Turning 50 and never looked better - Crossroads
December 20, 2018
Crossroads Youth & Community Association celebrates 50 years
By Stuart Hashigan, Trustee/Director, Crossroads
Very few community organisations get to celebrate 50 years continuous activity. Even fewer have done so without sacrificing their independence or compromising their principles. Yet Crossroads Youth and Community Association has reached this milestone. What has led to this achievement, and are there lessons for community work or public policy?
Established in 1968 Crossroads works primarily in inner-city Glasgow. Youth work and community work are based at the ‘Barn’ in Gorbals, and community work in Govanhill. For many years it was also active in providing supervised practice placements for social work and community work students. Both neighbourhoods have seen major changes: in Gorbals, almost all the multi-storeys that we being built when the organisation was established have new been demolished, with the tenants rehoused and new people moving into the ‘New Gorbals’ developments, while a large proportion of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers have settled in Govanhill, making it one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in Scotland with over fifty countries of origin in local schools.
Meanwhile, over these 50 years both areas have remained amongst the poorest in Scotland: indeed, both are now designated as ‘Thriving Places’ by the city council – which means the deep-rooted problems in both areas must be tacked urgently.
These deep-rooted problems are experienced on a daily basis by many residents. They include isolation, persistent poverty, racist crime and harassment, discrimination, inadequate housing, asylum status, human trafficking, domestic violence, destitution, literacy, numeracy and language barriers – the list goes on. These are all symptoms of what have been described as the five challenges for communities and people more generally: austerity: leading to poverty, exclusion and inequality; migration and the pressures it places on migrants and on the community; racism and xenophobia, which compound the challenge that migrants face; the democratic deficit in politics that leaves people having little or no say in decisions made; and the environmental crisis that challenges all communities.
So how has Crossroads responded? One of the key people involved in setting up the organisation, Geoff Shaw, wrote that everyone should have the right to live “gloriously … whatever in society makes this impossible must be attacked; whatever in the individual may make it possible must be nurtured and strengthened.” These two ideas have been constant drivers of the organisation, and they have dealt with all the challenges described. Watchwords are inclusion, justice and participation: in practice this means that Crossroads stands by and with people rather than acting on their behalf. In this year’s annual report one of the volunteer trustees wrote:
“We recognise the connection between ‘private troubles’ and ‘public issues’ and know that many of the problems people face are not their fault, but they are caused by economic, political or legal circumstances beyond their control. So we start with the person, standing with them so they develop a sense of safety, security and confidence to deal with whatever is thrown at them. Then we bring together people with similar experiences to show we are not alone, and that working together is the best way of supporting and helping each other. This often leads to setting up community groups or organisations that can do what is needed to tackle the issues of concern. That way, people learn and grow, recognising their own power and ability. We do not take people’s problems away from them, but we support them to deal with the problem themselves”
We start with the person, standing with them so they develop a sense of safety, security and confidence to deal with whatever is thrown at them. Then we bring together people with similar experiences to show we are not alone, and that working together is the best way of supporting and helping each other." (Crossroads annual report)
In this way many, many people have gone on to live ‘gloriously’ as Geoff Shaw intended, whether as young people with a troubled family background, tenants living in appalling housing conditions, or people moving to Glasgow for the first time from a very different culture and having to build a new life.
Looking ahead, continuing austerity means that most people have even less money to support themselves and their families, and that the public services on which they depend are ever more stretched. There will be more depression, harassment and abuse as people take things out on each other rather than understanding the true cause of their frustration. Racism and cultural conflicts will not go away, so people will continue to need opportunities to get together, to have new experiences and to build solidarity and cohesion.
More sustainable community and youth work is needed if Crossroads and similar organisations are to continue this work. But it needs stronger and sustained commitment from politicians and those working in public services for this to happen. Crossroads calls for much more investment in local, person-centred youth and community projects, especially in those areas dependent on public services where incomes are low. Health services, police, social work, housing and regeneration agencies should take greater account of the importance of working to support people in the way Crossroads does – this will reduce the calls on their time and energy. Finally, the Scottish Government is currently consulting on the future for local democracy, and seeking to devolve more power to local levels: Crossroads hopes this will spark a recognition that investing in communities and young people is an essential prerequisite of active, responsive citizens.
Contact for further information:
Stuart Hashagen (Trustee / Director)