Back in the early 1980’s, a circus clown called Reg Bolton began training young people in circus craft on the streets and housing estates of Edinburgh. In Wester Hailes, where I once worked, close encounters with jugglers, stilt walkers and unicyclists were an everyday, albeit surreal occurrence. Reg’s annual Summer Circus School spawned a small army of young performers – an absolute gift to the community arts scene that thrived in the City’s most disadvantaged areas. These locally-led arts organisations were, and in many cases still are, the bedrock of community life – and long predated the appropriation of community empowerment by policy makers. While the appeal of circus as an art form may have waned, our need to celebrate who we are and where we come from, for all forms of artistic and cultural expression, is visceral and its absence this year will have taken a mighty toll. My neighbour, who grew up in one of those estates, told me that Reg had once handed him a unicycle and told him not to return until he’d learned how to ride it. He attributes that single event to a lifetime spent in the creative industries. Time to send in the clowns.
In the most recent briefing…
Whenever a new list of the most-this-or-that place on the planet is published, it’s wise to treat it with a healthy dose of scepticism. These lists are also, irritatingly, a little compulsive. But when a neighbourhood in Glasgow’s East End appears at number eight in TimeOut’s List of the world’s 40 coolest neighbourhoods, all doubts about its veracity disappear out the window. And one factor that has contributed to the emergence of Dennistoun as the place to hang out is Alexandra Park Food Forest – just one more example of Scotland’s ever expanding community food growing movement.
The Isle of Kerrera, just off Oban, has 68 residents but lacks the basic amenities for them to meet and socialise and to be able to make any kind of tourist offering for the annual 15,000 visitors. Last year the islanders purchased the near derelict Old School House but needed more cash to complete the renovations. A crowd funder was launched and as a mark of how committed the islanders are, two young lads whose mums both attended the school took the plunge to make an epic fundraising swim across the Sound of Kerrera. Lovely wee film too.
If the pandemic has knocked the world off its axis, it’s hard to imagine what it’s meant for those thousands of refugees and asylum seekers whose world parted company with any semblance of normality long ago. While it’s difficult to fully appreciate what it is to be a refugee, an initiative that began in Denmark 20 years ago is at least designed to help. The Human Library, now operating in 80 countries, is such a simple idea but offers us the potential to gain insight into the lives of those who we may live next to but don’t necessarily understand.
Scottish Government is soon to publish its updated Climate Change Plan. While Scottish Government has long enjoyed a reputation for having world leading carbon reduction targets, 2021 is the opportunity to up its game again. With no more time or space left for manoeuvre and with the UN Sec Gen declaring that humanity is facing climate ‘suicide’, this Plan needs to be more than just ambitious. Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, the largest civil society coalition ever assembled in Scotland, has set out its key demands.
The failings of our unregulated housing market are well documented. While correcting those failings appears to be an unwieldy process, with Government interventions hesitant at best, it seems that a silver lining may yet be found in the disruptions caused by the pandemic. With the collapse of the short term letting industry aka Airbnb, an opportunity has opened up for local authorities to recapture some of that lost ground. It just needs a little market savviness and the ability to move swiftly. Our council housing chiefs could do worse than have a word with their counterparts in Lisbon.
Scotland’s private landowners must be feeling more than a little uncomfortable of late. With the Scottish Land Commission exploration of how land could be taxed differently to bring more benefit to the common good coming hard on the heels of published research into the historic links between land ownership and slavery, on top of growing calls for stricter regulation of grouse moor management, the pressure must seem relentless. Most recently, and again published by Community Land Scotland, economist Prof Mike Danson challenges the economic case for large scale land ownership. Journalist David Ross gives an overview.
The thing about democracy is that while we may disagree with those we elect, the way to resolve those disagreements has to be through the ballot box. If we don’t like them then we should be able to vote them out of office. But that principle seems to have been set to one side when it comes to the planning system. Latest figures indicate that a significant majority of Council decisions to refuse planning permission are routinely overturned on appeal by the Scottish Government. As one ex-councillor commented, it ‘makes a mockery of local democracy’.
To paraphrase Robert Kennedy, ‘GDP measures everything except that which makes life worth living. He said something to that effect in 1968 and despite loads of rhetoric to the contrary, GDP still rules supreme as the principal measure of how well we’re doing as a society. Carnegie UK have long since recognised the need for a more meaningful device and for some years have been tracking a number of indicators of Gross Domestic Wellbeing (GDWe). Their recent findings indicate Wellbeing was in decline long before Covid struck but nonetheless this could be a useful yardstick of our recovery.
A forward-thinking community development trust, registered charity and SQA-approved organisation that took a dilapidated building within the community and redeveloped it into a dynamic creative media centre. SWAMP uses accredited training, outreach, film, music, digital technologies, gardening and other creative arts to support local residents – especially young people – to enable social change. The trust is proving that the arts, community involvement and provision of accredited training can be positive tools for change. SWAMP was one of the first organisations in Glasgow to use creative media, digital arts and new technologies as tools for community engagement, combining them with…Find out more