Thursday 17 December 2015
Syrian refugees raised their voices in the Scottish Parliament today and got a fast reply from the First Minister. Within a couple of hours of two speakers requesting to meet First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to discuss issues they were concerned about, she said she’d be willing to hear them early in the new year.
More than 52 asylum seekers, refugees and local supporters of the group Uniting Nations in Scotland (UNIS), travelled from Glasgow to the presentation arranged by MSP Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin).
UNIS is a charity organisation working closely with Police Scotland, BEMIS the ethnic minorities umbrella body, the British Red Cross, Findlay Memorial Church, Crossing Borders, Maryhill Integration Network, the International Women’s Group and the Inner Circle Men’s Group.
Two of the UNIS members gave speeches in the Scottish Parliament committee room. Feras Alzoubi – a father of three, who came with his family through the United Nations Vulnerable Person Relocation Scheme and Marwa Daher a 16 year old youth member of UNIS who arrived under the same scheme. Both praised the UK Government and the UN for helping them to be brought to safety. They also thanked the Scottish Government and local authorities for their warm welcome and the help they’d received from UNIS. But each touched on issues they felt needed more attention.
Said school girl Marwa Daher in excellent English: ‘We didn’t choose to leave Syria. But we had to. Danger had become our shadow.’ She was unable to attend school in Syria because of the war which claimed the life of her 15-year-old brother. She said she was quite happy in school in Scotland. But added: ‘I wish even more could be done for people like us to support us in our education. We still feel confused about the education system and other issues.’ She then asked to meet the First Minister to ‘share our experiences in order to resolve them and to make them better for the other children who are coming to the country.’
Electing to speak in Arabic, Feras Alzoubi said he was ‘re-born’ on the day he came to Glasgow.
After he and his family were left for dead in their home after hours of shooting, he escaped. ‘But my mother and brothers, unfortunately, are not protected by the UN Vulnerable Persons Scheme. They were left behind.’ He asked, therefore, for parents and other family members to be offered protection under the UN Scheme.
He was traumatised by his experience of being shot at and by the subsequent journey but – four months after arriving in Scotland – he is still waiting to see a consultant about his bullet wound injuries.
He added: ‘We know now that our children have a future here and we will contribute to building the economy of Scotland, but we ask the Scottish Government to recognise we Syrian refugees are people with a lot of experience and many skills. A programme to help us get into our previous types of work would be useful.’
Both speakers mentioned how helpful it had been to attend UNIS events to learn about Scottish culture, share their own culture and be informed by Police Scotland about the law in Scotland as they were anxious to stay on the right side of it.
UNIS leader and founder Mrs Ahlam Souidi launched a booklet ‘Celebrating Together’ containing the stories of many of the refugees who had been involved with UNIS and photographs of the social events held in conjunction with Police Scotland and other partners.
On her ‘to do’ list for the organisation are: setting up a Women’s Group which will address various issues including domestic violence; establishing training so that Syrian skills can be used effectively in Scotland; setting up a youth group.
Chief Inspector Alastair Muir of Police Scotland said there were many success stories to celebrate while police worked with asylum seekers and refugees. ‘But it takes time to integrate and then to trust,’ he said. ‘Police here don’t operate in the way police in other countries do. We don’t ‘do’ guns, for a start. We like to stress that New Scots are protected here. But it takes time to build relationships and for our message to get across that Police here will not tolerate intolerance – whether race, religion or domestic violence.’
The event at the Scottish Parliament was ably chaired by Mohamed Souidi who came to the UK at the age of one and speaks fluent Arabic, English and French. It was drawn to a close by Mr Alzoubi’s six year old son, Hamza, singing a Syrian song.
The remains of the six tower blocks on Red Road which were blown down on Sunday are now attracting tourists. Nicknamed – the Leaning Towers of Petershill – the two fragments of buildings still standing with ten or more floors intact, are being widely photographed.
Dr Helen Murray and her friend Catriona Fraser came from Aberdeen specially to see the mounds of rubble. From Glasgow originally, Helen said: ‘You knew you were home when you saw the Red Road flats on the horizon. My mother has asked me to bring her here to see the site even although she’s never been on this side of the city.’
The two friends have toured the country taking fun shots of different places and people – including tennis star Andy Murray.
Local residents in the Red Road exclusion area were – mostly – back to normal. Said Margaret Finlay, a family support worker at the Tron St Mary Church of Scotland on Red Road: ‘It was back to work on Monday. There wasn’t a lot of inconvenience.’ The Church’s community allotments had been covered with black tarpaulins to protect the vegetables and other plants from the dust. And the Sunday service had been held in Springburn Church along with that congregation.
Bonnybroom Nursery which was possibly the closest building to the demolition site, was open on Monday as usual. Glasgow City Council was asked by the head teacher to put out a tweet to that effect.
The senior citizens’ Alive and Kicking building on Red Road and the Family Centre next door were all still being cleaned up today (Thursday 15 October) before expecting to re-open soon.
Contractor Safedem is using high-reach machinery to dismantle 123 Petershill Drive. The work will involve weakening the steel frame enough to enable it to be brought down to ground level under controlled conditions. A safe exclusion zone within the site has been set up so that parts of the structure can be dismantled safely. The exclusion zone also includes a buffer zone for debris.
A GHA spokesman said: ‘Although two of the blocks did not fall exactly as predicted on Sunday, all blocks are now at a height that the demolition can be completed as planned. The contractor is now dismantling the remaining floors of the blocks. This work will be carried out under strict health and safety conditions and with minimum disruption to residents.’
While reports from various residents alluded to burst water pipes, broken locks, washing machines stopping working, no one spoken to had actually experienced any back lash from the major blow-down on Sunday.
The six blocks were built in the late 1960s. Designed by architect Sam Bunton, they cost £6 million. The cost of demolition has not been revealed by Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) which is part of the Wheatley Group and owns the iconic properties.
The Govan Fair Association recently handed over a cheque for £200 to ‘We are Macmillan Cancer Support’ to help people living with cancer.
Though wheelchair bound, Linda Yates was the chief fund raiser for the Govan Fair Association. ‘I just did what I could to help,’ she said. This included sitting outside with a bucket on Govan Fair Day in June 2015 receiving money given by the crowd. On behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support, modern apprentice Calvin Lynch (17) was happy to receive the cheque for the formal ceremony in the Pearce Institute café in Govan which is run by Macmillan Cancer Support. Vice Chair Sandy Black, wearing the Govan Fair chain of office, officially represented the Association. He said: ‘The money given to Macmillan Cancer Support continues an ancient tradition of the Fair Association – to distribute any surplus from the Fair to those in need locally.’
A spokeswoman for the Macmillan support fundraising team which works upstairs in the Pearce Institute, said the money would be added to what the team raises for Macmillan work.
Later that day, Linda Yates was honoured by the Association – which has a tradition going back more than 300 years – and made a Life Member as was local Church of Scotland minister Moyna McGlynn. Said Chairman Lord James Stringfellow: ‘They have been given Life Membership out of gratitude for the support each has given the Govan Fair and the Govan Fair Association over the years.’
The Association has also ratified its 21st century working model as a company limited by guarantee with Charitable Status. Said Mr Stringfellow: ‘The whole process was managed by OSCR (the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator) who made sure all the legalities and constitutional procedures have been adhered to. We are now on a modern footing and the Govan Fair is protected for the people of Govan for the next 300 years. The current committee are the custodians of huge tradition and we take that role very seriously.’
Later that day, the Govan Fair Association re-elected their committee at a re-called annual general meeting. Solicitor John Flanagan reassured everyone that the legalities of becoming a company limited by guarantee with Charitable Status had been done correctly. He explained that this was to protect the people taking the responsibilities of the Association and was a normal process today. Chairman Lord James Stringfellow also moved an amendment to the standing orders to emphasis that the Govan Fair belongs to the people of Govan and those who are the custodians of the Association and formal supporters of it, are committed to that objective.
Champion boxer Amir Khan distributed Eid toys to young patients in the recently opened Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow today (Tuesday 7 July 205). ‘An amazing hospital and staff,’ tweeted the current Silver Welterweight title holder later.
Channelled through the charity Colours of Islam, the gifts celebrate Eid, the religious holiday Muslims observe at the end of Ramadan, the fasting month when it is customary to give to charity and to support good causes.
Kirsten Sinclair, Director of Fundraising at Yorkhill Children’s Charity said: ‘We have a longstanding relationship with Colours of Islam and would like to thank them for the smiles and laughter they bring to our young patients at Eid every year.’
Refana Saleem from Colours of Islam said: ‘We are thrilled to have worked in association with the Amir Khan Foundation in visiting the newly opened hospital. And we are delighted the children can enjoy their new toys. We would also like to thank all our dedicated supporters, sponsors and volunteers for all their work over the years.’
On a tour of the UK during Ramadan, Amir was guest at a charity dinner last night in Glasgow which raised funds for good causes including the Amir Khan Foundation. He tweeted: ‘Amazing ifthar dinner in Glasgow. So much love and generosity shown by the Scottish people for the AK Foundation.’
Twice world champion, Amir has fought at lightweight, light welterweight, and welterweight. He is the youngest British Olympic boxing medallist, having won silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics, aged 17.
The Yorkhill Children’s Charity has funded more than £5m in equipment and service delivery at the new hospital including a £1m interactive play area which is the first of its kind in Europe.
Services transferred from the old Yorkhill Hospital to the Royal Hospital for Children at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow last month.
The funeral of Sheku Bayoh – the black, Kirkcaldy, man who died in Scottish Police custody on Sunday 3 May – will take place on Sunday 7 June in Kirkcaldy.
His family invite those who knew him and those who support their search for justice for him, to the funeral. The funeral procession will start at 12 noon from Hayfield Road, Kirkcaldy where he died. This is the street where an alleged incident of a man brandishing a machete brought nine police officers to the scene. From there the procession will march to Kirkcaldy Police Office and then to the local Mosque for prayers and tributes. Sheku will be laid to rest in Dysart Muslim cemetery.
At a funeral reception afterwards well-wishers will be allowed to give their tributes and share their good memories of Sheku who was 31 and had lived in Kirkcaldy since he was 17. He was born in Sierra Leone, moved to London aged 11 then went to Kirkcaldy to join his sister who lives there and works as a nurse.
His family invite friends to the funeral and the reception as they wish support on the day and for their campaign to seek the truth of what actually happened and fight for justice of Sheku. Ade Johnson, Sheku’s brother-in-law is the contact point for further information: email@example.com
Sheku was working for British Gas and training to be an engineer. He and his partner have two sons, Tyler aged 3 and Isaac aged 4 months.
A family statement said: ‘Sheku Bayoh came into contact with Police Scotland officers from Kirkcaldy Police Station on Sunday 3 May 2015. He did not leave police custody alive. The family wants to know the truth of what happened and are appealing to members of the public to come forward to tell them what they saw at Hayfield Road, Kirkcaldy. Sheku was only 31 years old when he was suddenly and cruelly taken from us. We are all devastated and still in shock. Our loss is great.’
Protesters, wanting to shut down Dungavel Immigration Detention Centre near Strathaven, will descend on the prison on Saturday 30 May.
Organised by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) the demonstration is supported by the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church, the Muslim Council of Britain, Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, and community activists from across Scotland.
A recent STUC motion said: ‘Detention is a blight on our asylum system. People being held indefinitely in Dungavel have committed no crime.’ The UK is the only European country which has no limit on the time permitted to detain people seeking sanctuary.
According to the BBC in January, 185 people were detained in Dungavel. Two had been there for more than a year while 32 had been there for more than six months and a further nine for more than three months. Children are not supposed to be detained in Dungavel but fears were expressed at a meeting in Glasgow a few days before the demonstration, that they were being held there before being send to detention centres in England.
Church and human rights authorities have been refused permission by Home Secretary, Theresa May, to visit the prison to see if reports of people detained there being on hunger strike over the conditions and over their unlimited detention, were true.
Speakers at the rally are expected to include Glasgow Girl Amal Azzudin who, as a school girl, along with her peers, challenged the removal of one of their class mates whose family was seeking asylum. Their challenge was successful and the story of their fight was later made into a successful stage musical.
A former home of the Dukes of Hamilton, the Dungavel property is run by the Home Office via a £25million, 5 year contract with GEO, part of the company which runs Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre and private jails in the United States.
For more information and to book a place on the bus: www. stuc.org.uk/dungavel #ShutDunga
So many people wanted to attend Sunday’s hustings for Glasgow North candidates that the doors had to be closed when the maximum of 150 was reached in Hillhead Baptist Church building. Organised by the West End group of Churches – ACTS – and welcomed by Alison Spurway, the event was chaired by Professor John Curtice whose political commentaries are legendary. He posed the questions which had been submitted earlier.
Each candidate started by setting out their party’s stall. SNP’s Patrick Grady, said he wanted the energy of the Referendum to re-vitalise politics at Westminster. Opposed to austerity and spending on weapons of mass destruction, he said his party would be a strong voice for Glasgow. He said: ‘Glasgow North is a most idverse area of inequality and presents great challenges. The SNP would represet you with heart and passion.’
Simon Bone, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist (CON) candidate for Glasgow Central, stood in on behalf of his party colleague Lauren Anne Hankinson. He said there were three reasons people in the constituency should vote for her on May 7 – ‘We are part of the Union and that was demonstrated by the Referendum. We’re a young party with a growing membership and young leader, Ruth Davidson. And we’re the party for business – especially small and medium enterprises because we’d keep business tax low and opportunities up.’
GREEN Party candidate Dr Martin Bartos, said his party would put public transport back into public hands to keep profit for people not business. ‘We’re the party for people, the planet and peace,’ he added.
UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) Jamie Robertson said this was a most exciting year to have a general election. ‘The Scots always punch their weight in the UK,’ he said.
James Harrison, a candidate in Glasgow North West, was standing in for Scottish Liberal Democrat (LIB DEM)’s Jade Elizabeth O’Neil. He said his Party would promote fair taxes by cutting taxes, raising the tax threshold and introducing new green laws. ‘We’d fight for quality of healthcare and mental health,’ he said.
Ann McKechin, Scottish Labour Party (LAB) – who has held the seat for the past 10 years – said that had been a great privilege and she hoped the electorate would vote for her to continue. ‘I have a strong commitment and am passionate about many things including promoting a living wage, ending the obscenity of fees for industrial tribunals, the future of our young people and social justice.’ She also advocated an end to food banks and stated clearly that she wanted David Cameron out of office.
Angela McCormick of Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) said the same old voices of the main Westminster parties had ‘made life misery for thousands.’ She said a key election issue should be the plight of the people who had died in the Mediterranean. ‘The denial of action to save them and the racism of UKIP, should make you cry.’ She railed against ‘the rich getting richer,’ sanctions and the vast numbers who didn’t earn a living wage.
Russell Benson, introduced as the candidate for the ‘Cannabis is Better than Alcohol’ Party correct that, amid laughter, to say he was standing for ‘Cannibis Is Safer Than Alcohol.’ He posited that 1 million patients found cannabis an effective medical treatment and that they should not be criminalised. ‘We could save £300m before even considering tax,’ he said.
Asked their position on nuclear weapons, Ann McKechin (LAB) said she had opposed them since 2007 and voted against the renewal of Trident. Patrick Grady (SNP) said he joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament before he joined the SNP. ‘Weapons of mass destruction are a moral outrage. Especially when Ed Milliband said he wouldn’t press the button – yet any Government he might lead would cut help for the poor but spend on weapons. I’d vote against them at every opportunity if elected,’ he said. Simon Bone (CON) posed the question: ‘Why get rid of them when North Korea is working to have them and other countries will have them in a year to 18 months? Yes, they are a deterrent and the Americans pay for them.’ He clarified that the UK pays for the warheads. James Harrison said he wasn’t involved in negotiations so couldn’t say if the Lib Dems would ‘draw a red line’ on Trident reduction but he wanted to see a reduction in the weapons around the world. Martin Bartos (GREEN) admitted the topic depressed him and he was utterly opposed to nuclear weapons. ‘If they are a deterrent, then why not arm everyone in Glasgow with knives or guns? It isn’t rational. It doesn’t make the world safer by having nuclear weapons and calling them deterrents. They are as abhorrent as biological or chemical weapons. True leadership would have the moral authority to get rid of them if they don’t want to destroy the planet.’
Jamie Robertson said UKIP would support renewal but admitted the weapons were frightening. His comment: ‘They do support a lot of jobs in Scotland,’ was greeted with groans from the audience. Angela McCormick (TUSC) immediately responded to say the STUC has that week published a report which ‘knocked the myth of jobs on the head,’ and referred people to the STUC’s website.
On the question: ‘Is the financial deficit really important?’ Simon Bone quipped: ‘personally or Government?’ Then revealed that the debts from World War 1 had just been paid back, finally, three weeks before. ‘We’ve got to balance the books. If we borrow, we have to pay back.’ Martin Bartos pointed out that the way you run a nation’s economy is different from how you manage the money in your wallet. ‘When the banks failed, vast quantities of money were printed which went to the banks. But that did not help. We should let this model of austerity go and scrutinise the dogma that has fed it so long. It is better if we think along the lines of a farmer in difficulty needing resources to buy seeds to sow crops to have the hope of harvesting more in the future.’
James Harrison’s response was to end tax evasion. His party would not rectify things by cutting welfare as the Tory’s had done. Instead Lib Dems would grow the economy to grow more jobs. Ann McKechin said far too many people got too little return for their work. With 500,000 working people dependent on housing benefit, the economy was not working. Higher wages and spending on research and development were ways Labour would grow the economy. Russell Benson’s solution was to ‘take the economy out of the hands of gangsters and put into the hands of public bodies.’ Angela McCormick’s answer for TUSC was to highlight trade union protests on the cuts planned for the following week. She said: ‘This is not your deficit. It is the bankers’ deficit. They gambled and lost. It is a sick joke that we are asked to pay when the 1000 richest people in the UK own £500 billion. If the wealthy tax dodgers were taxed that would bring in £100bn.’ And she warned of bigger cuts to come.
Jamie Robertson’s line from UKIP was to come out of Europe. ‘That would save billions.’ Patrick Grady (SNP) also warned of ‘worse to come.’ But he pointed out that Finance Minister, John Swinney had balanced the books of the Scottish Government since 2007.
A questioner from the audience asked the candidates to justify the loss of thousands of further education lecturers’ jobs. Ann McKechin (LAB) said she’s lobbied Glasgow University to pay the living wage as they had some people on zero hours contracts. Labour’s policy was to stop the exploitation of people by forbidding zero hours contracts after 12 weeks. Patrick Grady said it was a free education that motivated him to get into politics. Jamie Robertson (UKIP) said it was ‘a tragedy’ that people were written off and his party would give people a full-time contract after 12 months.
Angela McCormick (TUSC) said the Tory party – supported by UKIP would be too ‘right wing’ and had already attacked the rights of workers. ‘I work in further education and know we need to start to do things differently.’
The next question was on the refugees dying in the Mediterranean. ‘These are Europe’s Boat People,’ said the questioner. ‘Shouldn’t we let them come and bring their assets?’ With Professor Curtis interjecting: ‘Should we take a share of these refugees?’
Answers ranged from Jamies Robertson confirming his party’s policy on more control of UK borders to prevent ‘unlimited immigration.’ Adding that he favoured the Australian points system. to James Harrison (LIB DEM) saying it was ‘a disgrace’ that Europe had reduced the budget (to save those drowning in the Mediterranean) at a time of great need.
Green Party’s Martin Bartos told how his Czech parents came to the UK in the 1980s and he, with them, worked to be good citizens here. ‘We believe immigration helps the economy and enriches culture.’ He also said that as a psychiatrist, he had treated people (asylum seekers) who had gone through torture. ‘But what was worse was seeing them put through unspeakable things in the immigration process. That is our shame.’
Going against his party’s policy, Conservative Simon Bone declared there wasn’t enough immigration. ‘We forget the numbers we export to Spain, for example. I’d encourage more immigration.’ Patrick Grady (SNP) supported more immigration. ‘We support the right of people to move and be global citizens. Scotland would be a welcome beacon and this would be to our well-being.’ Angela McCormick (TUSC) said the present government had made a conscious decision not to help the asylum seekers and so, in her view, they had murder on their conscience. ‘We take nowhere near the number of refugees we should . This is a humanitarian crisis.’
She added that Dungavel was ‘Scotland’s shame’ and should be closed down. She highlighted an STUC sponsored protest there on Saturday 30 May in solidarity with the asylum seekers detained in Dungavel who are on hunger strike because of the conditions and the unlimited time they are kept there. Russell Benson considered there was a link between people being trafficked, illegal immigration and the unregulated drugs market. ‘We have an archaic policy in the UK.’ Simon Bone (CON) said the UK had a moral duty to help: ‘We were partly responsible for the conflicts that caused people to migrate.’
On the local issue of the future of the North Kelvin Meadow – wild green space wanted by local people for children to play in and by developers to build flats – all candidates were against the commercial development of the space.
Asked by Professor Curtis what aspect of their Party’s policies they were least comfortable with, there was a wide range of answers. Patrick Grady (SNP) said he’d prefer an elected head of state instead of retaining the Queen, though he’d stand by the promise to abolish the House of Lords.
LIB DEM’s James Harrison admitted abandoning tuition fees had been a mistake and cost votes. GREEN’s Martin Bartos wished his party had a much cleverer way to get more people standing as candidates. Russell Benson said that Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol was a single issue party. ‘We could fight on more issues – for example safer alcohol. It can be used as a safe relaxant but it is also tearing communities apart.’
Conservative’s Simon Bone said he was a bit embarrassed by members with extreme views going to UKIP. On the bedroom tax, he didn’t think people should be punished for having an extra room. ‘We should be able to manage the situation better by allowing people to rent out the spare room and make some income.’
Ann McKechin (LAB) admitted it was ‘a very difficult question.’ She said she’d like an MP to interpret issues according to their own constituency and their own principles. ‘Some were opposed to the war in Iraq or to Trident and are prepared to take the consequences.’ Angela McCormick said she had no difficulty with anything in her party’s manifesto: ‘I helped write it!’ She added that the most uncomfortable thing for her was to ‘stand here’ at the hustings meeting.
UKIP candidate Jamie Robertson raised a laugh when he said with hesitation: ‘I’d need to read the manifesto (again) but…I support it all.’
In true Presbyterian tradition, all six election candidates for the Glasgow South seat had their say in Cathcart Trinity Church. Each was listened to with respect by the audience of almost 200 people. Three people who wanted to have a shouting match were politely, but firmly dealt with by the Chairperson, Rev Wilma Pearson and chose to leave.
The format worked well. First, every candidate stating his case, then questions were asked by the Chairperson from those submitted some time before. Each candidate gave his answer. And a final response concluded an informative and carefully timed evening.
Tom Harris who has represented the area for Labour since 2001 when the seat was Glasgow Cathcart, left no one in doubt about his concerns should the SNP ‘sweep the board.’ He said: ‘That is the elephant in the room. There can never be a coalition between Scottish Labour and the SNP. The only sure way to stop them is to vote Labour.’
Stewart McDonald, the SNP candidate was equally certain: ‘If you want business as usual at Westminster, then I’m not your guy. If you want to move forward and hold politicians accountable, you should support me.’
Ewan Hoyle, the Scottish Liberal Democrat representative said that the Liberal Democrats were the major ‘green’ party championing climate change at Westminster. ‘If you want green issues to be on the table at Westminster you should vote Liberal Democrat,’ he said.
Kyle Thornton of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party said his party was the only one with a plan to make things better for everyone in Britain. ‘Everyone who wants a job should get a job. There will be help for the young people into jobs or college or university or an apprenticeship. This is not another Referendum. If you want the country to keep together you should vote Conservative.’
Scottish Green Party candidate, Alastair Whitelaw said it wouldn’t be a career disaster for him, personally, if he didn’t get elected. But he urged people to consider the international perspective so that this country cultivated better relationships all over the world. ‘This is the only way to secure our future by being better at the so-called ‘soft’ relationships and being able to speak other languages. Peace, disarmament, food production and climate change are the things that need to be done better in the next 30 to 50 years if we want to make this world a safer place.’
Brian Smith of the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) warned: ‘If you vote tactically, you’ll still get austerity. Think carefully and vote for what you really belive in. Dream dreams, that way you can change society.’
Photograph shows BACK ROW from left: Alastair Whitelaw (Scottish Green Party), Brian Smith (TUSC), Ewan Hoyle (Scottish Lib Dems), Kyle Thornton (Scottish Conservative and Unionist). FRONT ROW from left: Stewart McDonald (SNP), Rev Wilma Pearson, Tom Harris (Scottish Labour Party)
A Thames tidal wave of enthusiasm gave the current Govan Fair organisers a flotilla of good ideas to improve the stability of the annual event.
Adrian Evans, Director of Totally Thames, a Festival spanning the length of that great river which flows through the heart of London, was guest speaker at a seminar on the Govan Fair’s future this week. He outlined the ebb and flow of events which led to Totally Thames. His inspiration was the exceptional artist George Wyllie. ‘He brought this huge origami boat and floated it down the Thames in the 1990s,’ said Adrian. ‘That made a big impression on me. It was immense. It was amusing and made me realise Govan – where he came from – was a special place.’
The festival he has developed from nothing on the Thames now has many very good working partnerships with businesses along the length of the river. His organisation is responsible for around 25% of the events while the others arise locally and are included in the Totally Thames programme. He urged the Govan Fair organisers to: ‘Look for the opportunities. Pursue them aggressively and celebrate the fantastic and unique history you have.’
Architect Andy McAvoy left Govan at the age of five but admitted he’d been ‘infected by the Spirit of the Place’ on his return in recent years and acknowledged George Wyllie had been an inspiration, too.
Andy has spent at least three years researching the buried history of Govan. ‘It was a gathering place. It was the confluence of two rivers – the Kelvin and the Clyde. So people could wade across from North to South and from East to West at low tide. The Weavers would taunt their Deacon to come out of the Water Row Inn in an annual ritual to take up his post. That led to the ‘Ghost of Water Row’ an art work in light set on the site where that inn had been.’
Andy’s research showed that a Fair predated the procession which is almost the only current activity. ‘There was commerce and interaction of people. There was a horse fair and a labour fair. Where commerce was, people gathered. But ship building caused a massive re-writing of the landscape. That’s when Lady Elder stepped in with Elder Park to have a green space protected for people.’
The Govan Fair has probably been in existence since well before 1756 when there is some documentary evidence to show it flourished. Andy outlined the various ups and downs of the Fair and said that Lord James Stringfellow, Govan Fair Chairman who chaired the seminar and Liz Gardiner of Fablevision who introduced all the speakers, were issuing a call to arms to bring in new energy to develop the Fair in a way that could be sustained and would grow the event.
The fair at present is mostly an annual parade on the first Friday of June with shows being set up last year because of Lord James’s show family connections. Other entertainments and attractions are being considered to encourage more local community participation.
The ‘incredible history’ of Govan and its Fair was supported by Graham Jeffery of the University of the West of Scotland and Director of the Creative Futures Institute and Dr Alan Leslie of Northlight Heritage concerned with archaeological excavations.
They referred to a bus from Gdansk with local people aboard tell the local history of their shipyards and city to visitors. This idea had been successfully adapted for Govan and could be again. And the site of Doomster Hill – currently under a car park – should be reclaimed as an ancient place of justice and important meetings.
The seminar was held in the Board Room of the re-furbished Fairfield Offices on Govan Road by courtesy of Govan Workspace.
It was followed by a walking tour of Govan which included the Old Kirk, the Pearce Institute, Doomster Hill and Water Row, the derelict Govan Graving Docks and the vibrant Film City which was once Govan Town Hall.
Sunday 1 February
5.30pm – 6.30pm
77 Southpark Avenue
Glasgow G12 8LE
BACH, MOZART, SCHUMANN
Played by Flora Tzanetake, piano and Sandie Bishop, violin.
Suggested ticket price £5. Accompanied children, free.