Youth Moderator visits three Go For It projects

Youth Moderator visits St Paul's Youth Forum
Hannah Mary Goodlad (left) pictured with youth workers at St Paul's (from left) Samantha Shaw, a volunteer from Ohio through the Presbyterian Church of the USA; Gerard Martin; Daniel Irvine and Darren Rennie.

Youth Moderator Hannah Mary Goodlad visited churches in some of Glasgow's most challenged communities to see work underway at projects receiving support from the Kirk's Go for It Fund.

"The team and I spent a full day going around projects in Glasgow that are benefiting from the Church of Scotland's Go For it fund grants," Hannah Mary said. "It's been really great to see the variety of projects and how they are helping equip people here in the East End of Glasgow to better their lives and empower them to make changes and build a better future."

With Hannah Mary on the visit were Dr Sheena Wurthmann, who represents the Church and Society Council on the Go For It Fund committee, and Go For It staff members, Catherine MacIntosh and Susan Calderhead.

First stop, was St Paul's Church in Blackhill, where the St Paul's Youth Forum provides a safe haven and activities for young people in one of the most deprived areas of Scotland. Poverty is a problem for many families here and affects life expectancy, which is just 57 for men. The Scottish average is 76. Around 20-30 young people visit St Paul's on week nights with highs of up to 40 or 50 teenagers turning out to Friday and Saturday club nights.

Building opportunity for young people

Before the project, young people in Blackhill and its surrounding neighbourhoods had nowhere to go and nothing to do, says Darren Rennie, a senior youth worker. Youth crime was a problem along with alcohol abuse and gang violence, Darren said.

"Blackhill is a difficult area and some of the young people are quite challenged. In the past the violence rate was quite high. But when you come in here you find the community is really behind anything you want to do for the kids. When you get the trust it's not even half as hard as people made out.

"I did a community research plan to find out what's going on—why is violence so high? What we found out is that there was nothing going on at the weekends. And that's the target time, Friday and Saturday nights.

"My post was to reduce violence by 10 percent each year, along with youth crime and antisocial behaviour. But in my first year youth violence dropped by 90 percent down to 10 percent of what it had been. So that was really, really good."

From football, volleyball and other sports to cooking and dance St Paul's has something for everyone. A partnership with Bolt FM Radio station means that young people who want to learn radio skills can earn Dynamic Youth Awards and Youth Achievement Awards- recognised by the Scottish Qualifications Authority. But only if they want to do it. If you want to sit on a couch and be among friends that's ok too.

"It is community led and youth led. Everything we do is because the young people want it," Darren says.

St Paul's Youth Forum received some of its funding from a Go For It Main Grant of £45,000 in 2012-13 followed by a Go For It Continuation Grant of £40,000 last year.

Youth workers took Hannah Mary on a tour of the building showing her where they are keeping hens and planning to keep bees. Then they showed her a kitchen and relaxation room where young people can come together as a church family.

"This is where the magic happens," Darren quipped.

Hannah Mary said she was impressed with the number and range of activities at St Paul's as well as by the commitment of the staff.

"I was surprised to learn that the youth workers who are working in St Paul's are actually people from this community, who are really motivated to make a difference and want to make their communities better," Hannah Mary said.

"The other thing that surprised me was that the young people who they are helping have a real say over who is hired as a youth worker in the project. It's a model that perhaps we as the Church of Scotland could learn from—that if it is a project for young people, that young people are leading it and young folk are making key decisions."

A cafe at the heart of a community

Next stop on the visit was Ruchazie Community Church, where an open space café gives people of all ages a place to build community. The café opened with help from a Go For it Pilot Grant of £5000. Ruchazie hosts youth and family activities that include dance, a parent and toddler group, sports, a Jesus and Me club for kids, computer training, job search support and a lunch club for older people.

Anne McGreechin, congregational development worker spoke to the group about the community in Ruchazie.

Many families are living at poverty level, she said, and it's common to have no bank account. Most rentals have pre-paid metres for hot water and heating. Parents in those families have to make difficult choices, such as whether to heat their homes or buy food. Anne knows of one family with young children, who had their power cut off and went without heating for two years.

"They are kind and lovely people who love their weans and they are doing their absolute best," she said of the families she works with. "But it can be really very tricky for them to get it together."

A shop in the community is quite expensive and its fruit and vegetables have not been the best quality, Anne says. That's a problem because residents face transportation barriers. Getting around on buses can be difficult for the sick and elderly, for people with a disability, or if you are looking after young children. Jobs are hard to come by especially without further education.

No wonder life expectancy is lower than average, Anne said.

"Years of poverty just drag people down," Anne told the group. "It's not just alcohol or smoking. Lack of hope and aspiration kills the spirit--and I see that here."

The lunch club is an antidote to Isolation, and as part of the effort to improve diet and health, an anti-poverty action group based at the church is working on a community garden that will sell fresh vegetables at affordable prices. To help make sure young people get enough to eat, youth activities typically include a snack or a meal.

Anne teaches the Activate course, which encourages people to pursue higher education. Two of her students are now at university. She tells all the girls she works with how smart they are, hoping they will think of themselves as capable and clever.

"Some of the girls really have no self worth and they don'tknow how to set boundaries for themselves. That's something we talk about.

"Relationships are the key. Everything has got to come out of a good relationship and that's what we try to do."

Building skills at Castlemilk Carpenters

The final stop of the day was the Castlemilk Carpenters Workshop, a new social enterprise helping long-term unemployed adults gain experience and woodworking skills, with help from A Go For it Main grant of £83,250.

The project is taking wood from two churches that merged—Castlemilk East and Castlemilk West – to make furniture for the new Castlemilk Parish Church. It also takes commissions and has made, for example, bird feeders, a hammock frame and a shed for a disabled person's scooter. At the same time the project teaches carpentry and other workskills to local people.

Rev Sarah Brown said the congregation was looking at ways to connect more with the community.

"We really wanted local community people to have ownership of our new church building so it was not just a church building but also a community asset," she says.

"Our workshop project has really raised our profile in the community. Folk have a way of connecting in with church in a new way. There was a barrier for people, partly because our old church had too many stairs so there had been a lot of people who had not had contact with the church for along time.

"Here in the workshop it's an accessible place for different people to come and folk who may have had previous experience with the church in the past or haven't found a way to connect with the church at all are getting engaged with what we are doing in the community."

Learn more about Go For It grants.

Learn more about St Paul's Youth Forum.

Find out more about Ruchazie Community Church

Find out more about Castlemilk Carpenter's workshop.