Tam McGarvie : GalGael
Tam, a sculptor to trade, explained that the GalGael Trust emerged from the aftermath of an environmental protest against the M77 in the mid 90s. It was founded by Gehan and Colin Macleod in Govan. The Trust is a community and heritage association working with recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, people with mental health problems and long term employed.
The role of the Trust is to give people an opportunity to acquire practical skills to restore confidence and self esteem. One of the first projects undertaken by the Trust was to build a Hebridean Galley called a Birlinn. They used windfall timber blown down in a storm. The Birlinn was the first of its kind to be built for centuries. To achieve this the Trust was helped by many volunteers.
GalGael started a course of Practical Woodwork to help turn around the lives of those affected by addiction, mental health problems and so on. Their ‘clients’ were referred to the Trust by GPs, health professionals and the Police. Through the Trust they were not only receiving woodwork skills they were also meeting people and involved in other activities. After a 12 to 24 week period those who completed the course were given the gift of a handsome tool box worth about £200. This is transformational to the clients who are struggling to recover from the adversities life has thrown at them.
Tam described it as re-building people’s identities through GalGael’s activities and events. Through the courses the men were learning a variety of crafts to build boats, furniture as well as hard lanscaping. In addition, once the boats were built the men started acquiring water skills taking the Birlinn over to Ireland and other places. The evocative historical and cultural aspects of re-creating these journeys is key to their transformation. Importantly more than a 1,000 individuals have progressed through the Trust’s courses – no mean achievement.
The Trust has a workshop and offices in Ibrox. It provides a non-threatening environment where people can relax and recover. They benefit from working alongside others also dealing with their demons. Staff and volunteers are non-judgmental and focus on the individuals recovery. In the process a Code of Conduct is established with the participants and this is key to providing stability in each individual’s life which had formerly been dysfunctional. The combination of sensitive handling of the participants and opportunity to gain practical skills, mingle and socialize with others is instrumental to restoring individuals self esteem. Or, as Tam put it, re-building people’s identities. Camaraderie plays a significant part.
The GalGael team are under no illusions of the challenges facing their participants. They work hard at mentoring them back into a more normal life style. This was illustrated by getting them to chop up wood for fire wood from time to time. This is known tongue in cheek as ‘anger management’. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and the participant has to walk away. However, they will be welcomed back if they are serious about trying again. And, while Tam didn’t have figures, he said that no one could dispute the numbers that GalGael have taken off drugs, restored them to their families and returned them to mainstream life. Of course, re-engaging them with their families is a double benefit because the participant’s children also benefit.
The activities of GalGael are not limited to their workshop but also outreaching to participate in events such as the Govan Fair and the Castle to Crane skiff race, a race from Dumbarton Castle to the Crane at Broomielaw. At the last race some 70 to 80 skiffs were involved not to mention the Galgael Birlinn. While great fun is had by all, the Birlinn inevitably comes in last because of its weight.
This blog isn’t able to capture all that GalGael do. However, it was clear that members were moved by GalGael’s ability to engage with and help difficult to reach people – a worthy cause.