Garnethill to be explored by "new Glaswegians"

Kevin Wyber with a group of students
Kevin Wyber (centre) with a group of students

The parish community of St Aloysius in Garnethill Glasgow responded with generous and practical help to the needs of mainly Syrian refugees three years ago.  A team of nearly 40 volunteers, led by retired teacher Kevin Wyber, set up an English language school for speakers of other languages (ESOL), which now sees 50 refugees and asylum seekers each week.

Thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the volunteers are launching a new project to engage these new members of the Glasgow community with the heritage of the Garnethill area.

“Garnethill is a fascinating and quirky area of Glasgow with a multi-layered heritage,” explains Kevin. “It is one of the tallest hills in Glasgow, and has lots of interesting associations, with the women’s movement, with medicine and with education.  There were two hospitals here at one time, and now there are two education colleges (including the Glasgow School of Art) as well as two schools, Glasgow’s oldest synagogue and of course St Aloysius Church.  Famously, four out of the last fifteen Turner Prize winners lived in Hill Street at one time, as well as writers and performers.”

Around 20 of the ESOL students will team up in pairs with support of a volunteer teacher, and input from experts in the local community.  They will then be supported to undertake their own research into the area, using the architecture, street names, parks and views as their inspiration.

“Each team will look at a different aspect of the heritage – be it religious, education, residential – they will take photographs or videos and write a short narrative about what they found interesting or inspiring,” Kevin explains, “I am hoping to enlist staff and students at the art school and other local organisations to give expert input.”

The results will be compiled into an exhibition at one of the several gallery spaces on Garnethill this Autumn.

“I grew up in the area so for me it’s a personal project, as much as one to help our friends to bond with the community and with each other,” Kevin admits. “It was a fabulous place to grow up, a great melting pot.  In the 1950s there were loads of theatrical digs for artists from all over. It’s always been an attractive settlement area. We had Indian and Pakistani neighbours, as well as Italians, Greek Cypriots and Poles.  More recently the area has become the hub for the Chinese community.”

The students at the ESOL school are now mostly from the Sudan, though there are still some Syrians, and people fleeing from Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and China.  About two thirds are men, and the average age is young – around 25.The students learned about the project this week and were very excited.  Semira said, “St Aloysius Church has a lot of history inside it which we don’t know.. I am so excited with this project.  I hope and wish to get there.”  Nabil agreed, “It is a good idea and I think it will improve our experience and language and give us chance to make contact with other people.”

“The project will improve their English skills,” Kevin observes, “but a lot of things might fall out of this.  It will give our new Glaswegians the chance to produce something they can be proud of; it will help them to understand more about their new home, about how their story fits into our heritage, and hopefully will give them new skills and confidence. It is wonderful to see how, in the three years we have been running the school, the students have made friends and supported each other.  This project will help them find their voice.” Salem agreed, “My idea about the project is it will be inspiration for my future and it will give me skills if I want to do research or documenting.  That is why I am so excited,” he commented.

The National Heritage Lottery Fund funding for this project is attached to the grant to restore the famous campanile of St Aloysius Church, which was announced last month.