Nine months prior, the scene would have been very different. ‘Plagued’ by young teenagers regularly playing football on the club’s green you were more likely to hear the cry, “Get off there ya wee ***”, and an equally disparaging reply of, “Piss off ya old***” So what’s changed?
The social commentator the Rev Al Barrett would say: what’s changed is that both groups have discovered they have passion, knowledge, gifts and each other. And both have identified the power in sharing these gifts together.
In the Gallatown, Kirkcaldy, this power has enabled the young people and adults to spend time together sharing their gifts with each other to do bike maintenance, learn to play bowls, share the club space for youth activities, learn IT and cooking skills. It’s a pattern that has been repeated across nine other communities through the Scottish charity Inspiring Scotland’s Link Up programme.
More significantly, the Link Up experience supports Sir Harry’s assertion that this is a matter of capacity building and that the skills and attributes we acquire through participation and social engagement are the same qualities that produce success in other areas of life. In Link Up’s case, being a participant/volunteer has been a catalyst for material change for some individuals including: re-engagement with employment; accessing college/university; reduced drug and alcohol consumption; reduced isolation; and, re-engagement of local decision-making structures.
The Link Up experience should be a salient one for public sector bodies struggling to cope with increasing inequalities and shrinking budgets. Sustainable positive change needs public sector reform, but is also needs to come from individuals, families and community themselves.
It would be easy to mistake this as some form of neo-liberal call for a rolling-back of the state and/or the rise of individual responsibility – it’s not. What it is, is a call for public sector bodies to rethink how they invest in communities and the outcomes they are seeking. We’ve learnt building relationships is significant in contributing to building stronger more resilient communities.
It’s the type of work some will call old-school community development and others asset-based community development. Whatever it is, it’s seems we are not doing enough of it and begs the question: is it time to redirect some public investment so that we can enable a new form of community to develop? One in which:
- people are strongly connected;
- where individuals, families and the community are increasingly helping to resolve many of the challenges they face on their own; and
- those that require the support of the state are empowered and have the capacity to inform and direct what that support should look like.
Andrew Magowan is an Inspiring Scotland Performance Advisor leading on Link Up
Email Andrew Macgowan