Brian Thom Mcquade
Does the feeling of ‘belonging’ to a place help to build a sense of identity? Will it carry with it an awareness of values, which inspires a sense of responsibility? Would this then complete a positive feedback – back into generating a sustained and restored sense of belonging? If evidence can be found to support this theory which is postulated from anecdotal and theoretical grounds, then it would follow that processes of community regeneration would be weakened if they were undermined at any point in this cycle or, if enhanced, strengthened at any point.
Why should we care about the regeneration of communities anyway? We should care because, in recent times, certain unarguable points in the disintegration of modern societies have come to the fore. One major one is that, as the rate of urbanisation has increased in the last 30 years, the local authorities and the government’s ability to support the disadvantaged within this sphere has in many cases failed. This is why much of this Report will speak about injustice, poverty and inequality and also, why it will seek out how such situations arise, and what can be done about them. It will also investigate the case for a fresh approach to the problems through the idea that we have to create a cultural climate that encourages a more positive attitude on all sides, and more emphasis on what is right and good rather than what is wrong and bad. This is why too, the paper sets out to explore whether or not there is evidence that an elemental connection with place – its locale, its social interaction, and its arguable local embodiment of perceived ‘anima mundi’ can help build deeper communities of same and thereby form a key element of community cohesion and regeneration in Greater Govan, the former key shipbuilding area of Glasgow.
The idea here is not just to have a ‘sound mind in a sound body’ in the community sense, but also to have an individual spiritual and meaningful life where our previous attitudes and concerns will change – particularly our level of confidence, thoughts, feelings and attitudes towards ourselves and the others around us. This new manner to solving problems is entirely geared to Well Being, which is perhaps more important than the other values for today we need to become part of the growing movement that is questioning the value we place on money and economic growth, and replace this with more emphasis on life-satisfaction, happiness and fulfilment. The new thinking in social planning must make sure that the above attitudes are not dismissed through negativity and a ‘can’t do’ attitude, but are broadcast throughout the nation. What is needed with ourselves as individuals is that we have to take a ‘rethink’ on our own personal values – away from our outward obsession with politics, wealth and consumption, towards what concerns us internally. In this way, we may find a solution to many of today’s problems together.
Much of the research for this project was focused on Govan’s Galgael Trust, which formed in Govan in 1999 to do something practical for the socially excluded of this poverty stricken area. Funded by various organisations, Galgael employed the work potential of those normally deemed ‘unemployable’ and together, by fusing elements of Govan’s heritage with cutting edge design and sustainable materials, they have built a vast variety of handcrafted pieces such as wood animal carvings, furniture, and boats, including a 30 ft, Hebridean war galley. By doing these things, Galgael proved that no one was ‘irredeemable’ and that everyone has something to offer towards the regeneration of themselves and their own community. Many of the people I interviewed for this Report were (or still are) victims of social failure in one way or many. Some of them have addictive, physical or mental problems while others consistently find themselves in trouble with the authorities. Many of them are lonely, or have suffered some form of abuse, and almost all of them are poor. The majority of these disadvantaged and estranged people find in their chosen communal groups a ‘togetherness’ that they cannot find in the society at large around them. Something is wrong with society and this is why the people I interviewed in Govan have got together in their various groups, with the common purpose of doing something about their various predicaments.
I also found that after some time spent in these groups, my interviewees felt that there was a general feeling, almost a compulsion or obligation to give something back to the wider community around them – even although about three quarters of the people I interviewed did not come from Govan originally. When I asked a number of them why they felt obliged to do so most countered this with the statement ‘Well, you just have to, don’t you?’ I think that this obligation or driving force is the elemental spirit of Govan or of any local community or group working where people who have found something worthwhile in their lives wish to share it with others. Maybe such a ‘spirit’ per se doesn’t exist but, according to my research, I do know that there is a definite ‘feeling’ or a ‘Cycle of Regeneration’ taking place in Govan right now- not just in the attitude of the people I spoke to but also in other important elemental, structural and conservational ways, which speaks also for a ‘Spirit of Regeneration’.
Lastly, my research for this project involved interviewing 119 persons in organisations, which are concerned about issues of regeneration in Greater Govan. I examined the postulation put at the beginning of this project by interviewing the staff, volunteers, and helpers of these groups through simply talking to people and letting them tell me about their lives, how they became involved with regeneration issues, why it led them to Govan, why they felt that what they were doing there was important to them, and what their hopes for the future were. On completion of my project, and upon showing those of the interviewees whose stories are told here, I’m grateful to say that they all gave me the ‘go-ahead’.
A Brief History of Govan and its Spiritual and Elemental Connections
Sunny Govan (oil on panel), 21 X 27 inch Brian Thom McQuade, 1997
People have lived, worked and worshiped in Govan for a long time. Although we know from the evidence of their canoes that Stone Age boatpeople moved about the area, the first settlers were pagan Celts who had knowledge of metals and who practiced Druidic rites. 1 It was from them that we get the name ‘Govan’ which can mean ‘smiths’ or ‘place of the iron workers’. 2 Christianity began to replace pagan worship after the Romans had left the area, and by the 6th century, Celtic monks had established a colony and built an oval shaped enclosure on the present-day site of Govan Old Parish Church. 4 By the middle of the 9th century, hegemony of the area was surrendered by the Britons of the Kingdom of Strathclyde to Constantine 1, king of the Dal Riadan Scots, and to Olaf, the Viking king of Dublin.5 Around this time Govan blossomed into the largest centre in Europe for the production of stone carved Celtic Crosses and the manufacture of Viking hogback memorial tombstones which show the influence of Cumbrian, British, Scottish, Pictish, Irish, Saxon, Scandanavian and classical art. Govan still has 27 of the former and 5 of the latter, 6 which reflect the work of a community that had absorbed and regenerated the elemental and spiritual ‘anima mundi’ or, ‘spirit of the world’.
From then until the 19th century Govan was mainly an agricultural area with some light industries, which disappeared upon the arrival of shipbuilding and heavy industries during the 19th century. With the advent of crowds of newcomers to work in the new industries, the old character, plan and streets of the village were mostly swept away and replaced with miles of tenement-lined streets. During the first half of the 20th century, Govan became known to the world as a centre of shipbuilding and an industrial manufacturing base however, the decline of both after the 1950s meant a fall in the local economy and the population, which left a legacy of derelict buildings and vacant land that undermined the location and devalued its true potential. Authority-driven demolition in the 1960/70s and the new-build or retention of the old ‘sink’ schemes, only made the place look worse while by 2006, over 50% of its adult population were unemployed or medically unfit for work. 7 Communities, the World Around Us, and the Intrusion of Technology
Although there are different interpretations as to what the many entities known as communities have in common, it is generally agreed that they have three main characteristics: locale, social interaction, and common ties. However, the word ‘community’ has two meanings. The first has locale as its basic component and is used in the sense of agriculture where people have settled down in a fixed location, and have a definite sense of belonging to that area. The other sense of the word can be applied to nomadic/hunter groups who wander through a number of fixed locales but who have no specific area for which they have a definite sense of belonging.
What are common to both meanings of the word are the common ties and the social interaction that comes with degrees of intimacy, emotional depth, moral commitments, social cohesion and continuity in time. Yet, just as agriculture marked the advent of community, so modern technology may now be bringing about its demise. Modern communications, the mass media and transportation are changing the significance of locale and space for human relationships as much as agriculture did maybe 10,000 years ago. Because of this some modern observers believe that the settlement or locale concept of the community may shortly become archaic and disappear. If it is to be retained, then it will be restricted to the backwaters of the post-city area. 1
But the concept of community is not irrelevant if we take into account the almost compulsive ‘quest for community’ among thousands of seekers in rural and urban communities throughout the country. 2 For the reason why people want to ‘belong’ to a local or to a community is to maintain the upkeep of social bonds, which is a crucial human motive, whereby new and old social ties are generated and maintained at different levels. Besides, the modern fear of atomisation/anonymisation has helped re-assert the salience and the continued viability of locals and forms of belonging. 3
Steve Lynch was brought up in Glasgow, before settling down in Hamilton with his wife Mary Rose. Times were hard financially, socially and emotionally for, as neither of them was working their life choices were limited. When their child was born, the extra financial burden meant that they had no social life at all – living as they had to from hand to mouth. The turning point in Steve and his wife and child’s life came when he found out that there was a charity called the Braendam Link (based in Govan and Glasgow city centre) who aided families who were marginalised and living in poverty. Steve asked the Link for help and it offered him and his family a week’s retreat at Braendam House, which is a family respite shelter in the countryside near Falkirk. The couple were so relieved at getting ‘out and about’, and at being given the chance to socialise with other people in the same predicament as themselves, that they themselves became volunteer workers for the Braendam and a number of other charities – work they still enjoy. Steve and Mary Rose told me that they liked their jobs because it made them feel part of their community and that they mattered to others, whereas before they took up this type of work, they felt that they did not. They also said that, having received something worthwhile from their encounter with the Link, they felt driven to ‘give something back’ to their community (Interview conducted at Braendam House, Falkirk, 2/6/2006)
This is an example of the many stories I heard about people’s need for a feeling of belonging to a community where each feels that having been ‘accepted’ and considered of some worth to the community, there is a resultant desire to ‘give something back’. This feeling that we should be reciprocal in our dealings with one another will also be seen by others as a bit of a ‘pipe dream’. For, in the harsh reality of the ‘real community’ today, there is a lot of ‘for me and mine’ and not a lot of ‘for you and yours’. The type of ‘real world’ community which abounds everywhere makes the ‘good’ community pictured above seem like a dream, and to which we run in our dreams because to belong to the real community demands the loss of autonomy or the right to ‘be yourself’.
Communities have unwritten as well as written rules which you must follow if you wish to be considered as part of your community. So, the choice is, giving up your freedom of will for some feeling of security – or going without its safeguard. Human beings need both freedom and security. But because we cannot have both at the same time, in the quantities that we find satisfactory, is not a reason to stop trying. This is a reminder that we should never believe that meanwhile solutions do not need further scrutiny. The ‘real life community’ may be an enemy of the good or wished for community, but the ‘perfect’ community is an enemy to both. 4
Is there such a thing as the ‘right’ community? Gehan MacLeod of the Galgael Trust is a person who has been trying for this for most of her life. Her turning point had come in the 1980s when she had left Glasgow University over what she felt was the lack of people’s concern about social and conservational matters. She ‘hit the road’ and became a travelling protester, moving to and camping in places like Faslane nuclear submarine base. It was here that she met her future husband Colin MacLeod, who later became the founder of the Galgael. From Faslane, Gehan and Colin moved to the ‘Pollock Free State’ in 1993. Basically, the ‘Free State’ was an encampment of protesting environmentalists and well wishers whose prime intention was to stop developers driving a motorway through part of the woods that comprise the Pollock Estate Park. Colin built a log cabin in the woods and here the couple had their first child. When Colin was offered a desired course in England, they both realised that, although they had freedom of will on public lands in the woods, they had no security or its safeguard. So, they had to compromise and took a house in Govan. Seeing the poverty and depredation of an area like Govan spurred both Gehan and Colin into the idea of creating a sort of ‘free State” in the heart of Govan. Both of them wanted to continue the ‘good feeling’ and the idea of ‘sharing and mutual concern’ that had arisen among the protesters at Pollock, which developed into the idea of the ‘Galgael’ whose sterling work with the poor, disadvantaged and excluded people of the Govan area, is well documented. (Interview conducted in the Galgael office, Ibrox, 23/6/06)
Here is an example of individuals who could not have both freedom and security at the same time, in a satisfactory enough quantity, yet who never stopped trying to create the ‘good’ society. Generally, people will want to become involved in things for a variety of reasons but whatever they are, it helps to take into account other people’s agendas 6 and the fact that the ecology of a community is the psychological and practical relationships between people and their social, as well as their physical environment. 7 One way of restoring this sense of belonging and obligation would be any activity that helps realign our lives to further ways of collaborating with the world around us. 8 If, as some observers think, the way of the community will soon be obsolete, will it be replaced by technology? And if so, then where is the place of technology in our lives? What is its essence and how does it structure our lives? Can technology make you ill? 9 Around three million years ago our ancestors began to evolve into what we are today. Generation after generation moved in synchronistic evolution with the natural world until c. 9,000 BC, when man began to control the natural world around him – not through animistic magic but directly through the control of animal and agricultural husbandry. 10 Only five or six hundred? generations have passed since humanity has moved out of this process into the industrial, and then the technological world. Through the evidence of psychological distress, ecological destruction and technological control, this present way of life has been stressful at some point to almost everyone. Though the evidence of this (gathered mainly in anthropological texts) has largely been ignored, it explains why so many people are looking for psychological or spiritual solace, and why they earnestly involve themselves in issues like social justice and the environment.
When Sam Thornley left school, his first job was as an assistant editor with a publisher in London. He stayed with it for two years but felt that, through his education and upbringing, he had been conditioned to fulfil the role of a ‘cog in the wheel’ of everyday business in the big city. He had what he describes as ‘my epiphany’ where he quit his well-paid job, and moved to Lanarkshire in Scotland where he lived outdoors in a tepee for two years. The distress of his mapped-out life and future dropped off him and he said that he felt free for the first time in his life; in a different, natural world from the technologically driven and controlled one he had known. He learnt to work with nature as a tree surgeon and a landscaper before leaving for America where he travelled across the country working in various Nature Parks and on Indian reservations. When Sam returned to Scotland he became involved with the Galgael Trust and now works as a trainer on the project, teaching the trainees his extensive knowledge of the natural environment and woodcraft. When I asked Sam his reason for working for a necessarily low wage (funding is hard to get) he said simply that he ‘loved the job’, which ‘gave him great satisfaction’. He also stated that he felt gratified that he was in a position where he could give something back to the community and that the whole experience of being at the Galgael was a subtle, two-way experience. (Interview conducted in the Recreational Room of the Galgael, Ibrox, 19/06/06)
Sam’s story tells us that he has found psychological solace in his present work. His is not necessarily a sort of ‘back to nature’ bid, but a genuine desire to find a sense of ease with life, and a clear sense of self. The hope for all here that seek this feeling of well-being is that such a life can serve the inherent expectations of the human psyche or inner self for development to maturation and health. The loss of these expectations and cultural experiences through an increasingly technologically determined reality, and our removal from the fluid participation with the elementary forces that surround us, constitutes the trauma mankind has inherited. The classic response to this is to disassociate ourselves and repress whole areas of experience which blinker our perceptions of the world. 11
We who live in a mass technological society suffer from addictions to certain machines like mobile phones, cars, computers, etc. Addiction to the likes of drugs, alcohol or food is not formally different from other addictions like the craving for prestige, wealth, influence or the need for control while whole nations have addictions like the West’s craving for oil. Most people who live in a society swamped by mass technology find it hard to understand the impact of it on social reality and we have to ask ourselves questions about the place of technology in our lives. How does it structure our politics and our perceptions, and what does it say to our sense of self-relationship with the world itself? People are made ill through technology from the likes of cancers from leaky atomic plants to the more mundane illness of chronic fatigue from just sitting all day working a computer. To make clear the idea that contemporary society itself is based on ‘techno-addiction’, if we think of the millions of machines in our midst; all the organisations and methods that create them (and make others possible); those of us who are part of this construct; the ways in which we are socialised and obliged to be a participant in this system; and the ways we think, see, and feel as we try to survive within it. 12
This is a human created technology-centred social system whose principles are based on standardisation, efficiency, linearity and fragmentation. A gigantic assembly line that churns out the same models, on time, and cares nothing for the social issues or the people who operate it. In this type of system technology influences society just as the automotive system reorganised American society in the 20th century. In the same way, nuclear weapons define world politics. Technology and society are interwoven to such an extent that it has now become our environment as well as our ideology. So much so, that the social and cultural experiences that our ancestors lived are being eroded, forgotten and buried. 13
By the time she was 27, Fiona MacDougal was working for the Bank of America which she found to be highly stressful because, as she said herself ‘ I hated working for big, faceless corporations who drive their staff into the ground in their efforts to make money, and who don’t give a fuck about any social issues whatsoever’. Fiona left the job and went to Australia, bought a car and travelled about the country for a year. Throughout her life she had always liked the outdoors, travelling and camping out, and observing the local flora and fauna. She had also always been much concerned about conservation and related issues so that she said working for places like that of the Bank made her feel as if she was ‘just going through the emotions of being alive’. She also felt (like Sam) that through her upbringing and education, her life had been mapped out for her. Fiona had never been poor financially but she had been starved of her life choices through the automotive system her cultural upbringing had placed her into. This was something she never wanted and it made her feel vaguely angry and dissatisfied. When she returned from Australia, Fiona said that she came to ‘a life-changing experience’ when she left behind the imperative of following a career and went to live with a friend who had a small caravan and a wooden workshop, in the woods of the Scottish Highlands.
Through working at volunteer woodlands management, Fiona learnt the art of basket weaving, which gradually turned into her livelihood. ‘At last’ she said ‘I was actually living and working the life I had always dreamed about, something I never thought was possible’. Fiona became involved with the Galgael in Govan, in 1999. Until this point, she says that she had felt somewhat isolated, partly because of the relative remoteness of her home, but mostly because she was one of only a handful of basket weavers in Scotland at that time. With the Galgael she felt that she was ‘among kindred spirits’ where learning practical skills (through the use of elemental materials) is, to her, of the greatest importance, and where she can teach her weaving skills to others. (Interview conducted in the Recreational Room of the Galgael, Ibrox, 20/06/06)
Fiona’s present life shows us that technology does not necessarily have to be neither our environment nor our ideology, and it highlights the fact that we technological people have little grasp of much of anything outside of the artificial technological universe with which we are familiar. As our life continues increasingly to be structured by impersonal and mechanical means, the self seeks ways to survive. The original sources of satisfaction once found in the wild were such as physical nourishment, the ongoing connection between work and meaning, unfettered participation in life experiences, community involvement and decision-making, personal choices and spiritual connection with nature, your god or religion. These are the wants that we were born to have satisfied. 14
The philosopher and psychiatrist William James felt that the last named, religion, should be more about the feelings, acts and experiences of individuals in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine, which itself is a compelling reality that the individual feels obliged to respond to in a sincere manner. This type of person will willingly follow their feelings in making choices in life, believing that a higher but unseen presence is guiding their life. James would rather have this as an interpretation of the religious life than the theologies, philosophies, and the ecclesiastical organisations and baggage that normally accompany organised religions. 15
Tam McGervey was brought up in Pollock, Glasgow as part of a close-knit family of siblings and relatives, which he says gave him a lasting sense of community and communal activity. Although Tam had a well-paid job (as a branch manager) he wasn’t satisfied with his life and so he gave up his work and, using the gift of a free return ticket to Israel, he left Scotland to pursue his hobby of history and art. He had an odd experience there: once, when he had no money, he found what he thought was three American dollars beside a tomb on the outskirts of the city. It turned out that the 3 dollars were actually three 100 dollar notes which Tam was advised not to hand in to the local police as they were corrupt. He felt guilty about this and donated 100 dollars to the first Live Aid concert, spent 150, and took the last 50 home. Later, his house in Pollock was broken into and although there were quite a number of relatively valuable items there, nothing was missing – except the 50 dollars. Up until this point, Tam had been living on Social Security ‘benefits’ for 5 years and he took this strange sequence of events as a sign to respond to in a sincere manner. This was to follow his feelings to do something he had always wanted to do – to seriously study art and design, which he did. He said that this was a ‘life changing experience’ for himself, which eventually gained him a degree from the Glasgow School of Art.
During his studies, Tam went back to Jerusalem where he had another strange experience. While driving up a track that led away from an oasis at the Dead Sea, the entire plant life of the oasis burst into flames, which Tam said ‘freaked him out’. Still, although this seemed to him to be ‘mystical, unreal and frightening’, he went back down into the valley to help the locals who told him that such a thing as the fire they had just experienced, had never been known in living memory. Tam felt that he was getting ‘some sort of a message’ about how he should conduct his future life and accordingly, after he had gained his degree, he decide to teach art among the working class communities of Glasgow, rather than move and teach in the higher echelons of the art world. So, he spent some years working as an art tutor, explaining and developing the skills of his working class pupils in wood, metal and paint while at the same time, imparting to his pupils, his strongly held beliefs in conservation and social justice. His work and ethics brought him into contact with the Galgael where Tam felt as if he had been ‘guided’ and where, after he found full employment with the Trust, he now teaches his skills and indulges his love of music, history, nature, and the chance to discuss and redress many of the iniquitous issues that concern caring people everywhere. (Interview conducted in the upstairs office of the Galgael, Ibrox, 21/06/06
Here we have the tale of a man who followed his ‘natural wants’ in the manner explained by William James above, where only goodwill has resulted. Yet, the world-view created by traditional Western science is, in its most rigorous form, incompatible with any notion of spirituality or a sense of God. In today’s world where only the measurable, material and touchable are real, any notion of mystical or religious activities is seen as reflecting ignorance, superstition, and emotional immaturity. Direct experiences of spiritual realities are then interpreted as ‘psychotic’ manifestations of mental disease. It is true that for some of the disorders in the category of psychosis, modern science has found underlying anatomical, physiological, or biochemical changes in the brain or in other parts of the organism. However, for many other psychotic states no explanation has been found in spite of the efforts of generations of researchers in many fields. These ‘functional psychoses’ are normally placed in the category of mental diseases whose cause is unknown. 16 In the absence of our natural wants, the inner self finds some sort of satisfaction in secondary sources like alcohol, drugs, sex and material possessions – things that can never be a true replacement for primary needs. Thus, the addictive process is born and we become obsessed with these secondary sources as if our lives depended on them. Today, the world is swamped with addictions somewhat akin to identifiable disease processes whose behaviours lead to a process that can only be called ‘non-living’, and which is progressively death orientated. 17
Steve McLaughlin started drinking at the age of 12, a habit that got heavier as he got older. By the age of 17 he was married and had a child. Although he had begun to take heroine aged 18, he still managed to set up his own painting and decorating business by the time he was 22. This was successful for several years but his health was gradually getting worse – through his addictions. By the time he was in his 30s, he began to fall down on contracts. At 34 he got divorced, began dealing in drugs and started another relationship, which lasted until his drinking and drug dealing lost him this relationship too. By now, Steve had lost his home and his business and felt that he had no direction in life and no reason to live anymore. He slept ‘rough’ for 4 months, feeling ‘lonely, isolated and unwanted’ before he found a bed at the Salvation Army Hope House Hostel in Glasgow, and also a job at his old trade of painting and decoration. While engaged in this, he fell 60 feet from scaffolding when he inadvertently stepped backwards into empty space. He remembers that while he was falling, he heard his dead grandfather’s voice telling him to ‘stay upright’ which he managed to do by flailing his arms like wings before landing and collapsing in a heap. Apart from broken bones and dislocated joints, Steve was paralysed from the waist down for the first 3 months of his stay in hospital. By the time he left, he was ‘clean’ from drugs and drink, and had found a flat in Govan where he lived alone with his dog. After being through so much he had no confidence in his abilities or any self-esteem until he joined the Galgael as a volunteer and started carving dolphins and other creatures from wood, using unfamiliar tools. This gave him back ‘a pride in himself’, which helped alter his posture and stance from a shuffling and limping gait to one where he strides along and holds himself upright. Steve says that he is now more content with his situation in life and believes that his renewed self-esteem and confidence might somehow reflect the voice he heard when he had his accident. He remembers that his grandfather always used to say to him ‘Stay straight Steve’ and he feels that the ‘message’ he received was both a literal and a moral edict. He comes in now and again to the Galgael and the last time I saw him he was discussing the possibility of holding group meetings at the Galgael among addicts and recovering addicts. When I asked him why he wanted to do this, he replied ‘Because I want to give something back, in return for all the people who have been so good to me’ (Interview conducted in the Recreational Room, Galgael, Ibrox, 20/06/06)
Steve’s poverty was clearly, I would say, something spiritual, which he ‘remedied’ with alcohol and drugs. I would state too that his recovery from these addictions was also something visionary and spiritual. Throuout the age’s visionary states have played an extremely important role in religion and have been the sources of remarkable healing and artistic inspiration. All pre-industrial communities placed a high value on non-ordinary states of consciousness as a vital way of learning about the hidden aspects of life and as a way of connecting with the spiritual dimensions of existence. The arrival of the Industrial and the Scientific Revolution dramatically altered this situation for Rationality became the ultimate measure of all things and rapidly replaced spirituality and religious beliefs. During the Scientific Revolution in the West, visionary states were no longer regarded as important complements of ordinary states of consciousness, which can provide invaluable information about the self and reality. Instead, they were now seen as pathological distortions of mental activity, which were a relic of the Dark Ages. 18 Even although a number of the founders of modern psychiatry wrote about religion, it was not until the 1960s that the importance of the beliefs and aspirations of individuals in guiding their actions and shaping their experiences became increasingly recognised. Jung had thought that religion was an attitude of mind which took into consideration dynamic factors seen as ‘powers’ such as spirits, gods, laws, ideals, ideas, or whatever names mankind has given to such factors in his world that were found to be helpful.19
Russell’s story is similar to Steve’s above in that, like him, he felt that he had no direction in his life. When he left the Royal Naval Reserves at the age of 19, his solution to his feeling of loneliness and alienation was, like Steve’s the same – drink and drugs. He also sold drugs to feed both his ‘habits’ and lived in bed-sit land where he felt that his life was in chaos. About the age of 34, Guy started a Baptist Church for ‘handouts’ and also because he felt ‘drawn there’. During a service, when asked if he would follow God, he blurted out ‘what have I got to lose? So, why not?’ Two members of the congregation prayed over him and Guy says that he felt the ‘Holy Spirit come over him’ which was ‘the most amazing experience he had ever had’. He felt also that he was floating and that ‘his head and his heart were healed’. Guy later joined the Galgael as a trainee because he felt that he was being ‘guided’ into sharing his spiritual experiences and the ways of God with others. (Interview conducted in Fairley St., outside the Galgael. 21/06/06)
Common Attitudes to Poverty, Inequality, Crime and Punishment
The major factor in whether you have a decent quality of life is poverty – in all its forms. In a speech in Trafalgar Square London, on the 3rd of February 2005, the African humanitarian Nelson Mandela said that ‘.overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity, and a decent life.not to do this would be a crime against all humanity, against which I ask all humanity to rise up.’ 1 In his study on poverty in York in 1899, Seebohm Rowntree was the first to construct the term ‘absolute poverty’ which was a definition of poverty based on the cash minimum needed for food, clothing, heating and rent. However, he stressed that this equation was the lowest minimum sum needed on which physical efficiency could be maintained. In other words, it was calculated for the barest standard of subsistence – not for that of living a decent life in a decent home. Yet, it is hard to define a minimum standard when the standards themselves keep changing.
People’s expectations also change so that the basic standards of living will be shaped by how a society spends its money and on how it behaves as a whole. Therefore, an adequate minimum can only be defined by what is socially acceptable. This leads on to the idea of ‘relative’ poverty where for instance, it could be said that the poor of the United Kingdom are not as poor as those in third world countries. Even so, our country’s poverty is nonetheless real enough to those who suffer it. Poverty is a relative, as well as an absolute concept for it exists even in the relatively wealthy Western society wherever people are denied access to what is generally regarded as a decent standard and equality of life in a decent and safe neighbourhood. 2 A report commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1983-85 (‘Faith in the City’), enlarged on this idea by stating that poverty was not just a shortage of money but also about rights and relationships, how people are treated, and how they regard themselves. Relative poverty also concerned powerlessness, exclusion, and a loss of dignity and respect.3 In a sense, what people want is respect. In an increasingly competitive, meritocratic society, life will become harder for people in the bottom half of the ability range unless we develop broader criteria for respect. We should respect people who cooperate with others at no gain to themselves, and who show skill and effort at whatever level. 3a
Jim McMillan worked in a store, which sold car accessories. When an armed gunman robbed the shop, he and the manager were implicated and both were sacked. Although Jim took the case to a tribunal and won, he was paid a pittance in compensation and he never went back to the job. Later, he took a job as manager of a supermarket. When he went on his honeymoon he asked the other staff members to tell his boss that he would be back in a couple of weeks. For whatever reason, they failed to do this and when he returned to his job there was another manager in his place and he had been fired. Jim decided that from now on, he would be his own boss, working in a job he liked, where no one could sack him. He and his wife Heather spent the next 3 years doing odd jobs and saving up their money to open a shop with a healthy eating theme, which proved so successful that it attracted the attention of H.R.H. Prince Charles, in his capacity as President of the Princes Trust.
Both Jim and Heather expanded their healthy eating idea into a campaign aimed mainly at schoolchildren which, by 1991, eventually supplied over 3,000 of them in schools throughout Glasgow and elsewhere. In 1996, while working in his supply shop, Jim was attacked and robbed by a man who clubbed him with an iron bar. After this, and between attending the resultant court case, and his mother dying, Jim lost heart in his healthy eating scheme and, stopped working for the next 2 years. It was after this low period, that he and his wife started up Sunny Govan Radio, which is a community radio station run by and for the people of Govan. Jim told me that, from the very beginning, he and Heather had wanted a local radio station that would ‘give a voice to those members of the public who would not normally be heard’. It would be guided by the ethics of respect that people have for each others dignity and their rights, and it would be a station were none were excluded. ‘Sunny Govan’ started its broadcasting life in 2001 and by 2005, Jim, Heather, and the unpaid local volunteers who work and share their skills together there, were so successful with the community project that the station was awarded a full, FM licence. (Interview conducted in the recreational area of Sunny Govan Radio, Govan. 4/07/06
The lesson we can learn from Jim’s story is that, although he had been treated shabbily and unjustly on a number of occasions in his life, he never lost his dignity or his belief in the rights of those who ‘do not have a voice’ – which is another form of poverty. This was the thinking behind the healthy eating campaign for children and also the reason for the community radio project. Yet, none of this type of sharing and caring mattered back in 1989 when the then Secretary of State for Social Security, John Moore, claimed that capitalism had wiped out absolute poverty, in the sense of Rowntree’s concept, and that relative poverty was a fiction dreamed up by ‘ivory tower-living’ academics to explain inequality. Perhaps this man Moore, the advocator of Capitalism, had never read (or perhaps understood) about the creation and the purpose of capitalism, and how it can cause both poverty and relative poverty, in Adam Smith’s definitive book on the subject The Wealth of Nations, 1812.4
Relative poverty is something that Oxfam’s UK Poverty Programme has been especially set up to combat. Much of their findings show that health, education, life expectancy and the employment chances of the children of low-income families are much worse than those of children of better-off parents. 5 Furthermore, Oxfam is disturbed about the disguising of the word ‘poverty’ where bland euphemisms have replaced both the word itself and the states of poverty, hardship and want, with new descriptions such as ‘low paid’, ‘below average income’, ‘the bottom 10%’, and so on. The original spin to justify this perverse alteration was that people on Social Security or benefits of whatever sort, felt ‘belittled’ when they were termed as ‘poor’. The thinking behind this kind of philosophy is that, if the word ‘poor’ or ‘poverty’ is never mentioned in public discussions, then the public will think that it no longer existed. Thus, this equation resulted in the answer that it would then be politically possible to stand up in public and state (like Moore did) that poverty no longer existed in the UK. 6 While it is true that not all of those undergoing poverty want to be classified as poor, if the word is removed from public discussion, the experience of people in poverty vanishes from our perception of social reality. Worrying also is the insistence on personal responsibility that individuals have for their own unfortunate circumstances. While individual behaviour certainly has some role in this, it cannot be the prime cause for the rapid increase in poverty in recent decades. 7
When Emma Young’s partner abandoned her and their son, she was left with a ‘mountain’ of debt to pay. Since then, Emma has moved into another 3 jobs, each paying a higher wage than the last, in an effort to pay off her debts and make ends meet – yet finds herself poorer off. Emma is a member of the Braendam Link and although she and her son find some consolation in the cameradie, which exists among its members, she often can not help worrying and wondering, as the government of this country would have, if she is personally responsible for her own unfortunate circumstances. (Interview conducted in the office/recreational room, Braendam Link, Govan. 27/06/06)
Here we have a woman who is clearly not responsible for her circumstances and yet who, despite her struggles, finds herself sinking deeper and deeper into poverty, believing all along that the mess she is in is has been caused by her own personal responsibility. All of the above tinkering with words, and the laying of blame on unfortunates like Emma, was really the lead up to the attempt by the government at dismantling (or at least cutting down on) Social Security benefits through the agency of another new spin word – ‘dependency’. Now that the Tory government had ‘eradicated poverty’, if not from the country in truth, but at least from the public debating lobby, the next item on the agenda was to attack those ‘dependents’ who ‘scrounged’ from the DHSS. It was Moore again who brought this notion to the public’s notice in 1987 when he said in a speech that ‘dependency reduced human happiness and freedom’, and that people were reduced to a state of inadequacy through long term reliance on social benefits. What he was driving at was that being on Social Security in the first place was the claimants own fault, and that it had nothing to do with the fact of rising unemployment, cut-backs, low-waged jobs, being a single parent and so on. Simply, the welfare state itself, and its clientele, was being blamed for creating poverty! Statements like this were used to ‘soften up’ public opinion and justify the savage cuts that were about to hit the public such as the halting of social benefits to school leavers, which caused a gigantic leap in homelessness, poverty, and beggary on the streets of our cities. 8
At present, inhuman attitudes like the above still appear from politicians and the rich in a country, which has helped spawn an explosion in its super-rich earners since Labour came to power in 1989. There are now some 6,000 people with incomes of over a million pounds a year (an increase of 850% since 1995) while a quarter of the UK’s population, 13 million people, live below the national poverty line. Len Cook, the government’s chief statistician, says that the rise is due to ‘entrepreneurs profiting from the growth of the economy’. According to these figures then, another calculation can be made and this is that, for every newly created millionaire entrepreneur in the country, approximately another 2,166 people will be pushed below the national poverty line. Something else is happening here too because the Institute of Fiscal Studies states that, while we recognise that the poor are getting poorer, people with middle class incomes (the traditional bridge between rich and poor) are getting poorer also. 9 Figures in July 2006, revealed that most people in Britain were worse off than they were five years ago. 9b
Another form of poverty is being homeless. There are at present many thousands of sub-standard council houses lying empty in ‘sink’ schemes, which no would buy or even consider living in. So, here we have the bizarre situation where the housing system, the social services and the government have failed those who are homeless, in a land full of houses that no one wants. 10 Being homeless is also extremely prejudicial to your health as a recent survey on the homeless in London (by the charity Crisis) found that people sleeping rough, and dying of natural causes, did so at an average age of 46 – 30 years younger than the national norm. 11 A number of the people who work as trainees and volunteers at the Galgael are homeless, in the sense that they either live in furnished flats or in homeless hostels. In fact, two of the volunteers live in a homemade shanty in the woods just outside of Glasgow.
Scott Archibald is homeless. He lives in the Simon Community homeless unit in Paisley Road, Glasgow. He worked 12 hours a day as a trainee chef but left that employment because of the unsocial working hours and the miserable salary, which he described as ‘absolute shite’. At 23, he trained to become a joiner, met a partner with whom he had three children but left her (after 11 years), when she found another partner and put him out of the house. He ended up sleeping rough for months before he found a ‘place’ in the unit mentioned above. The change in his life came when he decided to join the Galgael. Scott wanted to do ‘anything’ to get away from the environment he found himself in, and was delighted at getting the chance to take up again the wood skills he had learned at joinery. He feels that it’s the best thing he’s done and is more confident of his future prospects. He also looks forward everyday to meeting new people and seeing his friends, listening to people’s experiences and showing them the new skills that he has learned at the Galgael. ‘Everything would be perfect’ he said ‘if I could only get a house’. He has been waiting for 3 years. (Interview conducted in the Recreational Room, Galgael, Ibrox. 21/06/06
Scott hasn’t given up trying for a house so what caused this state of affairs in the first place? The biggest single contribution to this, and something that still continues, was the stopping of benefits for 17 and 18-year old teenagers. This brainwave was inspired by the American writer Charles Murray whose book condemned welfare for creating a ‘dependency culture’ in his native country. His work was the inspiration behind the Conservative Government’s program to withdraw Income Support Benefits (in 1988) for teenagers, under the guise of moving young people from a dependant to an independent stance. The idea was that those teenagers not in work or continuing education would be guaranteed a place in a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) rather than have to face the ‘demoralising option’ of going straight onto the dole and ‘into the benefit culture’. The planners behind this never took into account the facts of life such as those youngsters who ran away from domestic abuse, others discharged from care, those who never got a place on the YTS, or those who did but who were sacked or gave up their job. Whatever the stated intent of this policy, there was no doubt about the result. Whereas before the late 1980s it was hard to find young people sleeping in the shop doorways of our cities, it became common after that time as the amount of the homeless soared. Thus, a policy created by an ideology, based on the tenets of a book by an academic from a foreign culture, shows us the very opposite of what caring for those who are part of our community, is all about. It also shows us how the arrogance of officialdom and the opinions of a self-appointed ‘expert’ could create a huge social problem that is still with us today. 12
In the same year that the governments policies greatly increased homelessness; benefit cuts to the poor, the implementation of the hated Poll Tax, tax cuts for the rich (20%), and an increase in tax for the middle and lower income groups, helped to cause even more homelessness, and brought misery to those with least. Thus, the growth of poverty in this country during the ‘Thatcher Years’ was not accidental but an inevitable consequence of executive policies alone. 13
A More Equal Country?
The mask that the United Kingdom was wearing from the 1970s, of becoming a more equal country (despite all indications to the contrary), was not finally ripped away until 1995 when the Joseph Rowntree Foundation discovered that, since the 1970’s, the welfare state had poorly handled its redistributive role of taking wealth from the rich and redistributing it to those who needed it most. The Foundation’s Inquiry into Income and Wealth discovered instead that the rich were getting richer while the poor were getting poorer still. How and why did this happen? To understand the modern concept of poverty we have to look back to 19th century moral notions between the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’ poor.
These distinctions were legacies of the 1834 Poor Law whose compilers believed implicitly that ‘.every penny given to the poor was a bounty on indolence and vice.’ and that ‘any poor relief to the able-bodied undeserving poor was just an incentive to idleness’. This was the ideology which influenced the ‘Tory-Speak’ throughout the 1970s-1990s where MP’s like Rhodes Boyston claimed that the welfare state only ‘.weakened the moral fibre of our people.’ and therefore, why should the state take money from the energetic and the successful, to give away to the idle, the feckless, and the failures in life? From ideas like these sprang the notions of the ‘undeserving poor’ and later, the ‘dependency culture’. In turn, both gave rise to policies that have very real effects, which are widely echoed in judicial and political pronouncements about poverty, social exclusion, welfare and crime. Poverty and social exclusion can be reckoned through surveys, which take an overview of those living on half of the national income (after housing costs) or by Breadline inquiries that concentrate on living standards rather than income. Whatever method is used, they all agree that the number of the marginalised grew rapidly from 5 million in the 1980s to over 13 million in the 1990s. As today’s numbers still remain around the same as the last figure, people can be excused for wondering how such a dreadful state of affairs was allowed to arise, and why it still exists.
The main cause of the growth of poverty in Britain was due to the relentless drive for profit which encouraged market forces to insist on wage cuts, low pay jobs, downsizing, and the redeployment of jobs to even lower paid sectors overseas. Through the edicts of monetarism, multi-national companies across the globe have gained the power to reinforce these trends, which strong countries aid and abet while the weaker ones have no choice but to follow. Whether under the guise of ‘liberalism’ or ‘structural adjustment’, countries that follow these trends, have undertaken measures to deregulate and privatise which has led to more unemployment, cuts in public spending and services, and enervation in progressive systems of taxation. Thus, economic growth is being funnelled towards a declining proportion of the population and the gulf in the class system has become wider and more marked.
One factor in the divide was the government policies on taxes throughout the 1980s-1990s. Taxation can be used as a mechanism for redistribution of resources and so used as a means of alleviating poverty. However, the changes to the tax system were engineered in such a fashion that it resulted in the higher income sector gaining even more while those at the lower end lost, and the gap between the haves and the have-nots widened even further. Another factor in the divide among the classes is that the element of success (and therefore worth) in today’s life is measured almost entirely by economic factors. In turn, this notion lends itself to a facile association between a lack of means and a lack of ‘moral fibre’, and that those who are successful in society are necessarily more moral, and bring a higher sense of justice and standards to our society. Yet, a look any day at the profits, earnings and bonuses of those in charge of our public utilities, tells us that this view of our ‘moral superiors and betters’ is false. However, it is only a slight step from ‘money matters’ to the now narrowly accepted political view of the vilification of the ‘undesirables’ of our society such as the unemployed, the homeless, single mothers, ‘dole cheats’, immigrants etc. All of them are regarded as a burden subsisting within a culture of dependency where regular calls are made for deterrents, fast-track sanctions, lock ups, and zero tolerance, which inevitably leads to a process of criminalisation.
Who then are the criminals? A Paper known as the ‘Identikit Prisoner’ (1991), which summarised the types of people most likely to fill our prisons, found that they were generally those who had suffered from a multitude of social and economic disadvantages such as race, class, gender, health, education, unemployment and homelessness. Many of them also had mental problems and for the whole range, the Paper concluded that prison only exacerbated the disadvantages that had put these people into crime in the first place! As these are the kind of people who repeatedly serve jail terms, come out, and go back in again, this tells us that not only does prison not work for the majority of the prison population, but also that the criminal justice system is not largely about democracy or even about justice itself, it is more about punishing those who are poor, powerless and disadvantaged.
Billy Spiers was brought up in a poor family in several different disadvantaged areas of Glasgow. He was often in trouble with the law because, to alleviate his poverty, he often stole goods that were not his property. This resulted in him serving time in 5 different remand and list D centres, and a number of prisons. In 1984 he had a brain haemorrhage and a stroke, which left him speechless, paralysed down his right side and also gave him heart problems. Billy, who was literally and figuratively powerless and disadvantaged, spent the next 2 years in a wheelchair thinking that he was a useless burden for, even if he was fit and able to seek employment, he knew that no one would hire him because of his criminal record. His life changed for the good when Colin MacLeod of the Galgael persuaded him to come to the Galgael’s boatyard at Govan Cross. Billy learnt to work wood with his left hand, recovered his speech, and is today working with the Galgael as a volunteer at their base in Fairley Street, Ibrox. He says that he is happy there because, through moving about and working around the shop, he is beginning to get some feeling and power back into his right arm and leg. Moreover, he says that the Galgael is his ‘inspiration’ and he hopes that perhaps he will be an inspiration in turn to others who might find themselves in a similar situation. (Interview conducted in the upstairs office, Galgael, Ibrox. 17/07/06
Billy’s crimes were a consequence of contexts over which he had no control yet; he has still managed (like Scott above) to rise above them with the help of his chosen community group. Crime is often caused by the social and economic contexts, which give rise to them in the first place. For instance, social security fraud can also be seen as an illegitimate response to living in poverty. Wherever benefits do not meet needs, some see solutions like ‘working on the side’ as necessary to make ends meet. Acknowledging that benefit fraud is a crime of poverty does not mean condoning it but, it shows an understanding of the circumstances in which it (and other crimes of poverty) are most likely to be committed. Jailing people for crimes caused by poverty is the wrong answer. Research tells us that the constant rise in the prison population is caused by the fact that 7 out of 10 previous offenders (at least in England and Wales) were reconvicted within 2 years of their discharge which tells us that the present system is not working. When a survey from July 2005, tells us that there is now a crime committed every second of the day then this is further proof that the system has to change.
Mention of asylum seekers or lone parents normally brings from the media and the government words like ‘fraud’ and ‘welfare scroungers’. Common perceptions of asylum seekers (fostered by the media and the government) are that they are ‘fraudsters’ who are here under false pretences and only attracted to Britain for its generous (?) welfare benefits. Lone parents still suffer from the stigma fostered by Margaret Thatcher in 1990 when she spoke of the threat that lone parents posed ‘to our whole way of life’, and that children aught to belong to a ‘real family’.
Again, while any of the above can hardly excuse themselves for say, being ‘over-enthusiastic’ about committing benefit fraud to make ends meet, this is just the very excuse used for the likes of Nick Leesing who in 1995, gambled away £865 million of his bank’s money on the Stock Exchange. For this massive fraud he received only a couple of years in jail. Other big time thieves like Robert Maxwell, looted hundreds of millions from pension funds while big business throughout the country regularly swindles billions of pounds through tax evasion and dozens of other ‘fiddles’. In other words, although people of all classes commit crimes, the crime that damages society most is often committed by the very rich.
Wealthy offenders can afford the best lawyers (and accountants) while nowadays, under the ‘rationing’ system of Legal Aid; the poor might or might not receive aid. Also, while the language used to describe traditional criminals is censorious, that used for white-collar cheats low key, and certainly not censorious. It is designed to ‘justify’ their crimes by making claims about the ‘the pressure to succeed’, which in itself is regarded as a justification for the crimes of the well off, while the pressure just to survive is regarded as insufficient to justify the crimes of poverty. Unfortunately, these are views that are commonly held by the many who are misled by the controllers of the media, commerce, business and politics who seem more concerned about retribution rather than a little common sense, fairness and humanity about punishment.
White-collar crime seems to have no stigma attached to it at all and it rarely suffers the stigma of the ‘public resentment’, which is orchestrated against ‘traditional’ criminal types like the dole cheat or the benefit scrounger. The fact that lower-class crime is stigmatised most, is in itself a form of discrimination. Selling drugs can be seen too as an illegitimate response to making ends meet. Contrary to traditional thinking, where drug use is regarded as a problem only in deprived areas, it also flourishes in thriving, affluent areas of the cities. Drug use filters through society, moving at different speeds and in different ways and the high cost of the consumption of drugs on a regular basis can be the cause of crime.
When Angela Farrell came to live in Glasgow, at the age of 26, she and her husband started a buying and selling business from catalogues which became quite successful. Both of them began to drink heavily and to inject heroine. When the profits from their business were gone, she started buying and selling drugs to feed both their habits, and also to fraudulently claim Social Security benefits. She got caught at this last, and was punished with 6 months in jail for petty fraud. When she came out of jail she divorced her husband and decided to change her lifestyle by joining the Galgael Trust as a trainee. One reason was that she likes joinery while another was that too many of her friends had died through their addictions and she wanted to do something to help her own addictions. Her last reason for joining up and working with the Galgael was that she felt accepted in a place where no one thought of her as ‘scum’ and where she is treated as a person with a sense of identity. (Interview conducted at B. T. McQuade’s home, Govan. 17/06/06
Compare Angela’s crime and sentence with the like’s of Nick Leesing and you will begin to ‘get the picture’ of a country with barely hidden double standards. The government’s claim in 1998 that it intended to build a ‘just and tolerant’ society to try and redress some of the above problems seemed commendable. However, its vow about a tolerant and caring society really meant that it would concentrate on more punishment; longer jails sentences, and generally ‘get harder’ on offenders. There is very little about compassion, disadvantage, mitigation, rehabilitation or toleration at all. Government sponsored anti-sexist and anti-racist campaigns run side by side with those on welfare scroungers and other ‘scum’ groups, which are intended to encourage citizens to show increasing intolerance towards certain types of activities. What this means in reality is that the executive is formally calling for greater tolerance while actively running a programme of selective intolerance – at the same time! Is this an example of government hypocrisy or is it a consequence of the inevitable gap between rhetoric and reality, or just a mismatch between intentions and outcomes? Does anyone care?
Gerry Holsgrove suffers from Bi-Polar (manic depression) illness and he is poor. After spending 32 years in England working as a carpenter and joiner, he suffered a catatonic breakdown, which the government thought to remedy by putting him in a mental hospital – regarded by Gerry as ‘an unjust governmental punishment’. Instead, his uncle, Father Gerry Nugent, cared enough about Gerry to invite him to stay at his house in St. Patrick’s Church in Glasgow until he felt better. The love and goodwill that Gerry received at his uncle’s home, transformed him from a mute, non-responsive individual back into his old, articulate and garrulous self, and prompted him to help other unfortunates by working as a volunteer for the Open Door charity which runs soup kitchens for the poor and the homeless, those with mental and addictive problems, the socially deprived, and those in jail. While raising thousands of pounds for various charities, Gerry came into contact with the Galgael, liked what he saw, and signed up as a volunteer. He has already built a twin-berth cabin yacht and likes to play his guitar on Galgael music nights, which are held at various venues. He also likes sharing his craftsmanship in wood skills with the trainees at the Galgael for (as he said), ‘its natural to give because you have received.'(Interview conducted in the entrance lobby to Sunny Govan Radio, 31/08/06)
The above illustrates that if individuals can care so much about each other, why can’t the government of this country do likewise for the people of this land? If social policies like jailing people for poverty induced crimes or locking sick people away in mental hospitals have failed, and are in fact shaping the conditions under which more crime and injustices are being committed, then what’s to be done?
The answer seems to lie partly in Global communication, and the sharing of information between world communities, which has led to world condemnation of intolerance and a marked change in the organisation of the state, which involves a process whereby decision-making is becoming more international and localised at the same time. Therefore the executive has begun to spread the responsibility for issues like crime control, community safety and regeneration onto a number of statuary, private and voluntary agencies while broadcasting that the state alone cannot be held accountable for preventing and controlling crime. This is fair and sensible. There has also been an increase in community participation where local social networks act to defend their communities with programmes such as crime prevention and local support groups involving the church, charities and various volunteer associations. This is a step in the right direction which shows community planning as it should be where the state and the people act together for the regeneration of people and their communities. When this does not happen, then trouble looms.
In June 2004, the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petition Committee heard presentations from the Govan Community Council about the failure of local regeneration policies in housing, poverty and unemployment. The main point of the Presentation was that, in an area which had lost 80% of its population between 1951 and 2001, the rezoning of demolished housing areas for warehouses and offices meant that there was less chance of people coming back into the area to live, as houses were needed in these areas and not anonymous commercial barns and offices. The lack of house building was not only an added threat to the existing shops and services but also to the community life which was struggling just to survive because of the lack of houses. In reply to these petitions, the Scottish Parliament wrote to Glasgow City Council and to Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, and within 4 months, Glasgow Council had taken steps to set up the Central Govan Action Plan. On the 21/06/2005 a 5-year plan for the future of Govan’s Central area was publicly revealed showing that housing and concern for unemployment was high on its agenda. Among the plans for Govan’s hub was a program to make the main shopping area at Govan Cross more attractive by such as joining Govan Market, Shopping Centre, Underground and the bus depot together under the one roof. Other developments would be the reconstitution of Govan’s old Graving Docks and the demolition and rebuilding of decrepit areas. Moreover, there was to be no demolition or destruction of any part of Govan’s heritage. 20
This all looked very well but by December of that year, doubts about this program began to appear among the people of this working class stronghold who claimed that the planners were aiming to gentrify the area in a move which would polarise the gap between the rich and the poor, and leave the latter in isolated ghettoes through the building of exclusive ”single class estates” 21 These doubts were first confirmed when the development company Bishop Loch, altered its original plan of building a hotel and 500 private flats at Govan’s Graving Docks. The idea behind the building of the hotel was to employ local people and draw money into the area. But, as soon as the company received permission to build on the site, they scrapped the hotel and stated that they were now going to build a 1, 000, high-priced flats and a marina facility for the professional classes who would be living there. In other areas of demolition and rebuild, such as Govan’s Clydeside Festival Park, the price for the same type of flats (with two bedrooms) is £199, 995. 22
Another instance of an about turn by authority-approved private development is the ‘Beirut’ housing scheme, so called because of the decrepitude of this area, which lies behind Glasgow Rangers Football Park. Of the 120 families who are at present living in this sink scheme, only 60 will be re-housed in the same area – the rest of the land will be used for private development. Where will the other 60 families go? Does anyone care? A final example of shady goings-on among the planners and the authorities is the recent announcement (Jan. 2007) that Govan’s Shopping Centre is about to be sold to a private developer. After promising for years to upgrade the Centre, Glasgow Council sold its stake in the building and now the shopkeepers in the Centre fear that they will lose their livelihood if the new owners decide to demolish the centre and use the land for private house-build, while the people of Govan do not want to lose this central shopping area and fervently hope that it will be upgraded instead. But, will the Centre be refurbished into a super new shopping centre when house prices in the Govan area are now at an all time high? 23 What the forgoing proves is that, once again, the powers who are now running Govan are not listening, nor are they taking any heed of what has went wrong in the past. It seems to me that the ‘Grand Plan’ for Govan is unravelling already and all those promises are starting to appear to be just so much hot air and smoke.
So, what we have is a regeneration of the spirit of the area through the goodwill of the people who live or work there, and a massive authority/private led program, which seems to me to be heading down the wrong cultural road. Its not as if Govanites do not welcome help from ‘outsiders’, they do. Moreover, as this Report shows, the majority of people involved in the regeneration programs are outsiders in the form of unpaid volunteers who come from outside the area. If the ‘ Plan’ for Govan works, then good. If it goes wrong, then God help the residents of Govan for they wont be there for long.
In an odd way, this last chapter goes back to the first because it involves the two earliest known religions that the people of Govan followed, Druidism and Celtic Christianity. Both these groups practiced the belief of having an unaffiliated ethical regard for the disadvantaged and pursued their aims of assisting the discriminated that exist in all societies. This spirit lives on among the regeneration groups in Govan. For instance, Galgael intend to reconstruct a traditional longhouse at Govan on the River Clyde in Glasgow, which will be used as an educational and craft centre where people can learn the age-old skills of carving in wood and stone, the shaping of metalwork and pottery, and the creation of textiles. The Trust will also build a traditional stone quay and slipway at Govan on the Clyde which will be used for the reception and dispatch of small boats and the launching and repair of traditionally designed ships. Both these projects are part of the regeneration of the river, the people, and the area.
Similarly, other organisations like Sunny Govan Community Radio and the Braendam Trust Link, work together in order to support and develop people living in poverty in Govan and elsewhere. They believe, that the development of people is not based on an economic value but that people have the right to be respected, to take part in society, and to have a voice. Also, many non-governmental organisations working in Govan, such as Oxfam, the Church, environmental and regenerative organisations, have for some time advocated for greater community involvement in the regeneration of their particular locales, as the best solution to the problem of how to give a better quality of life to not just Govan, but to all the poor communities of our country.
However, whereas the so-far successful regeneration of Govan has been accompanied By the aforementioned good will of individuals, and the full cooperation of many groups with an equal say in all forms of Govan’s development, this power has recently been removed and community groups will no longer be equal partners in any decisions concerning Govan’s future. Glasgow Council’s newly formed, Community Planning Partnership, have decided to (as they call it) ”establish a controlled, efficient, and cost-effective structure”. In effect, what they intend to do is to recycle authority-led plans for a massive amount of private concerns which could prove just as disastrous to Govan as its ill-thought out building plans of the past.
Lastly, although I have no doubt that the theory postulated at the start of this talk has been proved true, that a feeling of belonging helps a sense of identity and an awareness of values, which results in the building of deeper community animus and the strengthening of the regeneration of that local, the dichotomy here is that, we also have in Govan a looming house privatisation of a large chunk of the area, which could undermine this cycle of regeneration and prove to be just as ill-planned as Govan’s sink schemes were. These exclusive, authority-approved private housing communities seem to me to be wrong-headed thinking and will never be affordable to indigenous Govanites – who most likely will eventually have to leave the area. Really, effective participatory urban regeneration management calls for a fundamental rethink from all the players involved, from the local authorities and development agencies, through local (and sometimes international) non governmental organisations, to the community-based organisations themselves, in redefining their roles and relationships – if something is to be done for the benefit of us all.
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