Galgael, Glasgow - Visit Five.
- meaning strangers and locals together.
It’s enough to make you cry. Or, to quote a good friend of mine “You know those moments when your soul swells and it just wets your eyes a bit.” When you’re overwhelmed by things that are just so good and real and true. How a piece of wood gets fashioned into art and a dead plank transformed into a meaningful demonstration of creation. How every person, however skilled, is a craftsman and has something beautiful to contribute, and here when I say beautiful, I don’t mean ‘try-hard’ beauty or ‘almost’ beauty, I mean it’s enough-to-move-your-soul beauty.
The workshop here at Galgael (www.galgael.org) is like that of new parents when their children go to school. Their house is littered with whatever new design and art piece their child has turned their hand to, their pride on display along with the art work and each piece telling a bigger story of their stage of life and progress of inner struggle towards working out their dreams. The main difference here however is that the ‘art littering’ that occurs also happens to contain real masterpieces.
When one of the co-founders, Gehan, told me they didn’t want to idealise the past by becoming ship builders, but instead capture the essence of their native history and a connection to the land as cultural anchor points, I did not realise that this description would mean a reconnection to a long term history of master craftsmen and artists. These anchors create meaning for people and a sense of place within that, and the traditional crafts not only a connection with the past, but also an opportunity for people to gain back their own sense of dignity and contribution.
Gehan also honestly described to me how if you think people just need some extra skills and confidence and they can get a job then you are essentially blaming the individual and denying the influence of wider economic activity. She says “It’s not a linear process, and the wider environment creates dysfunction quicker than a good experience here can sort it out. You can only be part of a revolving door for people.” They know that they cannot solve the climate and all its brokenness, but they can demonstrate an entirely different alternative of how it can be done, and I for one am sold. I saw it, felt it, became part of it, and loved it.
This revolving door is one where you simultaneously bring whatever you’ve got through it, just as you are, but also leave whatever you carry at it. No labels or baggage need to follow you here, you just are and you’re “just like the rest of us.” There is such an appreciation for everyone having their 'stuff’ in life but no one person either with or without it is better than anyone else. And this attitude is one that seemingly begins and carries a culture of respect towards one another, encouraging everyone’s individual potential and creativity. It is not a question of if you can contribute, it’s a question of what you will choose to. The workshop is a physical demonstration of the haphazard, quirky and creative environment that’s cobbled together by everyone’s contributions.
I don’t have the vocabulary to describe my experience at Galgael, the hospitality and creativity, the intention and sense of purpose. I’m not sure there are words that could communicate this, however articulate and proficient a writer one might be - which I do not profess to be! It is a truly emotional experience to see such a powerful demonstration of creativity and integrated expressions of life being redeemed. So at the end of a really thrilling week, I am still trying to discern what that intangible presence is that makes Galgael so unique. The closest I have got to an answer thus far is an intense authenticity of appreciation for who you are, and who I am, and who we’re becoming together. No airs or graces, more banter and brawn, and 'just give it a go’s’ and 'help the person next to you’ and and we’ll be a step closer to seeing ourselves better, together.