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Knightswood Youth Theatre

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:00 pm on 28th January 2009.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 5:00 pm, 28th January 2009

Members who are not participating in the next debate should leave the chamber and discuss matters outside.

The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S3M-3073, in the name of Bill Kidd, on Knightswood Youth Theatre, which was announced a winner in the Philip Lawrence awards. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament offers its congratulations to Knightswood Youth Theatre, which was announced a winner in the Philip Lawrence Awards, a prestigious national awards scheme that celebrates outstanding contributions made by young people to their community; commends the Knightswood Youth Theatre for bringing together young asylum seekers and refugees with young people from the local area to talk and share feelings, and commends its use of drama as a medium to increase mutual understanding and help the wider community gain a better understanding of young people's views and aspirations on a wide range of controversial issues, including dawn raids, racism, alcoholism, divorce, bullying, teen suicide, friendship and romance.

Photo of Bill Kidd Bill Kidd Scottish National Party 5:06 pm, 28th January 2009

It is my pleasure to lead tonight's members' debate and to congratulate Knightswood Youth Theatre on its well-deserved win of a Philip Lawrence award.

It may be helpful if I explain a little about the awards. Last year saw the 12th anniversary of the Philip Lawrence awards, which were established in memory of the headmaster of a school in north London. In his three years at the school, Mr Lawrence was able to turn around its poor academic record and worked to improve its problems with violence. During a fight involving an attack on one of his pupils, whom Mr Lawrence went to protect, he was, sadly, stabbed in the chest; he later died. Mr Lawrence was a brave man who was dedicated to improving the lot of young people in local communities, and the awards are a fitting tribute to him.

Knightswood Youth Theatre received its Philip Lawrence award at a presentation hosted by Sir Trevor McDonald at London's Bloomsbury Theatre on 2 December last year. It won the award for using drama to bring together young asylum seekers and refugees with young people from the local area in order to develop and enhance mutual understanding and friendships. We should remember that the awards are made by young people's peers—the judging panel is made up of representatives of previous winners, who get together to choose those who embody the spirit of Philip Lawrence.

The theatre group works closely with the LINKES project, whose name is a combination of Lincoln and Kestrel, the names of the streets that border the high flats where the project is based. There are also connections with Kingsway and Drumchapel groups, through the west integration network. Football, a pensioners club, a gala in summer and the national obsession for cooking that has erupted recently are all catered for at the LINKES base at 200 Lincoln Avenue.

We are here especially to commend Knightswood Youth Theatre for its success in bringing together a range of young people from varied backgrounds and giving them a direction through drama. The theatre's work strengthens the whole community and provides those young people with opportunities that they would not otherwise have enjoyed. Some of those who won the award cannot be here tonight, as they have since moved on to drama education; that speaks volumes for the group. However, those who recently performed the collection of short plays entitled "Windows on Our Lives" at Knightswood Congregational church feel that that the work of Knightswood Youth Theatre and youth group—and the friendships and enjoyment that they get from belonging to those groups—go on. That work includes visits by high school student members to local schools to bring back new recruits, spurred on by the enthusiasm and confidence that those inspirational young people bring to all that they do.

Even though members of the group are under threat of deportation from this country, they are young Scots. Wherever they originate from, they work together and support one another to deliver a message of hope for all of us.

I am sure that the members of the group want me to mention a few names—I do not know whether I should do so, because I might miss someone out. However, I mention Aileen Ritchie and Euan Girvan, who planted the seed that blossomed, everyone at Knightswood Congregational church, and Rhona Dougall, who told me how the youth theatre was paired with Lochaber youth centre at the National Theatre of Scotland youth exchange in Stirling in July. It was a great honour for both groups to work together and enhance each other's work.

Rhona Dougall also told me that everything has been achieved on limited finances. Funding and sponsorship are always sought. I must ask the Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture whether I can come to her for guidance on the matter at some point—I am taking it for granted that she will meet me and I thank her.

Glasgow has always been a place where hard work and fun go together, and Scotland has always had people of whom it can be proud. Knightswood Youth Theatre encompasses all that. Its members, past and present, deserve all the praise that we can give them. I thank them for the honour that they have brought to Glasgow.

Photo of Bill Butler Bill Butler Labour 5:11 pm, 28th January 2009

I thank Bill Kidd for securing the debate and place on record my congratulations to the members of the award-winning Knightswood Youth Theatre on their success in a national—that point should be remembered—competition.

I am the member for the Glasgow Anniesland constituency, which includes Knightswood, so I am particularly thrilled that the area and its young people make such a positive impression on the national stage. The youth theatre's Philip Lawrence award and the continued success of the Dance School of Scotland, which is based at Knightswood secondary school, show how much creative talent there is in the area.

As Bill Kidd said, the project brings together asylum seekers, refugees and indigenous Scots from across the west of Glasgow. Its work touches on a range of issues, including racism, addiction, bullying, loss, friendship, love and, perhaps most sensitive, dawn raids—a practice that I and others have spoken out against on a number of occasions inside and outside the Parliament. Even in the context of the sharp decline in dawn raids in Glasgow, I will continue to oppose the practice, always and everywhere.

Youth theatre members have given several newspaper interviews since receiving their award. They have spoken passionately about the effect of the group and its work on their lives. No one who reads those testimonies could fail to be struck by how the young people regard the group as a force for good in their lives that has boosted their self-esteem and confidence and allowed them to make new friends and develop new skills, such as learning to work in a team. Perhaps most important, the young people have learned how to listen to one another, which has enabled them to understand as much about other people as they have discovered about themselves. By channelling those discoveries through their performances, the group has shared its unique insight with audiences.

Winning the Philip Lawrence award demonstrated that the group has utilised theatre as a means of connecting not just with one another but with the wider community. Since its inception, I understand that Knightswood Youth Theatre has taken part three times in the National Theatre of Scotland exchange festival and has performed as part of the Scottish Refugee Council's refugee week programme. It has taken shows across the country, to Stirling, Edinburgh and Inverness, making new friends, raising smiles and pricking a few consciences along the way. I also understand that members of the group are working on new material and plan to take work to new venues and locations. I am sure that I am not alone in looking forward to finding out what new ideas that work contains.

I derive particular satisfaction from seeing such a fusion of indigenous Glaswegians, asylum seekers and refugees do so tremendously well. As a Glasgow city councillor, I was party to the decision to welcome asylum seeker families and offer them refuge in the city. The council took the correct course of action a decade ago, and I am proud that I was part of Glasgow's move to welcome new Scots to the city.

The decision was taken because the council realised that asylum seekers and their families would be an asset and not a liability—they are, after all, our brothers and sisters. That view is shared by the young people of Knightswood who go along to take part in the theatre group's activities, but it is worth noting that Glasgow City Council remains the only local authority in Scotland to take such a step. In her closing speech, the Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture could perhaps update members on what discussions the Scottish Government has held since it assumed office to encourage other local authorities to play their part in supporting asylum seekers. I also ask her whether I may accompany my colleague Bill Kidd to make representations on funding. I am sure that we will make a formidable team.

Once again, I offer my sincere congratulations to Knightswood Youth Theatre on winning the award. I strongly suspect that there will be many more prizes to come in the years ahead. The group is a successful model of community engagement and participation. It is a credit to Knightswood, Glasgow and Scotland.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 5:16 pm, 28th January 2009

Sometimes, there is a positive outcome from the most tragic and unpleasant events. The murder of Philip Lawrence was most tragic, but the fact that we now have an annual award is a positive feature that has emerged from it.

The local positive feature is the spectacular manner in which the youngsters in Knightswood Youth Theatre have won the award. I am tempted to reflect that, with their keen interest in drama, the members of the group who are present in the gallery must have enjoyed the unprecedented drama in the Parliament this afternoon. Perhaps they enjoyed the experience just as much as the people of Knightswood have obviously enjoyed their input into so many events over the past months and years.

I looked at the issues that the group has raised and on which it has been in dialogue with the local youth. They are typical of the issues that concern young people today—leaving aside dawn raids—and include alcoholism, divorce, bullying and tragic instances of teenagers committing suicide. We also see the positive aspects: friendship and romance. I hope that, in their stay in Scotland, many of the group members have found friendship and that they will, in the times ahead, find romance.

Knightswood Youth Theatre has made an exceptionally positive contribution, not only to the district of Knightswood and the west end of Glasgow generally, but to the city as a whole. I encourage the youngsters involved to maintain their interests and to continue with what they have learned. The future may hold no parameters for them if they continue on the route that they have taken with the same level of success. I wish them that success and congratulate Bill Kidd on bringing the debate to Parliament.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 5:18 pm, 28th January 2009

I congratulate Bill Kidd on securing the debate and extend our welcome to the members of Knightswood Youth Theatre in the gallery. The award that the group has won is prestigious—it was established in memory of Philip Lawrence, who died a tragic death.

Despite its many well-documented challenges, Glasgow has always been a friendly and welcoming city in which great importance is placed on community and community spirit. I have visited the areas that Bill Kidd mentioned, such as Drumchapel and Knightswood, and there is certainly great community spirit in them. It is a fantastic endorsement of those values that, even today—after much upheaval and change to communities—an overriding sense of togetherness and friendship is alive and well in Glasgow, irrespective of what other people say.

That is of special significance when we consider that those involved in the Knightswood Youth Theatre comprise a mix of young Glaswegians, asylum seekers and refugees, who are trying to understand one another in these challenging and changing times. By exploring contentious and diverse issues such as dawn raids and friendships, they empower the whole community with a sense of who they are now and who they will be in the future, which will obviously be an inclusive and tolerant future for those communities. I hope that they will live and grow together in that spirit.

All too often, we read or hear about negative stereotypes of young people or about the impending breakdown of communities, but the Knightswood Youth Theatre story and many others show us that, despite our fears, many young people are ready and willing to listen to and understand one another, and to stand up for what they strongly believe is in the best interests of their communities.

Another fine example of the wonderful work that is being done in Knightswood, Drumchapel and throughout Glasgow is the work of Jean Donnachie and Noreen Real, joint winners of this year's Evening Times Scotswoman of the year award, who set up a local network in the flats at Kingsway in Scotstoun, which is not far from Knightswood and Drumchapel, to warn of any impending dawn raids. They successfully took on the Home Office and won by helping to end the dreadful and barbaric use of dawn raids, to which Bill Kidd's motion refers.

I hope that those examples from Glasgow, which show the power of working together for the community, will serve as an example for similar projects across Scotland. We have a lot to be proud of in Glasgow. We should certainly be proud of our young people, who should be praised for the work that they do throughout the city. I praise Knightswood Youth Theatre in that regard.

All too often, we hear dire reports in the press about the terrible things that young people do, but the press should listen—I do not see any members of the press listening in the press gallery—to the kind of news that we have heard in the debate. I hope that some would listen to the view that young people should be praised highly for the work that they enter into with good spirit. The work of Knightswood Youth Theatre is a good example, and the kids involved—some of whom are in the public gallery—have led the way. I wish them well and all success for the future.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 5:22 pm, 28th January 2009

I will take the very serious points first. I am always happy to meet Bill Kidd and am happy to include Bill Butler and Bill Aitken in such a meeting. It struck me that they could be called the three Bills.

I do not want to go into detail at the moment, but we should note that the Scottish Arts Council supports and promotes youth theatre. I understand that Knightswood Youth Theatre is in discussion with the SAC.

Bill Butler asked about discussions with other local authorities on issues that are related to the topic of debate. I recently attended an interesting conference with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and some local authorities. I am sure that other ministers with direct responsibility for the issues to which members have referred have also attended such conferences. However, that is a discussion for another time.

I do not tonight want to take any time away from congratulating Knightswood Youth Theatre on winning, and celebrating its winning, the Philip Lawrence award. That is an exceptional achievement that celebrates both the standard of citizenship that those involved have shown, and the outstanding contributions that the theatre group has made to its community. It really is inspiring. When we think of the remarkable work that has been done in the theatre group's short existence, it is even more inspiring.

I have a particular delight in taking part in the debate, having heard from our four colleagues who all represent the Knightswood area, because I was born in Lincoln Avenue in Knightswood and lived most of my teenage years just round the corner in Baldric Road. I therefore know the area where all the youngsters in the theatre group come from.

I know the problems that the group has faced over the past few years and I know how people have worked to make Knightswood a community that stands up to be counted. Those efforts have been made by the young people involved and those who have taken the time to organise, teach and support the group. It is a great example of community spirit. Sandra White mentioned the influence of the group from the Lincoln Avenue flats on things that are so important to us. Again, that is to be celebrated.

Aileen Ritchie needs a special mention, although, as Bill Kidd said, it is always hard to mention individuals. However, she deserves to be mentioned again for her continued support for the arts in Glasgow.

We should never forget that the award that the youth theatre has won was set up in memory of Philip Lawrence. What happened to him was tragic, and it highlighted problems that are faced by the nations in the United Kingdom. What has happened in his name shows the great courage that citizens can have when they care about their communities. Philip Lawrence was an inspirational figure whose legacy continues in the annual awards. His deep-seated conviction was that all young people are capable of achieving great things, as the members of Knightswood Youth Theatre have shown.

Knightswood Youth Theatre is also a great example of how the arts can tackle a huge range of realities in young people's lives by using theatre for expression. As Bill Aitken said, serious issues such as racism, bullying, friendship, alcoholism, romance, divorce and teenage suicide have all been addressed in a way that allows the young people involved to be heard.

In bringing together local residents, Knightswood Youth Theatre gives Glasgow's asylum seekers, refugees and young people a chance to tell each other their stories, to share experiences and to celebrate the differences that make each of them interesting. Collectively, such differences give something very special to an area. The youth theatre's approach is great because it leads to improved understanding of different belief systems and encourages young people to overcome difficulties. Such activities are part of real community development, whereby folk take the initiative and grow something that really matters to them.

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting community development. The recently published "Culture: Culture Delivers" encourages use of culture as an important way of advancing local and national wellbeing and, indeed, prosperity. The cashback for communities initiatives also continue to run throughout the country. Those projects—which are funded by money that has been confiscated from convicted criminals—include a range of partnerships with Scottish sporting, arts and business associations that encourage young people to see that they can choose different paths and have different aspirations. As Bill Kidd said, Knightswood Youth Theatre has also received support from LINKES, which is a project that is run by and for people in the area. LINKES has received funding from the Government's fairer Scotland fund.

I reiterate that the success that Knightswood Youth Theatre has attained in its short history is nothing short of outstanding. From a series of pilot workshops in early 2007, the youth theatre went on to sell-out nights at Glasgow's Tron theatre in 2008. Audiences have talked about its performances—I have not yet had the privilege of attending one, but I shall—which have, I understand, reduced some to tears of sadness and of joy. That is great talent that these young folk have exhibited. For the third year running, the National Theatre of Scotland has invited Knightswood Youth Theatre to perform at the exchange festival, which again demonstrates the quality and impact of the group's work.

Another wonderful outcome of Knightswood Youth Theatre's work so far is that, as well as providing enjoyment and sharing stories with the community and with the whole of Scotland, the group has uncovered several talented performers. The youth theatre's approach has allowed its members to have the confidence to perform, to act, to write and even to direct. It has been able to nurture the talent and gifts that each individual has within them. In particular, I congratulate Marlene Madenge on being offered a role alongside a professional cast in the National Theatre of Scotland's production of "365" at the Edinburgh festival last year. I saw that performance, which was a very moving piece of theatre. I am sure that the performance was a great experience for Marlene and for those whom she took along with her to enjoy both the play and the recognition that was given to Knightswood Youth Theatre.

I thank Bill Kidd for lodging the motion, which has provided us with the opportunity to congratulate Knightswood Youth Theatre not only on its success in the Philip Lawrence awards but on its continuing work, which has helped a community to come together. The use of drama is very powerful in confronting the difficult challenges that face many individuals and communities. I wish the group continued and increasing success in its future productions. I know that some of its members are in Parliament today—I see them sitting in the gallery—so let me say that I very much look forward to meeting them.

Meeting closed at 17:29.