Even the dead are neglected in West Dunbartonshire

Bottom and top are pictures of the New Dumbarton Cemetery when it opened and the three middle pictures are of how it has been allowed to become neglected and overgrown under the SNP budget cuts for the last financial year.

By Bill Heaney

There’s a book I read years ago called “Someone shouted stop!”. It’s about a small town, not half the size of Dumbarton, which has been left behind in the changing world of the 1950s and continues to be neglected many years later.

It involves the usual things that happen in these circumstances, dirty streets, weeds growing out of the gutter, empty shops, rusting lamp posts, bus stops and filthy street furniture. I could go on.

Some of the population started going the same way as the town. The main street, which had once been a busy thoroughfare, became littered with the flotsam and jetsam of town’s humanity.

Unemployed, elderly and disabled people were shunted out to institutions in larger towns. Care homes were in remote, out of the way places. The largest of them are referred to as the Poorhouse.  Railway stations closed and buses were like hens’ teeth, very rare indeed. Post boxes and phone booths disappeared.

The beautiful river that ran through the town was polluted and neglected. Rotten, sunken, deserted  boats had ruined it and the embankments had collapsed, making it impossible for anglers to fish from there.

The walls of GPs’ surgery waiting rooms were lined with alcoholics and drug addicts, jakeys and junkeys as they have become known.

People were becoming cross eyed from watching too much television.

There were children who had never read a book in their young lives and teenagers leaving school who could neither read nor write. Some went hungry during the school holidays.  They were illiterate. X marks the spot.

The local council wasn’t much help. The members took their generous allowances and turned up for poorly attended meetings to insult one another and operate on a name-calling, party political basis.

They had little respect even for each other and insults such as liar were bandied around like candy floss at a fairground.

Some of the old Spanish customs prevailed though.

Despite the fact that there was a high percentage of people on Universal Credit and using food banks, the councillors were undeterred when it came to throwing lavish receptions in town halls for the usual suspects, most recently a town hall full of them being wined and dined.

Then someone shouted “Stop!”

The councillors woke up. Or at least a few of them did. The public began to take a close interest in their affairs, monitoring closely what was being achieved in their name with their money.

They kicked up a fuss when they found themselves locked out of public meetings at their ancient town hall which had cost £15 million to refurbish. And which wasn’t fit for the purpose for which it was renovated, housing social work staff and hosting council meetings.

But even had the public been in the chamber, they would not have been able to hear what was going on or see to identify who was speaking.

Patience began to run out and inevitably the atmosphere became tense.

Accusations were made that the Press was anti this party, anti that party and especially anti his party. We were biased, he blustered.

The Scottish National Party leader of the Council even made serious allegations of assault against one journalist. These were completely fabricated and circulated as a smear.

He threatened the journalist and then went on an extended summer break during which he ran a tombola stall to raise funds for his party.

The town was in crisis. It was like Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

The Council had done one U-turn after another in regard to its policy making. Officials were not playing by the rules laid down for them, and they were rumbled ignoring their own Code of Conduct and procurement (of contracts) which stated explicitly not to fraternise with companies which would be tendering for council contracts.

The Chief Executive seemed to take every criticism as personal. Almost every report on these matters was heavily redacted. Page after page and hundreds of words which the public would have found “interesting” were redacted (blanked out).

Some people were threatened with being sued in the courts, but gradually they began to pluck up courage and make their voices heard.

More and more council decisions began to reflect what the public actually wanted their elected representatives to do.

Tombola stall.jpg 2
Jonathan McColl and the tombola stall team. The monkey on his back is his decision not to cut the grass.

But then a shocker which really stirred up public interest and certain protest emerged on social media. Newspapers are played out when it comes to readers’ letters which used to be the best read (and the best written) parts of the paper.

Community councillor Linda Speir wrote one this week, which said: “We have a town that has beauty and unique tourist attractions. I often walk through New Dumbarton Cemetery with Baxter [my dog] as the views over the town and of Dumbarton Rock are magnificent.

“When Dumbarton New Cemetery was designed in 2015, the award-winning company and the designer, Fiona Robertson, said in the design portfolio that the Cemetery and surrounding area included soft landscaping.

“The first two photos [they accompany this article] show how it started off but sadly the last three photos show the reality of how parts of it look now.

“It’s a real shame that so many areas of our town are being neglected in a way we haven’t witnessed in years past.”

One of Linda’s Facebook friends, Ann Pryce, commented: “Really sad to see. Upsetting for people visiting their loved one’s graves.”

She replied: “It is, Ann. I’ve been chatting to a number of people when I’ve been out walking and they don’t like what they see.

“The neglected area with the benches is meant to be an area of peace and reflection. No-one ever uses the benches and it’s obvious why.”

Ann Pryce said: “They look as if the wood needs treated to protect it from the elements. I wouldn’t feel comfortable sitting in those surroundings.”

Joan Colman said: “Sad to see this is what has happened, supposed to be a place of rest more like a mess!”

And Lorna Duddy added: “It’s the biggest thing we’ve noticed since being back in the UK – everywhere is overgrown, roadsides, parks, country walks – long grass, nettles and brambles everywhere. Such a shame nothing is being maintained anymore.”

Jim Tennant joined the conversation: “It is a shame Linda: is there nothing like a community council, who could stir up some voluntary help to tackle the area one bit at a time? Galashiels Community Council have various groups, who go round so many times a year to tidy up the waterways and such like.”

Linda Speir told him: “I had a chuckle at your comment, Jim as I’m Chair of our local Community Council. I’ve raised the issue of the state of the area on behalf of a number of residents on various occasions but I’m told it’s all down to ‘biodiversity’.

“In addition, a number of us have already been volunteering to keep gardens and grounds in the town looking good. I feel that it really should be the responsibility of the local council to care for parks and cemeteries, but also the issues go deeper as volunteers taking on jobs previously done by Council staff.

“But they have had hours and manpower reduced as a consequence of this. It doesn’t sit easy with me.”

Now that we can see a light at the end of the tunnel, what happens next?

In light of the evidence produced here in these photographs of the cemetery, Cllr McColl is being economical with the truth when he says the ‘bio diversity’ policy has been a success.

In this instance, the SNP are being disrespectful of the dead and their relatives who pay through their taxes for the provision of New Dumbarton Cemetery and all other cemeteries and public spaces throughout the area.

They should resign the administration altogether and the Standards Commission should be brought in.

Let’s hope the SNP had some success with their fund-raising tombola stall, for they have had none at all with their Council.

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