SCCAN Annual Gathering 2024

Story Weaver Lesley Anne Rose reflects on SCCAN’s National Gathering which took place at Maryhill Burgh Halls, Maryhill, Glasgow on 22 March 2024. 

Maryhill is located in north west Glasgow and used to be an independent burgh before being absorbed into the wider city. The short walk from Maryhill train station to the Burgh Halls where SCCAN’s 2024 National Gathering was being hosted is filled with evidence of the area’s industrial past. Not least of which a wide view of a flight of five lochs (known as the Maryhill Lochs) cut into the Forth and Clyde canal as it passes through the former burgh. 

Although not immediately evident on a wet, cold day in late March, the area boasts a rich history which includes evidence of Roman occupation (part of the Antonine Wall runs through Maryhill), an early adoption of the Temperance Society in an effort to combat anti social behaviour in the Victorian era and its former barracks once hosted Rudolf Hess (Hitler’s deputy) as part of his ‘peace’ flight to the UK in 1941. 

Like all of Glasgow, Maryhill is no stranger to change and the need to move on from an industrialised past. If you ever visit the area and have time, walk along the side of Maryhill Lochs to see an impressive timber ‘ranch’ style house, which featured on Grand Designs, as evidence of what can be achieved with a modest budget on post industrial land.

Change for the better, and the transformation of communities, was on all of our minds as we ‘gathered’ in Maryhill Burgh Halls and inspiration for the day ahead was evident in the building itself. Maryhill Burgh Halls was built in the late 19th century to help police tackle increasing lawlessness in the burgh at the time. The complex of halls was saved from demolition, and a complete renovation undertaken, by the Maryhill Burgh Halls Trust. Their vision, community action and hard work transformed the building into one that honours its past (the complex is home to the Maryhill Museum), but also serves the needs of the community today. 

The word ‘gathering’ is a noun. It implies that something is gathered together. In our case people committed to collective action in tackling climate change which is gathering pace.  We ‘gathered’ in Maryhill’s main hall, a stunning space with high ceilings and flooded with natural light which streams in through large arched windows. The light passes through the many colours of a series of square stained glass panels. Some created in the late 19th century by Steven Adam depicting the industries and trades of Maryhill of the time and, in response to the renovation, a new series of modern stained panels celebrating themes of regeneration, diversity, youth, culture and the space age. Both inspire a sense of people and place, and it was hard to keep eyes forward as we welcomed each other and not gaze upwards to the glass that changed the light of the room. 

Craig Dunn, SCCAN’s Operations Support Lead, opened the day and reminded us of the unprecedented times we are living through before inviting us to break the ice by chatting to someone we didn’t know. What did we appreciate about this time of year and want from the day? We concluded that March held the promise of the light coming back and that we needed inspiration and connection from the day.  

After Craig’s welcome Environmental Social Scientist, Alice Hague delivered the day’s keynote speech on what it means to survive and thrive in a changing world. Alice, whose work focuses on the social aspects of climate change, shared the stark reminder that we can’t wait for the next generation to save us, as we are the generation the next one wants. A message that hits home in a building like Maryhill Burgh Halls with its images of previous generations gazing down on us immortalised in coloured glass. 

Alice talked of the levels of climate change. National media focuses on national stories, but change needs to happen from a local to a global level. From a multi layered perspective there are plenty of spaces for us all to be part of the solution and work to save the places where we each are. Climate challenges are different in each of those areas which is why community action is so important. People know what is happening around them, what resources there are etc. Their place based knowledge is essential in finding solutions and driving change at a local level. However, even at a community level the climate space is challenging, so what sustains us and keeps us sane? Bringing people together in spaces where the politics of everyday have voice alongside national politics. In these spaces each can influence the other. As well as an understanding that the café is the most important part of a building or event as the space where people connect over tea and coffee. Into these connecting spaces we can bring humour, warmth, humanity and support, alongside an understanding that we are not alone and collectively we are stronger. 

Alice’s speech took us into tea and coffee, which then led to a collective exercise on Just Transitions to Net Zero led by Gallant, the Centre for Sustainable Solutions at the University of Glasgow (Glasgow as a Living Lab Accelerating Novel Transformation). 

Gallant’s session kicked off with an overview of Kate Raworth’s Donut Economics and posed the challenge:

“how can the places where we live become home to thriving people in a thriving place, while respecting the wellbeing of all people and the health of the whole planet?

Gallant then led each table through a number of questions to enable us to work through the challenge: 

  • What would thriving look like for your city/town/village/community? 
  • What are the characteristics of a thriving place for you? 
  • What is your vision? 
  • How can my place survive in its natural habitat and how can my place respect the health of the whole planet?
  • How can we bring humanity into the Donut?  
  • How do we measure to know that we have arrived?

Big questions with responses that reflected thinking both locally and globally were gathered onto post-it notes and displayed around the room. I heard a lot of discussion about scarcity of time, money and resources, but also talk of the need to be more connected and aware of the action already taking place so things can be shared and not repeated.

The Members Showcase that followed Gallant’s session shined a spotlight on a small sample of the some of the amazing work taking place at a community level. Work that’s making great strides in putting into action some of the vision discussed.  

Members including Lucy Gillie from South Seeds in south central Glasgow  (SCCAN’s current Member of the Month) shared their challenges and learning as well as their successes. For South Seeds the challenge of building community in one of the most densely populated areas in Scotland with a relatively transient population (average time for residents living in the area is four years) and multiple languages spoken. Lucy highlighted the importance of having a visible presence in a busy area. 

Community Energy Scotland shared lessons learned, the importance of local knowledge and how community engagement can lead to action plans. Their approach being a bottom up one with an anchor organisation in each area which is home to an engagement officer working across transport, agriculture, waste and land use. 

Both members remembered when SCCAN was a small organisation and the updates from the Network Coordinators and Hubs that followed the Members Showcase was a reminder of the incredible amount of work taking place on the ground as well as just how much SCCAN has achieved in a relatively short time. Each of the Network Hubs are an example of how people taking action on a local level can also begin to influence national policy. 

Following a vegan lunch and rich conversation we broke away into a programme of separate workshops. Before coming back together in the main hall and then back out into the cold and rain and our separate journeys home. I’d asked for the day to bring inspiration and connection and it had. I was reminded of the power of both as I retraced steps back to Maryhill train station and a rainbow dropped across the dark late afternoon sky. 

A rainbow occurs when light connects with rain. The speed of light slows down as it enters droplets of water and bends in the denser environment it now finds itself in. In doing so it reflects off the inside of the droplets of water and separates into different wavelengths or colours. It reminded me of the stained glass of Maryhill Burgh Halls and the transformative power of what happens when vision (light bulb moments) enters matter and takes form through action and creativity. 

Lesley Anne Rose, SCCAN’s Story Weaver