Local Conversation in Govanhill

06 November 2019

Through the Local Conversation, Roma residents are tackling things that have a big impact on people’s lives and health in Govanhill, such as reducing language barriers that limit employment and education opportunities, and coming together to celebrate their culture and heritage.

“Govanhill, in Glasgow, is historically known as being a home to migrants. About 12 years ago the Roma community from Eastern Europe settled and now there are around 3,500 Roma people all living within a few blocks. 

My experience in Slovakia is that decisions are made for the Roma community. When I heard about the Local Conversation I really wanted to get involved because it was resident-led and people could make all the decisions. 

I started as a translator because one of the biggest challenges faced by the community is the language barrier. We were provided with training and I later became a sessional worker doing a few hours a week. 

It was the first time I ever had a paid job that wasn’t manual. I developed my knowledge and skills which gave me confidence and opportunities. I have now applied for college and want to go to university after that. 

My own experience has really shown me how being involved in the project can help change people’s lives. 

As the project began, we knocked on doors and asked neighbours questions to find out about their aspirations and ideas for the area in a really informal but engaging way. 

One of the things that came out of these conversations was the importance of social and cultural activities to celebrate our heritage and strengthen connections. We now have a men’s group, a volunteer group, a youth group, a sewing club and even a dance group – there is so much going on. 

“I really enjoy being part of the men’s group. I have met other people from Govanhill and we are now friends, even like one big family supporting each other. There is nowhere else to go for us in this area if you don’t have extra money, but here it is all free.”

Junior Balog, project member

Govanhill festival

Local Conversation residents at the Govanill festival

Other key areas were reducing communication barriers which impact upon peoples’ ability to access employment and training, housing and the physical environment. These are now our Local Conversation’s main priorities. 

It is quite traditional for Roma women to stay home with the family which can be isolating but we are starting to see more women join in activities and build friendships. 

We have one woman, who is disabled and was unable to read or write because she never went to school. She started taking part in activities and is now writing recipes in the cookery classes, which she is so proud of. 

When a group of residents said they wanted picnic benches in the park, we helped them write a letter to the council. We had a response and a meeting with the council which really made those involved feel like they could achieve something. 

Residents were also having difficulties with rubbish in their street and didn’t know how to contact the council so we got all the tenants, both Slovakian and English-speaking together so that they got to know each other. Now, they help each other when issues arise. 

Lots of Roma people have been exploited by bad landlords because they can’t afford to access better quality accommodation. People felt powerless. We are now working with residents to see what can be done to enable people to stand up for their rights. 

It has taken time but the Roma community is starting to recognise the power they have to take action.”

Marek Balog, resident and project lead

The Local Conversation in Govanhill is supported by Community Renewal Trust and funded by the Trust using money raised by Health Lottery Scotland. Local Conversations enables people to have voice, control and influence over the things that matter to them locally. Over a number of years, residents are supported by a local anchor organisation to realise their long-term vision for the area. By ensuring that control is in the hands of residents, the programme works to address the underlying structural causes of health inequalities.


This case study was produced as part of People's Health Trust's 2019 Annual Review. To read it in full, click here.

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