Refuge Garnethill

St Aloysius Church has been running an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) school for refugees and asylum seekers since March 2016. From an uncertain start with a handful of students, well over a thousand of them have since arrived at the parish’s doors for instruction in what we might call ‘survival English’, along with ESOL lessons up to intermediate level. Classes of around 60 students take place each weekday from 10.00-12.00 at the Ogilvie Centre, attached to the church. The school is run by over 40 volunteers.

In 2017, an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund was made and approved to repair the water damage to the tower (‘Campanile’) of St Aloysius Church, Glasgow. In tandem, a project was submitted and agreed to involve the refugees and asylum seekers and volunteers in researching and presenting an exhibition about this local district of Glasgow called Garnethill. The core proposal was that the heritage of the site would be further investigated, interpreted, and published by the ESOL group as a central part of their studies.

Working in collaboration with the Garnethill-based Glasgow School of Art, project Refuge Garnethill began in June 2019 and involved 12 students from the ESOL classes. Working with the GSofA tutor, Betty Meyer, and the team coordinator, Kevin Wyber, the members of the group explored the area and learned of its history and social significance, going back as far as the mid-nineteenth century. Photographical skills rapidly improved under Betty’s tutelage. Local historical buildings were selected and individual histories researched at the local library and on the internet. The output of photos soon ran into the hundreds until, after the final workshop, the best ones – of a professional quality – were finally selected for the exhibition. As an added bonus, students’ language skills also improved through continual discussions, researching and writing about their chosen images, so did their self-confidence.

The big day for the opening of the exhibition arrived on 9 September 2019, date of the preview, at one of the Glasgow Art School’s large studios at Fleming House, just around the corner from St Aloysius Church. Over 70 guests came along and, after a fine opening speech by the parish priest, Fr Dermot Preston SJ, certificates of achievement were handed out by Fr John Twist SJ to the project team, along with a £25 Tesco shopping voucher. In total, 38 panels were on display around the gallery walls, ranging in size from A0 to A4, interspersed with essays from the students about their research findings and opinions about cultural differences, including a number of ‘Did You Know’ facts about Garnethill.

Kevin Weyber said: “As an onlooker, it was truly gratifying to see the surprise and sheer joy on the faces our students, the New Glaswegians, as they were placed in the spotlight, praised and applauded. For some, perhaps for the first time in their lives, they had been recognised for their hard work, creativity and dedication to a project. Altogether, it was a wonderful, amazing and unique experience for all those involved.”

The exhibition was hosted in Fleming House and opened to the public for 5 days, after which it was transferred for a week to be placed on public display at The Mitchell Library in central Glasgow, and for the months of October and November it will be at The National Trust’s ‘Tenement House’ also in Garnethill.

Check full information on venue and dates of the exhibition