Kirkton campus
Rachel McBrinn, ‘Are you going my way?’, film still, 2023

One of the first images Rachel shows me is an aerial photograph of Livingston. There’s a big roundabout and a short road kicking off it that leads to an empty brownfield site. Thick black lines through green. This is a view of planning, from above, looking down, as a drawing: the one I am accustomed to understanding as patterns and intentions. On the ground, as Rachel embarks on her research project around her home-town and I support the production of the project, it’s harder to get a sense of overview. The lines are less clear, blurred by overgrown trees and unruly shrubbery, by barriers and quickly changing demolition and building sites. In hedgerows, on footpaths, in scrub between houses, the view is complicated.

Seen in tandem, this publication, Winding Up Body, and Rachel’s corresponding moving-image work Are You Going My Way?, both explore entanglements in addressing the thorny space between planning and actualisation—the snagging of lives against plans made for them.

Former Livingston Development Corporation landscape architect Dean Swift guides us through original planting around the New Town. We spend time in the Deans South area, one of the first housing developments built here, and where much of the filming for Are You Going My Way? takes place. On site, Dean uses the phrase ‘space left over after planning’ to describe ground allocated by town planners for greenery on the housing estate. Not really planned at all in the strict sense, just left-over land. In some ways, the phrase is a remnant itself, a leftover, once a would-be title for Rachel’s film. I have taken it up here instead, as a place to hold, recall and give space to some of the conversations, research and thinking that has emerged.

Winding Up Body references two groups. Bureaucratically, the ‘winding up’ committee worked to make the transition of management from the Livingston Development Corporation—the ‘body’ set up to take care of Livingston’s planning and design, maintain roads and areas of green space—to the newly created West Lothian Council. This process began when the New Town (Livingston) Winding Up Order was issued in 1993, the handover completing in 1997. [1] The Winding Up Body here, under Rachel’s construction, also refers to a group of current and former residents invited to read and annotate documents from the early days of the post-war New Town project. Namely, the transcript from a planning debate, the second reading for the New Towns Bill that happened in the House of Commons on 8th May 1946. [2]

Early in the debate a Mr. Silkin, Minister of Town and Country Planning, aligned the New Town project to that of ‘garden cities’; new self-contained, green and spacious towns surrounded by an agricultural or rural protective belt. Direct precedents were seen in previous social experiments like satellite towns, worker’s villages and in fiction. [3] Mr. Silkin particularly drew on Thomas More’s Utopia, declaring:

‘It is a long cry from More’s “Utopia”, to the New Towns Bill, but it is not unreasonable to expect that that “Utopia” of 1515 should be translated into practical reality in 1946.’ [4]

The invocation of this text at the start of the debate indicates the continuing power and influence of the political ideas held in creative works and serves to remind me of the rather obvious fact that utopias are inherently authored, contradictory, and constructed contextually. More’s text was written at the beginning of ‘the enclosures’ [5], a period of huge change to the legal property rights for land and open fields that were previously held in common, strengthened by government Enclosure Acts. [6] I flick through a copy of Utopia, turning my attention to essays included at the back by dissident science-fiction writer Ursula K Le Guin. [7] Of More she writes:

‘Every utopia since Utopia has also been, clearly or obscurely, actually or possibly, in the author’s or in the reader’s judgement, both a good place and a bad one.’ [8]

Unpacking her own earlier impulse of writing on utopia and its ongoing promise of social reformation, she motions to the potential agency of taking its creation into one’s own hands:

‘I see now that, while decrying the blueprint utopia, the builder’s kit for a rationally conceived Good Society, I was groping after the new direction I myself might follow—the way to my own, personal vision of a place where people might have a better chance to live both rightly and well.’ [9]

The text from that historic Commons debate is what remains after much scrutiny. [10] It is partly obscured, heavily redacted and annotated, as the new Winding Up Body group—Chizu Anucha, Shirley Cameron, Diane Crompton, Jo Richardson, Dean Swift and Janet Wood—underline, highlight and ask questions around the text in a gesture unsettling to the power relationships inherent to the debate. Centring lived experiences of the town, Rachel asks this Winding Up Body to speak back to the planners. Their comments question the construct of the debate. Who makes the plans and what do they reveal of themselves? What assumptions are made about the people and places they are planning for? How have the plans turned out: what is visible from the present, looking back? The New Towns Act was passed in 1946. On 17th April 1962, Livingston was announced Scotland’s fourth New Town: [11] much of Rachel’s project took shape during 2022, the year that marked its 60th birthday as such.

The title for her moving-image work, Are you going my way?, picks up on further words by Mr. Silkin:

‘I am most anxious that the planning should be such that the different income groups living in the new towns will not be segregated. No doubt they may enjoy common recreational facilities and take part in amateur theatricals, or each play their part in a health centre or community centre. But, when they leave to go home I do not want the better off people to go to the right and the less well-off to go to the left. I want them to ask each other, “Are you going my way?”.’ [12]

Another image Rachel shares with me early on in the process is a still from an advert broadcast in the early 1990s enticing people to move to the New Town: it carried the slogan Life is for Livingston. [13] The advert’s optimistic tone harks back to Mr. Silkin’s call for a community without class boundaries, a vision of everyone getting along in harmony. A woman dolled-up in a car beckons as though inviting us to hop in and come along. As if asking: ‘Are you going my way?.’ To a new life, a new job, out of older housing in Glasgow, or elsewhere. This advert opens the film. Girls twirl batons, men fish, women arrange flowers, boys ride dirt bikes, all with a verdant backdrop and in formation, with certainty, to the tune of a marching band. Rachel tells me that many senior members of Livingston Development Corporation were ex-military: for her the song alludes to the post-war nature of the New Town project.

Dispersed through these pages are more stills, some taken from footage included in Are you going my way?, some from archives. On the shoot, Alexander Hetherington operates the 16mm camera, casting its warm tone on the images. At other times Rachel captures digital footage with family members and residents, indicating both temporal and ideological perspectival shifts.

Rachel McBrinn, research footage for ‘Are you going my way?’, 2023

Other images in this publication are drawn from Rachel’s digital research footage. In 1990 her aunt Janet Wood, a young woman at the time, was filmed for the Channel 4 documentary Silicon Fever. [14] Janet worked in an area that was dubbed ‘Silicon Glen’ following rapid expansion of the technology industry across green space post the New Town’s initial construction. [15] After some success the industry declined and the leafy, Californian image of the ‘glen’ faded into sites like the brownfield Rachel showed me on the aerial image and like the one we would visit with Dean on the shoot. Rachel films while she and Janet watch the documentary footage together. At one point, Janet comments on sitting in exactly the same spot now as when she was interviewed about leaving her workplace due to health concerns over a lack of safe working conditions. She applies eye drops, mirroring herself in the 1990 documentary. So much else has changed. Janet recalls multiple takes for a shot outside in the park: it was slippy and she kept falling. Here and now, laughter, asides, a very different relationship to the activity of being filmed.

Rachel makes recordings while watching Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher with her mum—the unsentimental social drama is set in 1970s Glasgow, ending with the young protagonist moving to newly built housing in the outskirts. [16] Their murmurs become a sort of alternative running commentary, as a conversation that links their time in Livingston to wider family history is sparked—past hopes couched in ideas of place. Rachel and I discuss this dual process of watching and filming, acts of thinking with family about how their lives, and lives like their own, have been represented on screen or in the media while setting up alternate, intimate relationships to agency and the camera.

We follow another of Rachel’s aunts, Diane Crompton, and her friend Angela Boyle, in Are you going my way?, as they trace evidence of their past lives, peering into a derelict building which was once Diane’s home in Deans South. Other relations are absent but made present in on-screen text and in the pages of this publication. A long shot from outside lingers on her cousin’s band posters still hanging in a bedroom of the half-demolished block. A scan is superimposed on a page of granular pebbledash. A jokey scrawl: ‘Nothing is safe from my camera’. Taken from the back of a photograph by Rachel’s gran and repurposed here, it hints toward a self-awareness and understood power and vulnerability in exposing ideas and people close to you.

In Deans South painted words have been splashed in white over a garden fence, the only one with tall trees. A fair deal for Deans South homeowners. A house for a house. This is Kerry Macintosh’s garden. We watch with her as birds flit on hanging feeders and she considers taking cuttings from her trees. Kerry is one of the very few homeowners left living here at the time of filming, awaiting the demolition of her 1960s built house, her home condemned due to inadequate roofing made from aerated concrete and then subjected to a compulsory purchase order by the council. Essential services only. While we are there a postal worker comes up the path. There are not many houses to deliver to. Using her untiring voice for media interviews and a long (and ultimately successful) community driven campaign, Kerry is due to move to new housing planned to go up in almost the same location as she lives now. [17]

Returning to film when the demolition is due to take place happens later than planned due to the discovery of asbestos. But the quiet estate is now in full motion, the destruction watched by many cameras as residents and the media document the moment. A digger pulls up the same trees we watched, a-buzz with birds, just a few months ago.

Rachel McBrinn, ‘Are you going my way?’, film still, 2023

I think about how the demolition and degradation of housing and urban landscapes have otherwise been depicted on moving-image and artistic works—films like John Smith’s Blight [18] or ‘gritty’ social dramas by Mike Leigh or Ken Loach spring to mind, or even recent BBC documentaries on the remaining, partial legacies of New Town artists like David Harding in Glenrothes, Stan Bonnar in East Kilbride, Brian Miller in Cumbernauld, Denis Barnes in Livingston. [19] (A very male list it has to be noted). Otherwise my mind turns to a work more solid but still temporal in form – Rachel Whiteread’s House. [20] The internal space, the absence of the building, was held for a limited time in cast concrete after the house itself was demolished—a work that was only made possible after the removal of residents from social housing and the wider processes of gentrification.

Together, we discuss a shared feeling that much aesthetic focus has tended to idealise brutalist architectural style and the vision of its housing schemes, however flawed. Here, Dean Swift’s conversational knowledge-sharing along with the intimacy of Rachel’s attention, draws our focus to organic edges and weedy margins. Birch trees with blackened trunks, he explains, are due to an air-borne pollutant. Long grass overwhelms unused pavements. Cherry trees grow with shallow roots due to a lack of ground preparation. He is keen to show us his favourite pedestrian overpass planting scheme, lush with rhododendrons and draping ivy. Looking down at the motorway, and standing on the verge of the road, Dean tells Rachel and I that the plans he left with the council for the thinning of greenways have not been followed. There is a feeling of disappointment in his voice: his sense of agency in this situation stalls. We visit one of the cleared industrial brown sites, clusters of formal planting reaching maturity only after the buildings they complemented are gone. While we scuff around the open ground with camera, tripod, audio recorder and all the various paraphernalia, Dean quietly drifts and identifies alder seedlings clinging on to rubble.

It doesn’t take much to observe the parallels between plants and people, the way they are discussed and cared for. Council shrubs. A lack of maintenance, and despite that, like the inhabitants, resilience. The parallels are set early on, and continue throughout Rachel’s work with nuance and sensitivity. New housing is raised and between buildings new space left over after planning is set to be planted. What residues of the New Town dream, of the past community, that ecology, will remain or return with new growth?


Alison Scott has been supporting Rachel in the production of the work stemming from her research residency with Rhubaba. Alison is an artist, writer and art worker based in Arbroath. Alison often works with other artists on collaborative and research-led projects around weather, land and the inherited environment. Previously she has worked collaboratively with Rachel on the film, ‘Congenial soils and favourable situations’, 2022.

Rachel McBrinn is an artist and filmmaker based in Edinburgh. Her filmmaking practice is rooted in conversation and relationship building, incorporating elements of observational documentary, experimental image-making, and often builds upon long term site-responsive and archival research. Recent work has formed around the themes of land management, town planning, urban and rural ecologies.

‘Are you going my way?’ premiered at the Fruitmarket Gallery on 17 April 2023, alongside new work by Clara Hancock. This film, and accompanying publication ‘Winding Up Body’, are the culmination of a research-led residency begun in 2021 and commissioned by Rhubaba. Alison Scott’s essay is co-commissioned by Rhubaba and MAP, and is published simultaneously online and in print.

Rhubaba Gallery and Studios is an artist-run organisation in Edinburgh with an annual programme of exhibitions and events, established in 2009. Rachel’s work was produced as part of a research residency programme with Rhubaba, which began in 2021.



[1] The New Town (Livingston) Winding Up Order 1993 is available at:… New Town (Livingston) (Transfer of Property, Rights and Liabilities) Order 1997 is available at:…

[2] Available at:…

[3] In the debate Mr. Macallister – then Labour MP for Rutherglen says: ‘It goes back to the attempt by Robert Owen to establish communities at New Lanark and Orbiston to provide decent living conditions for the mill workers, which was one of the things that gave birth to the whole idea of Socialism.’ Available at:…

[4] Available at:…

[5] This context of this redistribution of land was spurred by the industrial revolution, and new methods of more intensive farming. Benjamin Noys, writing in 2023: ‘‘Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) is, in part, a response to the world of enclosures in which sheep have “turned into man-eaters,” leaving the masses in poverty.’ Benjamin Noys, Catastrophe, Utopia, and the Crisis of Hybrid Matter, e-flux, February 8, 2023 Available at:

[6] ‘Enclosing the land’, UK Parliament. Available at:

[7] Thomas More, Utopia. Originally published 1516. Edition published by Verso, 2016.

[8] Ursula K Le Guin, Utopiyin, Utopiyang, pg 195 in: Thomas More, Utopia. Originally published 1516. Edition published by Verso, 2016.

[9] Ursula K Le Guin, A Non-Euclidian view of California as a Cold Place to Be, pg 163, in: Thomas More, Utopia. Originally published 1516. Edition published by Verso, 2016.

[10] Mr. Macallister also later motions to More and fleshes out some more precedents: ‘Thomas More has been mentioned. But there were others. There was William Morris, with his sketch of an ideal London in “News from Nowhere.” Even more important was Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward,” with its picture of an ideal community which caused many people to turn their eyes towards Socialism.’ Available at:…

[11] Draft New Town (Livingston) Designation Order, 1962 is available at:…

[12] Available at:…

[13] Accessed via Youtube:

[14] Silicon Fever, directed by David Halliday. An Edinburgh Film Workshop Trust Production for Channel 4, 1990

[15] ‘Silicon Glen - the name given to the mainly central belt electronics manufacturing phenomenon - continues to decline.’… ‘This was not glamorous work […] But the Silicon Glen phenomenon was important to replacing the jobs from old industries, which were dying as electronics arrived. The new manufacturers, often headquartered in the US, Japan and South Korea, helped Scotland’s new towns establish themselves as economic hubs. They brought new, more efficient work practices, which benefited the wider economy. And they were a means for bringing many more women into the workforce.’Douglas Fraser, ‘Whatever happened to Silicon Glen?’, BBC News, 2016. Available at:…

[16] Ratcatcher, directed by Lynne Ramsay, 1999

[17] A Fair Deal For Homeowners in Deans South…

[18] John Smith, Blight, 1996. More info available at:

[19] Meet You at the Hippos, presented by Mark Bonnar, was last broadcast on BBC Scotland, Fri 18 Nov 2022. Available at:… More information about the New Town Artists can be found in Andrew Demetrius, A lesson from the past: Scotland’s new towns and their artists, 26 Nov 2021, available at: :

[20] Rachel Whiteread, House, 1993. More info available at:…