Like many of my fellow citizens, I am a proud Glaswegian. I love Glasgow: its people; its character; its humour; its down to earth, call a spade a spade brashness; its community spirit especially in difficult times; its culture scene; its shops and cafes; its sheer bigness!
So proud of being a Glaswegian, I and 50,000 others have signed up to volunteer at the Commonwealth Games, simply to be part of what’s going on and celebrate all that is Glasgow.
Yet I am all too aware of the other side to my city. Glasgow has long topped and bottomed almost every league table going for poverty indicators. That’s one of the reasons I left the corporate world and came to work at Glasgow City Mission.
In the past week I’ve been watching Commonwealth City on BBC 1, a documentary featuring the community of Dalmarnock – the epicentre of where the Games will take place. It would be fair to say that vast swathes of the area have been bulldozed and cleared to make way for new stadia, infrastructure and the athletes’ village. A new school and community centre are also promised.
Yet the area remains one of the most deprived in the country despite the millions poured into it.
- Two thirds of children in Dalmarnock are brought up by a single parent.
- Kids are three times more likely to leave school with no qualifications at all.
- A fifteen year old boy has a 50/50 chance of making it to his 65th birthday.
These are just three of a barrage of statistics the programme reported into the inequalities of health and poverty in parts of Glasgow.
A further programme has just been aired by the BBC World Service that questioned why Glasgow has such dire statistics. It featured input from our own Chief Executive and from Harry Burns the country’s former most senior chief medical offer.
Both programmes were very good, the latter especially, in my opinion. The common themes that come through is that for many Glaswegians, they do not experience the ‘Scotland with Style’ that leafier parts enjoy. Rather they experience a Glasgow where they have been washed up without hope, prospects, or employment opportunities. Lonely and isolated, communities are deeply scarred by violence, alcohol and drugs. A downward spiral exists with severe consequences for mental health.
More than a confidence boost is needed
"Where traditional communities lose their traditional cultural anchors," says Harry Burns, "they all find the same things happening – increasing mortality from alcohol, drugs, violence. The answer is not conventional health promotion. Where you lose a sense of control over your life there's very little incentive to stop smoking or to stop drinking or whatever. The answer is to rediscover a sense of purpose and self-esteem."
I would not dispute this claim. Much of the work of Glasgow City Mission's City Centre project is to help clients rediscover a sense of purpose and self-esteem. We seek to rebuild people’s self confidence and provide opportunities to develop social and practical skills.
Yet Glasgow City Mission has remained steadfast to its belief that true and lasting transformation is only made possible through Jesus Christ.
At the end of watching these programmes, I could not help but ask ‘where is the local church in all of this’? ‘Where are the Christians in Glasgow who are striving to bring God’s love and light into its darkest places’?
Jesus said: “The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.” John 10:10.
There are parts of Glasgow, as there are across the country, that do not know what life in all its fullness is. They have not experienced this. They are not aware it can be reached.
Whilst the regeneration of the East End and elsewhere has undoubtedly brought benefits to its citizens and has acted as a catalyst for more, it is not scratching the real itch.
The people featured in these documentaries and the clients I have the privilege of speaking with at Glasgow City Mission describe their loneliness, their disillusionment, their hopelessness, their fear. The Games for many is a non-event; the only impact it has on their day to day life is disruption and feeling sidelined to make way for a party they’re not invited to.
Opportunities for local churches to be agents of change
I believe there is great opportunity for more local churches across Glasgow to be agents of change, to be revealers of Christ’s love and compassion, to be signposters to a new hope for this life and the next.
There are indeed many great churches in Glasgow who have been faithful followers of Jesus. Many are involved in a raft of fantastic community initiatives. Redeeming Our Communities, The Cinnamon Network, SERVE Scotland, Christians Against Poverty, Street Pastors, More Than Gold, Glasgow City Mission and plenty of others are providing opportunities and platforms for local churches to build relationships, meet the needs of their local communities and see God’s Kingdom be built on earth, as it is in heaven.
We are truly thankful for the scores of churches who partner with us to enable our services to function. There are lives that are being transformed as a result – our latest Connect magazine is full of stories that testify to just that.
But there is much more that can be done. The statistics and the life stories speak for themselves. As Christians, we hold to a love that is secure and steadfast, that provides hope and direction for life’s ups and downs, that brings light to darkness. Flawed as we are, God’s plan is to use His people to tell others that He has not forgotten or forsaken them, but that He longs to restore and make whole lives that are shattered and communities that are broken. If there was ever a time when we need to build relationships, ask ‘what can I do for you’ and to share the gospel, that time is now.
Graham Steven, Marketing & Fundraising Manager