Can youth work tackle sectarianism?

Six action research projects across Scotland have been showcasing how youth work can help eradicate sectarianism through ‘Looking Forward Not Back’. The work is being pioneered by over 70 young people across the country, who are acting as agents of change in their own communities. The projects have engaged with 1400 community members using hard hitting short films, campaigning in local supermarkets, workshops in schools, partnerships with radio stations and a human board game.

The projects have been answering the question ‘can youth work tackle intra-Christian sectarianism?’. Using a research through practical action approach, young people and youth workers are capturing the impact of their youth work practice in tackling this form of religious bigotry. With the support of a researcher from YouthLink Scotland the projects have been producing an evidence base on the challenges and successes of youth work in tackling sectarianism.

The partnership between Barrhead and St Luke’s High is of the projects involved, here Raymond Weir, Social Justice Manager for Barrhead High describes their experience.

There are two secondary schools (one denominational and one non-denominational) in the town of Barrhead. Relationships between the schools are very good and there have been many instances of positive collaboration on a number of projects.

Pupils for Barrhead and St Lukes High with Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister Community Safety

Pupils for Barrhead and St Lukes High with Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister Community Safety

When we first raised the topic of sectarianism, the chat among our young people tended to focus on issues of racism and other forms of prejudice. After we had watched some relevant video clips and a TV documentary, the focus moved towards an exploration of some of the words that we associate with sectarianism. The young people started to engage with the topic, perhaps because they had heard (and used) some of these words before. They had never given much thought to the words or their meanings, but soon started to show some curiosity about their origins. Generally speaking, the pupils -at this stage- viewed sectarianism as something that was mostly to do with football.

Hard hitting play by World of Wonka, Dumfries

Hard hitting play by World of Wonka, Dumfries

Accordingly, we felt that it was important to make them aware that sectarianism had historical roots and that religion had been (and, to some extent, still was) a huge influence on people’s lives. We visited St. Mungo’s Museum of Religion, which turned out to be a significant landmark on our learning journey; this was the point at which some of the pupils started to form their own opinions on some the topics we had been discussing.

Our plan was to deliver a workshop which would explain some of the historical reasons why Scotland had issues with intra-Christian sectarianism. We worked on this during and after our team-building and planning residential. Upon reflection, we realised that we had been too ambitious in the scope of the workshop we had designed. The tight timescale to deliver our sessions in the primary schools meant that we had to reconsider our approach; it became clear to us that, while our young people understood the workshop content and could remember all of the key elements, they were not yet ready to deliver the sessions on their own. We settled on a formula which involved a member of staff leading each workshop and being assisted by three or four pupils, who would each have specific roles to play at certain points in the session.

The feedback from the participating primaries was very positive and raised a number of interesting topics. Some of the primary schools produced their own podcasts, which were played on our local radio station. It was interesting to note in that, in several of these recordings, the young pupils acknowledged that they knew very little about the social and economic forces which had shaped their country. The opportunity to get ‘on the radio’ had really appealed to them and the recording process had encouraged them to reflect quite deeply on some of the issues that had been raised in the workshops.

The answer is YES youth work can!!

The answer is YES youth work can!!

The adoption of a youthwork approach encouraged young people from the two secondary schools to be relaxed and creative in each other’s company. We found it encouraging that they were focused on the things they had in common, as opposed to any perceived ‘differences’ between the two secondary schools. One thing that both groups believed was that sectarianism was well past its sell-by-date; in that sense, our pupils considered the attitudes of ‘adult’ Scotland to be quite old-fashioned. This was to become a recurring theme in our discussions: that sectarianism, while still an issue in some parts of Scotland, was nothing like as powerful a force as it had been thirty or forty years ago. Whenever they were given examples from staff (or from their own family members) about some of the attitudes and values which used to prevail, the young people expressed the view that these stories seemed to belong to another world. This is one of the reasons why using young people to deliver the anti-sectarian message might be effective; many of them appear to have a fresh perspective on the issues and see no sense whatsoever in intra-Christian conflict.

Raymond Weir, Social Justice Manager, Barrhead High 

Looking Forward Not Back is funded by the Scottish Government’s Community Safety Unit and administered by YouthLink Scotland. Projects are running in North and South Lanarkshire, East Renfrewshire, Stirling and Dumfries & Galloway. The findings, due end of March, will be externally verified by the University of Dundee.

YouthLink Scotland members involved in the six projects:

Youth Learning Services (South Lanarkshire)

This project has used creative workshops to break down barriers between young people of different religious backgrounds. They have created a short film to use as part of their community based workshops. The film they developed and starred in is hard hitting, which starts with football rivalry and ends with offensive sectarian language being used and a violent act. The group have also designed a mural which has been professionally created on the wall at Universal Connections in Hamilton.

YMCA Bellshill and Mossend

The young people created a poster campaign which they took into their local supermarket, to highlight what sectarianism means to young people and interviewed community members to examine the impact of sectarianism in their local area. The young people used Dictaphones to conduct the interviews with members of the public to record local attitudes and perceptions.

East Renfrewshire Council

Pupils from Barrhead High School and St Luke’s High School have designed and delivered workshops in local schools. This involved young people from a faith school and non-denominational school coming together to design and deliver the workshops. During the workshops podcasts were made with the pupils to assess the impact of the workshop. Pulse Radio featured a lunch time special on the project and played the podcasts intermittently throughout the day, this was to inform the local community of the project and intra-Christian sectarianism in their community.

Stirling Council

Peer Assisted Learning – Young people have delivered workshops and distributed anti-sectarian charms which they have designed, to demonstrate the wearers understanding and appreciation of the issue. This is part of the Caring Charms Peer Education Project. This is where young people can collect Young Scot Rewards through taking part in positive issue based activities and then trade their reward points for individual charms. The project named themselves the Thin Grey Line and developed a charm for those who attended their workshop. As part of the workshops they have created an interactive, human board game to inform the community about sectarianism in their local area. The workshops were delivered in the local schools and at a summer Create event, an event for young people across Stirling between the ages 10-25 years.

Dumfries and Galloway Council

The young people researched, designed and performed an interactive drama based workshop as part of the World of Wonka, YouthBeatz summer event. World of Wonka uses powerful drama to challenge young people (aged 12-25) on different issues. The event ran over 3 days based at Dock Park and saw over 400 young people through the golden gates. World of Wonka was also toured in the local schools in Dumfries towards the end of 2014.

YACK Youth Action, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

The youth forum designed and developed workshops and created a short film based on young people’s views on sectarianism, which have taken place in the local schools in North Lanarkshire. The film focuses on football rivalry which then transcends into the schools, causing verbal and physical fights between pupils. The film also features a Biffy Clyro song, which the forum members recorded themselves. The film is being used as a discussion point for the school based workshops.

The youth forum members are aged between 14-18 years and come from all of the 7 local high schools. The youth forum aims to give young people a voice in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth.



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