As the eyes of the world fell on Glasgow, a special countdown was devised by Jack Morton Worldwide to promote community and craft groups through out the city. 14 groups were approached to make the numbers involved, as a billion viewers around the world counted down to the start of the XX Commonwealth Games.
The numbers were filmed at locations around the city to showcase to the world both the talent and the sites of Glasgow. Clocking in at number 7 was the amazingly brilliant social enterprise, GalGael Trust, a community and heritage association located in Govan, Glasgow, Scotland, near the River Clyde. Aside from fabricating the elm handle for the Queen's Baton for the XX Commonwealth Games, GalGael is best known for its fight against the problems of unemployment and poverty, especially the high incidence of family breakdown, alcoholism and drug problems. Founded in the mid-1990s by the late Colin Macleod, GalGael has been providing participant based programmes that help people regain a positive sense of both self and community ever since. The phrase "GalGael" comes from 9th Century Norsemen, who mingled with native Celts; gall meant "foreigner," and gael meant "native." When they adopted the emblem of a 9th-century birlinn (a highland galley or large rowing-boat) as a logo, it occurred to them that they could achieve many of their social objectives by actually building a boat, so this is what they set out to do: to provide learning experiences anchored in practical activities that offer purpose and meaning to marginalized people. From there they took inspiration in the community boat-building revival in the Shetlands and in Norway, which they envisaged also would make a good template for reclaiming heritage and reconnecting to Clyde coastal communities.
The Journey On programme seeks to reconnect people with the best within themselves through positive learning journeys grounded in practical activity. Activities like working on producing our range of wooden products or working alongside crafts-folk to handcraft furniture, cooking in the kitchen, processing Scottish timber or helping out at a range of public events. These learning journeys are enriched by wider activities like boat building, rowing, rural skills, community and creative projects. Using traditional skills as a vehicle and working with natural materials such as wood, stone and metal, Journey On provides opportunities to pick up new skills, and get in to good life habits; creating numerous opportunities for people to work up their strengths. Practical activity provides a practical focus, while other transformations get to work on deeper personal levels. Because GalGael believes that most people are looking for a hand up—not a hand out, they offer a unique work place... a place of respect... a workplace that challenges, inspires and creates the conditions conducive to learning; a place where mistakes are not only made but owned as one's best teachers. Here issues are left at the door and new identities forged.
GalGael builds and sails wooden boats in celebration of Scotland's heritage. These ventures provide a focal point around which a whole number of community benefits can unfurl, including motivational learning opportunities that enrich people's lives and improve earning potential. Not least because they are convinced true wellbeing will only return to urban Scotland when people reconnect with the mountains, moors and waterways on which its ancestral heritage was built, GalGael restores that relationship within the heart of the city of Glasgow by building boats that can take people on voyages that connect up to Scotland's stunning west coast.
Our newest project, Anchor and Sail, will run for three years from July 2014 and build two 20-foot sailing skiffs. Anchor and Sail is a partnership project that will see GalGael work with the Tall Ship and Clyde Maritime Trust to preserve Scotland's fast disappearing maritime heritage and in particular the intangible heritage stored in the skills involved in building traditional boats and the traditions that surrounded boat building itself, such as laying the keel. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Scotland, the Anchor and Sail project will offer skills development opportunities to over 200 local people, train eight 'apprentices' as boat builders, restore two boats and see three traditional boats built.
Few experiences can be as inspirational as setting out in a boat you helped to build. So one of the ways in which GalGael seek to live out its purpose is through getting people out in boats, experiencing the lochs and seas and expanding sense of territory. This provides opportunities for voyagers to explore their limits but most importantly their strengths. Mastering the oar to row in time with your fellow crew members is a significant moment and, in an individualistic society, one of the few chances where someone gets to experience true cooperation. This GalGael voyaging experience goes beyond team work.
GalGael's 30 ft.-long Orcuan was built in 2001 to an ancient Scottish prototype. She is an interpretation of the historic galleys of the West Coast; the Birlinn, Scotland's traditional Gaelic longboat. These boats were effectively banned by the repressive Statutes of Iona, which date back to 400 years ago. Once they would have provided the main form of transport in a mountainous island region—linking the constellation of settlements on the West Coast of Scotland and beyond to the coasts of Ireland and Isle of Man. Today, they use Orcuan and their other boats to open sail training opportunities to the local community, linking urban and rural communities and enabling access to Scotland's unique natural heritage.
Recovery Stays at Barmaddy
Recovery Stays at Barmaddy offer a unique experience of living and working with others in a safe setting. The stone-built farmhouse, surrounded by forestry on the side of Loch Awe in Argyll offers an inspiring venue for people looking for space for reflection, personal growth and transformation. Barmaddy offers a space for learning new skills & passing on old skills. Barmaddy allows people to find open air space to breathe and indoor space to talk round the wood-burning stove in the evening. GalGael have been developing Barmaddy for the past seven years and are now offering recovery stays to Scotland's recovery communities as well as group hires so that the building can be used by a range of organisations or private groups.
Practice and Skills as Ritual
And so coming full circle, the ethos of GalGael can be epitomized in Deacon Blue's song "Dignity," which was performed last night at the Closing Ceremony of the XX Commonwealth Games, in a fitting tribute to all the police, fire, ambulance and municipal workers who kept Glasgow ticking over in fine form throughout the games. GalGael's focal points of outdoor activities and boat building can be best explained by its founder. "It has to do with the ritual," said the late Colin Macleod, "of involving the community in building something that has part of them in it. All these planks somehow go together and make a boat. And that boat somehow can hold us, take us all on a voyage. The voyage of a busted-up community to a better, more hopeful future. Our work provides a safe harbour where people whose lives have been battered by storms can find skills, purpose and inspiration. Storms such as worklessness, depression or addiction. In our workshops both boats and lives are re-built. We offer a workplace that challenges, inspires and creates the conditions conducive to learning; a space where mistakes are not only made but owned as our best teachers, where issues are left at the door and new identities forged.