MARGARET Cochrane did not consider herself an activist when she first joined the small but determined group fighting to save Glasgow’s social history museum, the People’s Palace.

“I didn’t think I was, although I was a union rep, so I did have some experience,” explains the retired NHS admin worker, who was women’s officer for Unison, with a laugh.

“I just wanted to find out what was happening with this place. It was too important just to close and have no-one do anything about it.

“We just kept going and going and going, and what we worked for is finally happening. It’s a fantastic day, a very emotional day.”

Margaret and her fellow volunteer campaigners are celebrating today following news that the National Lottery Heritage Fund is donating £850,000 to help transform the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens.

The museum and adjoining glasshouses on historic Glasgow Green in the East End were closed in January 2019 after structural engineers ruled they were no longer safe.

The People’s Palace re-opened, but the Winter Gardens remained closed and relations between the campaigners and Glasgow Life have been strained.

Glasgow Times: Inside the derelict Winter GardensInside the derelict Winter Gardens (Image: Gordon Terris/Newsquest)

In icy sunshine on Wednesday (January 17), however, peace broke out.

“It’s time to put the past behind us and concentrate on the future,” says Margaret, firmly. “The last year has been more positive, and Glasgow Life and Glasgow City Council have been really good in terms of working on a way forward.

“This funding is a great step and we are really optimistic about the future of the People’s Palace. It’s not just about the history, and what people my age want, this has to be a place for future generations, for everyone.”

Glasgow Life, the charity which delivers culture and sport in the city, says the cash boost will fund a 16-month development and community engagement phase, and “pave the way” to securing a further £6.65m, one of the largest Heritage Fund awards made to a single project in Scotland.

The investment will focus on making the building more accessible for all and improving its environmental sustainability.

The cost of the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens project is £35.9 million. Glasgow City Council has already committed £2.9 million to the project. A further £11m contribution will come from the council, while Glasgow Life is working with other public and private sector funders to secure the remaining investment required.

Bailie Annette Christie, chairperson of Glasgow Life, said: “For 126 years the People's Palace and Winter Gardens has been one of Glasgow’s most treasured spaces, but it is now in need of significant investment.

Glasgow Times: The People's PalaceThe People's Palace (Image: Gordon Terris/Newsquest)

“This announcement of Heritage Fund support is wonderful and crucial to breathing new life into the museum. While there is still work to be done to secure additional external funding, we can now move forward with this exciting project to restore, re-imagine and improve a much-loved cultural and historical asset.”

Eilish McGuinness, chief executive of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, said the award reflected the organisation’s “new strategy to invest larger amounts in truly exceptional heritage projects across the UK” while Councillor Ruairi Kelly, Glasgow City Council’s city convener for neighbourhood services and assets, said the award would be a “massive step closer to the goal of revitalising the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens.”

He added: “We remain fully committed to exploring every avenue to raise the remainder of the funding required to bring this major part of Glasgow’s working-class history back to life.”

The People’s Palace is home to collections documenting the city’s social history from 1750 to the present day.

The ‘new’ attraction will be, according to Glasgow Life “a dynamic community-led museum and flexible space” which will follow its “successful community-centred approach, as used at The Burrell Collection, and local people will shape all aspects of the refurbishment, including collecting, interpretation and programming. The revitalised People’s Palace and Winter Gardens will be a place by people, for people, with people.”

Glasgow Times: Stuart Howson, Margaret Cochrane, Bailie Annette Christie and Duncan Dornan, head of museumsStuart Howson, Margaret Cochrane, Bailie Annette Christie and Duncan Dornan, head of museums (Image: Gordon Terris/Newsquest)

It is “too early for details”, explains Glasgow Life’s head of museums Duncan Dornan, although early consultation suggests better signage, new accessible toilets, and spaces that support wellbeing such as a dedicated quiet space, are all on the table.

The operational services and fabric of the building will also be refurbished, improving the museum and glasshouse’s energy efficiency; with modern heating and cooling systems that will enhance its environmental performance.

“There is a long way to go, but this funding is a huge vote of confidence in Glasgow,” he adds. “The first phase is about finding out what people want this museum to do for them. The Friends of People’s Palace have been really supportive and we are looking forward to working with them on this next phase.”

He added: “Given its setting within one of the city’s most popular green spaces, we are also keen to find ways to better connect the museum and visitors with nature and the surrounding park.

“It’s a very special place.”

Margaret Cochrane agrees.

“It feels like everyone now really does understand how important it is to Glaswegians, not just here in the East End, but all over,” she says.

“This place holds so many memories for people – now, new generations can start to build their own memories, and that is a fantastic thing for all of us.”