WHEN, in 1872, it became compulsory for children aged between five and 13 to attend school, successful Glasgow businessman William Mitchell realised the city had a huge problem.

“He employed a band of like-minded ladies and gentlemen to visit families around the city, to record children’s home conditions and circumstances,” explains Kieron O’Brien.

“He very quickly realised some children were simply not accessing education at all.”

Glasgow Times: Children at East Park in 1910Children at East Park in 1910 (Image: East Park School)

Whether because of illness, or disability, or family circumstances, a whole band of children were “hidden” – so William gave up his business, bought a cottage in Maryhill for £1450, and founded East Park School.

Suddenly, the city’s lost children had someone looking out for them.

In the heart of Maryhill, East Park is still going strong. Today, the school has a highly skilled workforce of more than 255 staff – making it the second largest employer in the Maryhill area – and it is one of Scotland’s oldest and largest specialist educational institutions with residential supported accommodation. 

Next year it will celebrate its 150th anniversary and to mark it, the school is publishing its first ever book about its history.

Glasgow Times: Kieron O'BrienKieron O'Brien (Image: Newsquest)

East Park first opened its doors on September 16, 1874. Part of the original cottage, which could accommodate up to 50 children, still stands today - although it is unrecognisable with all the developments that have taken place over the years.

Kieron O’Brien is executive director at East Park, and he says the buzz is building around the approaching milestone birthday.

“It’s crazy exciting, not just because of the book, but because of everything happening around the 150th anniversary – it’s such a fantastic opportunity for us to celebrate East Park School,” says Kieron.

The book evolved, he explains, from conversations he had with the school board when he first joined East Park six years ago.

Glasgow Times: East Park children in 1942East Park children in 1942 (Image: East Park School)

“I was surprised that in 150 years, there had been no book published about the history of the school,” he explains. “It grew from there, and we were lucky to have three key people involved – authors Moyra Hawthorn and Iain Hutchinson, and editor Ian Brooke.”

The school has evolved since it opened its doors in 1874, says Kieron.

“Originally, East Park was a hospital school, a refuge for the treatment and rehabilitation of children who were experiencing serious illness or disabilities,” he adds.

“At that time, it was mostly related to poverty and the harshness of life in industrial Glasgow in the 19th century and children were being admitted with paralysis, rickets….”

He explains: “Now, the children who come to East Park have complex additional needs, and our service is one of only a few of its kind with children attending from all over Scotland.

“The key theme is evolution. The story reflects the changing social and policy landscape – for example the approach taken to young people who need additional physical or educational support needs is totally different now compared to 150 years ago.”


East Park kicks off a year of celebrations for its 150th birthday in October., with the book scheduled to be published in the spring. It will cover the past 150 years in chronological order from the school opening via the creation of the NHS and World War Two, to the present day.

Glasgow has an important role to play in the East Park story, explains Kieron. The school has a longstanding relationship with Partick Thistle Football Club, for example, which dates back to 1912 and The Trades House of Glasgow has supported East Park since 1892.

“Our founder chose this site because it was the countryside, full of fresh air and beautiful fields and streams – back then, William Mitchell had no idea Glasgow would eventually catch up with Maryhill,” he adds, smiling.

“While East Park has developed into a ‘national treasure’, we remain very proud of our collaborations with the local community and local businesses.”

Kieron, who is originally from South Africa, has more than 30 years’ experience in education and care-related services.

“When I first arrived at East Park, I felt right away that there is something very special about this place,” he says.

“Everything we do is centred, totally, on the child, every decision is made based on what impact it will have on the child and his or her family.

“I think the book will bring East Park to a whole new audience.”

He pauses.

“And to be able to show the incredible work happening right in the heart of Glasgow, to help people understand the history of the school and see the innovation that has taken place here, is fantastic,” he says.