Next week sees the launch of an audio/visual mural created by children in Glasgow’s East End highlighting what would make them feel safe, healthy and happy.
A SAFE PLACE
What is it like to be a child growing up in Glasgow’s East End in the 21st century?
Stand outside one of the buildings hosting the StreetsAhead – Glasgow children paint the way project and you’ll get the precinct element of this East Side Story. The boarded up exterior of the building, a local church hall, gives it a deceptively forlorn rather than fortress like appearance.
It is surrounded by modern low-rise housing and a new primary school, while Europe’s largest football stadium, Celtic Park is a goal kick away. In the near distance, epic construction work for the 2014 Commonwealth Games is radically altering the urban hardscape.
Inside the hall, building bricks of another kind are being cemented by children representing P6 and 7 classes from three local primary schools, Dalmarnock, St Michaels and St Annes, in the aesthetic form of an audio/visual mural.
Brushes in hand and wearing paint spattered shirts, the children are working alongside a creative team of educational professionals, to make a piece of art that reflects their hopes for the future and their wish to create a culture of non-violence and respect in their community.
The mural stems from the findings of a series of workshops held in the three schools, where all P 6 and 7 children were encouraged to think about their lives and their communities and the positive and negative aspects of their interaction with the local area.
Explains Natasha, who is in P7 at St Michaels: “It started with the P6 and P7 classes at our school. We drew roads, houses cafes, then we put words on billboards. Mine was, ‘Give your child a safe place to live in not a bad one’.
“Then we took turns to stand up and talk about what gave us the idea. For me it’s about not feeling safe to play because of the gangs and crowds. You need to be aware and wary of teens and strangers, and people selling drugs.
“I usually stay in the house and play board games but this mural is about showing other people in the community how we can make it better. At the back of the mural, we’re putting in bricks with the names of everyone who took part.”
Through such artistic and dramatic processes, the children can focus on what they need to feel safe, healthy and happy. The Children’s Parliament in tandem with Strathclyde Police’s Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV), is delivering the project, which is sponsored by (CIRV), Scottish Government and Cash back for Communities through YouthLink Scotland.
While CIRV already runs a programme primarily focused on active gang members, they identified the need to engage with younger children, particularly at the critical stage between primary and secondary schooling.
DCS John Carnochan, co-director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit which founded CIRV says: “The work being carried out by the StreetsAhead project is key to helping prevent violence and reducing the risk of violence in the lives of children in the East End.
“Communities in that area have suffered badly from the impact of violence over the years. StreetsAhead is all about future sustainability, helping youngsters develop a strong moral voice for their community, making life better not just for them but for their children too.”
When I sat in on one of the workshops in the school hall of Dalmarnock Primary. the P 6s and 7s were working in groups, absorbed in the process of talking, drawing and writing about places where they feel or safe or unsafe, then working out what would improve the situation to make them feel secure.
I am struck by what some of the children are witnessing on the street on a daily basis, scenarios that no child should have to confront. Incidents such as seeing a man stabbed to death outside the chip shop, or someone threatening your family at knifepoint at the front door.
When I look at Connor’s drawing which depicts being momentarily separated from his friend in the swimming pool, it is almost a relief to come across a ‘normal’ childhood upset.
The dedicated staff at the school has created a purposeful, nurturing atmosphere, with the teachers welcoming the opportunity for the children to discuss their views openly with the team in a relaxed way that is not always possible in the classroom.
Dotting between groups, educational co-ordinator and drama specialist, Yonnie Fraser, will ensure that the real or imagined experience and views of each child, are represented on the mural.
Views which emerge at the workshops which now form part of the mural include: ‘Stop fighting, this is our street too.’ ‘ Don’t let me out to play, there are people drinking.’ ‘While you’re hating, I’m sad.’ ‘I would like to walk to school safe.’ ‘My safe place is in my cupboard because I have a cover in my cupboard and it’s warm and quiet.’
Eleven-year-old Kaspar from P7 in St Annes, says that he initially thought the project was going to be a lot of work but it turned out to be fun. “When I first came over here from Poland I was sad as no one liked me but I made friends who helped me. Now we try to help other new people.
“In our picture on the mural we have a gang on one side and friends on the other and the sun is shining around the friends.” Mural artist Joanna Boyce points out that the idea of the glow of the sun radiating round the children’s heads has made a positive in impact on the entire mural.
Says Joanna: “One of the paintings on the mural shows two boys wearing Celtic and Rangers colours respectively, sitting side-by-side on swings saying: ‘It does not matter what team we support, we can still be friends.’
(It was in 1995 in nearby Bridgeton Cross, that a teenager walking home from a football match was killed in an unprovoked attack by a stranger. The Nil by Mouth charity which challenges sectarianism was launched in response to the tragedy.)
“When the mural is varnished and exhibition ready, it will tell everyone’s story. Tia lost her grandmother recently and she has painted the two of them together with the words ‘Every child needs a guardian angel’.
“We’re here to convert the magical things that children say such as the helter skelter with the words, ‘I feel safe at the carnival because you lose fear and start talking about something else, like how cool it is’.’
There are also word bubbles coming out of the children’s houses providing a snapshot of home life. ‘Keep track of what you are drinking.’ ‘Mum, I know it’s hard for you.’ ‘Dad, please think about when you were a child’ or the little girl saying to adults who are drinking and fighting – don’t do it – you think you’re having the time of your life drinking.’
Now it’s Friday afternoon and the children head for home, leaving the team to put the finishing touches to the mural which will be exhibited in the community and throughout Scotland.
It is so much more than a colourful and dramatic piece of art, as the children’s lives and the lives they would like to live, are seared on canvas. Be it the streets or parks, home or school, a safe place is not much for a child to ask.
Bailie Jean McFadden, Glasgow City Council’s Executive Member for Education concludes: “This is such an important initiative and a fun and imaginative way for younger pupils to learn about the negative aspects of gang culture and the repercussions of violence in their communities. It’s is about changing attitudes and traditions and our youngsters need to take ownership of this for a brighter, safer future.”
The Children’s Parliament is an independent charity working with children from birth to 14 across Scotland, engaging with children in the context of family, school and community, through creative projects, consultations and community programmes. Children gain knowledge and learn the skills, values and behaviours which make participation a habit of a lifetime. www.childrensparliament.org.uk