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 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.
Govan is in danger of losing one of its oldest communities. Show families who have lived in the area for generations fear they are being pushed out to make way for developers despite legislation which should enable them to buy their land. Show people bring shows to fairs and events around the country and have been doing so for hundreds of years.
At a meeting called to promote – Behind the Scenes at the Fair ! a three day family fun event at Glasgow’s Riverside Museum on 6,7 and 8 December highlighting the culture and heritage of Show people – some very serious concerns of Govan Show people surfaced.
Said Sheldon Johnstone who lives with ten, related, family groups in one of only two Showmen’s yards in Govan: ‘My father was born in Govan. I’ve lived here for 30 years and am on the Scottish Guild of Showmen. But we are only allowed to stay here on a monthly lease. Originally it was a six month lease. We want to be here permanently but we all worry that we’ll be put off this land and have to go and find somewhere else to live.’
Jimmy Stringfellow, who has the other Showman’s yard in Govan, told the meeting of around 30 people: ‘We have no security. I’ve been served with eight eviction notices and have had 50 visits from the police in the past three months. The CID has visited me 18 times, and the Council’s case against me was thrown out of court. I’m having a hell of a time living here in Govan. But I’m not leaving. I intend to die here!’
The meeting was held in Govan Old Parish Church which is recognised as the church for all Show families in Scotland.
‘I was married here on 24 November 1964,’ said Christine Stirling whose maiden name was Colquhoun. ‘It was a double wedding with my husband’s brother. My daughter Cindy was married here in February 1994. All my four grandchildren were christened here and the funerals of two babies who died also took place here. This is a special place for me and my family and for all Show people in Scotland.’
Six beautiful stained glass windows were installed and dedicated in the Church in 1991 to ‘show the devotion’ of the Show families.
But in the church’s meeting space near the ancient sarcophagus stones dating back to around the 9th century, today’s art works were the intended matter of discussion.
Tara S. Beall, Artist in Residence at Glasgow’s Riverside Museum promoted the culmination of months of research done in conjunction with Scotland’s Show families. This is part of her PhD work. ‘On Friday 6, Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 December at the Riverside Museum we’ll have three days to enjoy a traditional fun fair,’ she said. ‘Attractions include a steam traction engine, a carousel, chair-o-planes, swing boats, game stalls and food stalls.’ Enthusiastically she added: ‘Visitors can learn how rides are packed and transported around Scotland, how they work and even try setting up a showground game.’ She said: ‘The Riverside is a transport museum and the Show people who have contributed to this, know how to transport, pack, fix and engineer all the equipment you see in a fun fair. They’re the experts and this three day event will help spread that knowledge as people can ask any of the experts about the fairground equipment. It will be family fun too.’
A key speaker at the meeting in the Church, was Professor Mairead Nic Craith, Chair of European Culture and Heritage at Heriot Watt University. She explained the differences in language between heritage in old Irish Gaelic – from the soil, the roots, values, traditions, principles, sense of values and the new Gaelic form – legal rights, what one is entitled to.
‘These differences are obvious in Gaelic but not in English,’ she said. Further differences in meaning were explored in English speaking cultures where heritage generally applies to something tangible – ‘like a castle,’ said the Professor. ‘In some Asian cultures it can refer to the skills required and handed on to create – and re-create – a place.’
This led to the observation that tangible cultural heritage could be recognised more easily and so World Heritage sites were protected. But intangible cultural heritage was more difficult to codify. While music might be intangible, it would have the tangible element of the instruments used to make the music. Social practices, festivals, fairs and events were intangible and craftsmanship such as that used to make Arbroath smokies would also be intangible.
She noted that the United Kingdom Government has not signed the UN Charter to protect cultural heritage which would go some way to protecting intangible elements important to Show people. The Scottish Government was in favour of signing it but cultural heritage is not a devolved issue so it cannot do so.
Alex James Colquhoun, Chairman of the Showmen’s Guild, Scottish Section, outlined the difficulties the Guild has encountered in having the work and heritage of its members recognised.
‘The Guild will be 125 years old next year. It promotes education and lobbies for our way of life, our heritage. At a meeting in Brussels sit was made clear we can’t be a part of European cultural heritage schemes or protection because the UK has not signed up to it.
‘We are not looking for money. We are only looking for the recognition we think we deserve for our intangible culture and heritage.’
One of the reasons the UK government has not signed the UN Charter is because heritage is used as a political football, suggested Dr Alan Leslie, of Northlight Heritage, a Glasgow based archaeological Trust for Excavation and Research.
He suggested ways to tie-in the intangible with the tangible. ‘Culture needs weight and force to tie-in with other things around,’ he said.
An example of a Fair that has been held in Kirkcaldy for 700 years was used. Alex James Colquhoun said it was in danger of stopping because of official objections. ‘Establish whether it is an issue about the location or the Fair itself,’ advised Dr Leslie who instanced other cultural entities which lost out to commercial development.
In Europe a similar ancient Fair was revitalised through the UN Charter and the European approach because it received status, out of which came sponsorship.
The Govan event was orchestrated by Liz Gardiner of Fablevision. She is one of the people behind a gathering momentum in culturally sensitive and place-based regeneration. She said: ‘Behind the Scenes at the Fair! is an amazing project. It is important to Glasgow and Scotland. And interestingly, by holding this meeting in this church and by the involvement of Govan Show people and young film makers at Fablevision, and the commitment of Chris Jamieson of Glasgow Life Open Museums, all roads lead to an important intangible project.’