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July 11, 2012

Learning at the heart of Govan

Community Learning and Development is how councils describe the work they do to “support communities to increase the skills, confidence, networks and resources they need to tackle problems and grasp opportunities.”  Many communities take on this responsibility for themselves.  The community led Govan Folk University is a collaboration involving five local organisations who want to see Govan recognised as a place of learning.  Here’s why they decided to do it. 


The Govan Folk University – Personal Statements

Moyna McGlynn,  Minister of Govan & Linthouse Church of Scotland

In the church we have always been involved in education, historically. The church founded the major Universities and introduced schools into parishes, and even now, when schools are run by the State, many call on the local minister to be chaplain to the school children, the teachers and other staff.

In our community, we have witnessed a slow decline in opportunities, a side-lining of our people and all their skills and abilities. We have also seen, lately, a renewed investment in the physical environment around us.


The Govan Folk University is in the spirit of regeneration. It is about people regeneration. It is about creating opportunities for those skills in our community to be acknowledged. It is about introducing people to new ideas and new skills. Mostly, it is about hope for people who have lived with deep hopelessness.


We wish to create a place of learning in recognition of the unique gifts given to every individual as their spiritual inheritance, where each person is both learner and  teacher, where there are no barriers to entry and no limits to personal achievement.


This is the fullness of life, the promise of being and doing, to which our churches are committed.

Norie Mackie, Manager of the Pearce Institute

When Lady Pearce opened the Pearce Institute in 1906 lifelong learning was very much part of its intended purpose, with space created for a reading room and lecture theatre in addition to the halls and meeting rooms for a multitude of leisure and recreational activities.

In the late 1990’s along with a dozen or so local people I took part in a Community Empowerment course, run by the fledgling GalGael Trust in association with the Centre for Human Ecology, centred around the Pearce Institute.  This was genuine grassroots community action.

During 2008/09 I took part in a course entitled Introduction to Cultural Planning, run by Fablevision in association with Strathclyde University.  The network spanned Scotland and helped to develop creative connections from Neilston to Perth to Prestonpans.

The PI ran The Art of Living Club for a year funded by Awards for All, inspired by these earlier experiences to engage local people in a range of creative and life enhancing activities, including creative writing, creative expressive dance, craft evenings and watercolour classes.

All these elements inspire me to believe in the potential of the Govan Folk University and the PI, following extensive public investment in internal and external restoration and upgrading work, is well placed to play its part in the development of the GFU.

Liz Gardiner, Director of Fablevision

Fablevision is an organisation dedicated to grass roots cultural facilitation and we have been based in Govan for 25 years. We support local individuals, groups and communities to deliver wonderful projects (in film, performance or conversation) that tell their stories, celebrate who they are, their place and their people and, building from there, create new futures. The projects themselves attract long term unemployed people (particularly 16 – 25 year olds) to work as apprentices alongside more experienced practitioners as mentors. 

After a quarter of a century of experimentation with different approaches and learning models, we are now ready to share our findings and collaborate with others who have been on similar journeys of discovery. Our collaborations involve partners in mainland Europe, the USA, New Zealand, and other parts of the UK as well as on our home territory of Govan and Glasgow. 

Our latest enquiry has been conducted with the Pearce Institute, the Church of Scotland, the Galgael Trust and the Centre for Human Ecology: testing the idea of a Folk University for Govan with various campuses delivering parts of a glorious curriculum in innovative, accessible ways.

All of these organizations have been exploring alternative approaches in learning. All have worked together in various combinations on different projects. Each organization (or group of organizations) therefore, forms one of the glowing lights in the constellation of campuses delivering parts of the curriculum of an emerging Govan Folk University: at Fairley Street where Galgael are based, at Water Row where CRAN, Hopscotch and Fablevision are based and in the cultural “heart” of Govan where the Pearce Institute, Govan Old and the Centre for Human Ecology are clustered.

My personal commitment is to ensure that the constellation, like the universe, is expanding and we continually identify other groups and organizations who work in similar or different but complementary ways: the Portal, for example, LUV, SWAMP, the Village Storytelling Centre and eventually, to make links beyond Govan, Glasgow and Scotland. The context, the underpinning values and the creative approaches are the “glue” that binds us together.

What is Fablevision’s role in the development of the Govan Folk University?

As well as delivering creative cultural planning and facilitating engagement in dialogue, research, film, performance and creative arts, we see our role in the collaborative partnership as the interpreters, the facilitators, and the conduit for expression, celebration and “telling the story”.

Alastair McIntosh, a Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology and a Director of the GalGael Trust

Thirty years ago I worked in education in Papua New Guinea. Their new nation’s constitution called for “integral human development.” This meant that everyone should “be dynamically involved in the process of freeing himself or herself from every form of domination or oppression … to develop as a whole person in relationship with others.”


It had a huge impact on me. I came home and started finding out about our own traditions of popular education and the “democratic intellect” – the idea that learning should be tested by its service to the community.


I quickly found that such ideas were a battleground. A turning point was the government’s 1993 Science White Paper. It called for “key cultural change” to push universities more towards serving business and the military.


At the time I challenged this in publications like New Scientist. Today, even the European League of Research Universities voices similar concerns. Its report What are Universities For? identifies the problem as “corporate motivation … squeezing out diversity of function and undermining teaching and learning.”


In 1990 I helped organise a conference in Govan’s Pearce Institute. It was called No Life Without Roots. The keynote speaker was the Indian-Spanish thinker Raimon Panikkar and he set the MacLeod Hall on fire. I can give the essence of his address with this line from his recent book: “My contention is that, without an awareness of the divine Mystery, we cannot deal seriously with either education or life.”


At the heart of Govan is an ancient sacred site, a confluence of rivers of passion and learning from several traditions. My dream for the Govan Folk University is that, in modest ways, we dig from where we stand to touch and be touched by the spirit of people and place.


Let us move beyond the shallows of hubris and materialism. Let us step into the flow that gives life; and not just any old life, but life abundant: life as love made manifest. I do not see how else we can set face to all the masks of poverty.


Tam McGarvey, a community artist and Director of the GalGael Trust

In this present time, where we are increasingly challenged to consider how we live in harmony with one another and with nature, we witness a variety of new initiatives coming to the fore. Often these come down to us from on high, via a political level or from big business or from our educational institutions. How do our grass roots communities get involved in that decision making process to shape our own viable, sustainable futures? Do we even want be involved on those terms?

Govan is one of the most hard-pressed and marginalised communities in the country with some of the most vibrant local initiatives to match.  With a long and proud history of men and women standing up against profiteering landlords and shipyard closures, a strong spirit remains among its people, despite the plethora of negative issues. An amalgamation of local groups from a variety of backgrounds are now rallying around an alternative initiative to look at ways that Govan can take ownership of it’s future on its own terms.


The embryonic Govan Folk University (GFU), through the activities of its present partners: The Centre for Human Ecology, The Pearce Institute, Govan and Linthouse Parish Church, Fablevision and the GalGael Trust are now posing the question – who and what do some of our mainstream models of progress ultimately serve?


There is little evidence that the people of Govan reap many benefits from the fruits of a variety of “top down” initiatives that often seem geared towards empowering an economic system that – at best – mainly bypasses Govanites as well as those from other such struggling communities.


The GFU are now exploring alternative models of learning (as well as reclaiming some old ones) that will serve our community through serving “life” itself. We ask, what kind of skills do we need to learn, to share and even to enjoy in order to help us work together to form vibrant, viable and sustainable communities where values that help us co-exist are nurtured and celebrated?


We seek creative and inclusive solutions and sane options in the face of an uncertain future. Much exciting and innovative activity is currently taking place in Govan and there are many wonderful educational models, ideas, and inspirational work around the world we can tap into or learn from to augment that which is currently going on. We owe it to the coming generations to at least try and take some responsibility for our society and for the world they will inherit from us.  


 Miriam Rose. Graduate and Director of the Centre for Human Ecology

We live in an era of enormous change. Our unsustainable social and economic systems are finally at the point of collapse in various ways. We have an out-moded economic system, post-industrial unemployment, social breakdown and a multitude of global ecological emergencies.

We are called to find a new way of living and being, and to call back many of the old ways- to create a livelihood which is in balance with the earth and brings real prosperity and well being to our communities. We have a beautiful challenge in front of us.

Sadly, much of mainstream school and university education lags behind this reality and is failing to serve the needs of planet and people. In some ways it even deepens the crisis by increasingly serving the needs of corporate elites rather than encouraging free, creative and truly critical thinking.

As the Dalai Lama says so beautifully: ‘we have more knowledge but less judgements; more experts but more problems; more medicines, but less healthiness. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but we have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbour.’ We live in a time of ‘steep profits, but shallow relationships. It is time when there is much in the window but nothing in the room’.

The Centre for Human Ecology has been providing an alternative education which explores and addresses these issues since 1972. We recognise that the roots of our social and ecological crises are spiritual and cultural and require a significant shift in consciousness. We ‘dig where we stand’, looking for our own authenticity, history and insight. Finally we acknowledge that this is a time for informed action and real passion as well as thinking; that we need to engage the head, heart and hand.

Working alongside people from some of Glasgow’s most poverty-stricken communities with the Poverty Truth Commission I have seen how people are diminished and constantly told they are poor and hopeless. In reality they have many of the skills that the rest of society urgently need such as resilience, sufficiency, adaptability and low impact living. They also have a rich tradition of crafts and trades, and of song, community and survival. For me the concept of a Govan Folk University is a way of recognising, valuing and building on this knowledge, reclaiming and rebuilding an education which enables life to flourish.

I hope that instead of being talked down to, Govan can be looked up to as a model of community, prosperity and sustainability by the rest of the world.