David Reilly, Chair of Govan Community Project

David Reilly is Chair of Govan Community Project and works for the Scottish Community Development Centre, which runs the Scottish Co-production Network. Here, he talks about his experiences of refugees coming to Glasgow, and how co-production is key to supporting them

GCIN.jpgI was 19 when I first met a refugee in Glasgow.  I was in one of those lifts in the Sighthill flats that took an age, carrying a box of donated clothes to a family who had newly arrived when I got chatting to a boy from Albania.  We didn’t have much to say to each other, so naturally we start talking football and away we go.  Thank goodness for Rudi Vata.

Glasgow had just taken a contract to house asylum seekers in flats no-one else wanted to live in.  The City Council were getting rent directly from national government, topped up with extra money to bring these empty flats back up to habitual standard. It was a pretty good deal for everyone, except for the refugees who were being bused to Glasgow on a no choice basis and for the people who were already living around the flats. 

No-one asked the communities in Sighthill if they wanted new neighbours and no one explained why flats were being refurbished. The rumour mill filled the void and some tabloid newspapers put their own spin on it. By then, the damage was done and efforts to tell the real story of refugees felt like manipulation. With a backdrop like this, it’s a credit to people in Glasgow and its supportive community organisations and churches that there wasn’t more trouble.

To be honest, those of us trying to help didn’t ask refugees what they wanted either.  I don’t think anyone asked those people who had fled conflict and trauma before being dumped into a high-rise flat in a city they might never have heard of, surrounded by other people going through their own battles, if a teenager with a box of clothes he had helped pick out for you was really the help you needed.

In time, Glasgow’s response to these new communities with new and different needs, was to set up Integration Networks around the city, bringing together the grassroots groups and people who wanted to help.  These networks took their own paths, but most provided drop-ins, English classes and advice.  My experience of integration networks was that there remained a sense of doing things for refugees rather than with them.

This weekend, I was re-elected to Chair the Board of Directors of Govan and Craigton Integration Network.  At the same meeting, as well as deciding to change our name to Govan Community project, the name most people use for us and one that better describes what we to achieve, we decided on a new mission which is to work for:

“Social justice in Govan and Craigton by building a strong community based on equality, mutual respect, support and integration.”

We are doing a lot already to make that happen, as well as running drop-ins where we give advice and information, we host English learning groups and a homework club.  We support a really strong Women’s Group and more recently set up a men’s equivalent. We’ve facilitated participatory action research; where community members set the agenda and find out what is important in their own community.

But we need a different approach to better benefit from the skills and talents of the New Scots we meet each week.  We need to ensure it’s the community members who ‘co-commission’, plan and prioritise our services.  We need to ‘co-deliver’ our services with community members, through an equal relationship, avoiding the dreaded tokenism.  And we want to co-assess the value of what we are doing, so that it is communities who judge our efforts and tell us what needs to happen to make a difference in their lives.

To achieve this, we need to change our mindset and thinking. We are trying to think of how to set up a culture where we feel comfortable asking people who need a bit of support to think about paying it back by supporting others, further down the line.  Instead of asking people “what do you need?” we’re learning to ask “what do you need and what can you give?” 

To do this, we need to facilitate ways that communities in Govan can help each other, or, as co-production is best defined, combine our mutual strengths and capacities so that we can work with one another on an equal basis to achieve positive change

During Co-production Week in Scotland I’ve been learning lessons from lots of the inspirational people and community groups who are further down the road to co-production and plan to bring those home to Govan.