of the doldrums and had created a feeling of hope for the future. I was so impressed by the fact that the old and the new had been married up, th
ereby giving the young people of the town modern facilities together with a good grounding in the heritage. I haven't seen many town in the Uk which have climbed so high, and much of that is due to the inhabitants who always refused to lie down and die. My children cried as they left the town.......just in the way I did, in the past, when I came home to Coatbridge. Their first words were "when can we go back there" as opposed to mine as a child which were "how soon can we get away from here". This visit made me very proud of my old town and somehow the bad memories of the past were replaced with a vision for the future.