The 14-storey Garnock Court high rise in Irvine holds a place in Scottish legal history. After a fire there 20 years ago that led to the death of an elderly resident, Scotland introduced stricter laws to ensure external cladding “inhibited” fire from spreading.
The Grenfell Tower tragedy in London 18 years later was a reminder of what could have happened.
The Garnock Court flats, built in 1968, are now to be demolished, along with four other blocks, as part of a plan to regenerate social housing across the area. This includes the construction of 1,575 homes before 2025.
BBC Scotland’s The Nine examined the personal histories of those living in the final days of the Garnock Court tower.
‘I want to stay here until the day I die’
Margaret Thompson is desperate to stay in her home of more than 30 years. The 91-year-old has already turned down the offer of a new house nearby.
“I’m not happy moving, I want to stay here until the day I die,” she said. “I love it here. I have the birds to feed. They are God’s creatures as much as I am.”
When she moved to Garnock Court in the mid-80s, it was something of a homecoming.
Margaret – a former auxiliary nurse – spent much of her adult life down the coast in Troon. But she was born and raised in Irvine, not far from where the towers were later built.
“Years ago, everybody was on the same boat,” she said. “There was nobody any better than anyone else. It’s changed days now. Some of the houses and some of the neighbours you get, leave a lot to be desired.
“I am quite happy where I am.”
Margaret has always lived alone in her fourth-floor flat. Her 21-year marriage ended before she moved there.
“He wanted a family,” she said. “Every man wants a family but it just wasn’t to be. God has his reasons for everything.”
‘This place is like a prison’
John and Liz McCulloch are at odds over the future of Garnock Court.
Liz, 53, has COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and recently suffered a mini-stroke. She is apprehensive about leaving her seventh-floor flat, a home she has known for 17 years.
“I’ve just got my wee flat the way I want it,” she said. “I just don’t want to move at all.”
She added: “I like the security. If anyone comes to the door that you don’t want in, you just buzz down to the concierge.”
But 56-year-old John – a former labourer and now her carer – said: “This place is like a prison. You have cameras everywhere. All those big high fences. I want a front and back door for a start. I could always buy security stuff to make sure Liz is alright.”
The couple – who have grown-up children from previous relationships – are preparing to spend their 10th wedding anniversary in a new home.
But they said they had yet to be offered a house by North Ayrshire Council.
“This was my flat for seven years before I met John,” Liz said. “I think John is thinking about moving to get that fresh start together.”
‘You feel safer up here’
Last year, North Ayrshire Council asked tenants in the 275 flats across Irvine’s five towers whether they wanted to leave their homes for new housing.
Two-thirds voted to bring the towers down but Tommy Stephens voted to stay.
The 58-year-old has lived in Garnock Court for seven years but his connection to the tower goes back further than that.
He remembers the construction of the high rises that would dominate the local landscape for half a century.
“I watched the lights getting switched on,” he said. “I was a young boy, very small.”
“I think it’s fantastic, I love it here. You feel safer up here. The neighbours keep themselves to themselves. You never hear from anybody unless someone chaps the door for something.
“Maybe some things are needing fixed. Just fix them. I think it’s a waste of houses, to knock all these down.”
Tommy is a former chef and spent 20 years as a painter and decorator. He also worked for a time in Northern Ireland and is involved with the Orange Order.
Tommy said knee replacements ended his working life, as did a lifelong battle with alcohol addiction. He acknowledges that other residents in the towers also struggle with substance misuse.
“It’ll never go away. But I don’t think you should up and pack your bags and go as well,” he said. “You’re entitled to have a decent life.”
‘We picked up our keys today’
When Stephanie Lindsay moved into her ground-floor flat at Garnock Court, her son Jayden was just four weeks old.
Now the 28-year-old nursery worker and her nine-year-old son are surrounded by boxes of belongings.
Stephanie leaves the block at the weekend. She and Jayden are moving into a house with a garden in the new council development at Tarryholme.
“We picked up our keys today,” she said.
However, Stephanie was also one of about 90 residents across the blocks who had voted to stay.
She now has mixed feelings.
“I think once I see it all empty, I will be sad,” she said. “I don’t know if I am feeling more attached to it because it is our first flat.”
One of the items yet to be packed is the cupboard door in the hall.
On the inside, Stephanie has marked Jayden’s height on each of his birthdays since moving to the flat.
Looking ahead, Jayden has already made plans for their new garden – a trampoline and a football net.
Stephanie said: “We have been here nine and a half years and it’s flown in. But I am really excited to go round and start something new.”