Wednesday, 25 May 2011

"The Scheme" - why it made me angry on so many levels

I watched "The Scheme" for the first time last night. I'd missed the original showings last year, but caught up with the original two episodes on iPlayer and saw the final one on TV.

There was a bit of a personal reason too - my wife grew up in the estate round the corner (New Farm) so knew some of the area. She was shocked at how much it had changed.

Firstly, on a political point. There was a scene in one of the episodes where a group of residents were speaking to their Councillors to try to get finance to help reopen the community centre which the Council had closed. What I noticed was that, while residents and council officers were quite happy for their faces to be broadcast clearly, the local councillors appeared to have had their faces blurred! Quite frankly, if, as a Councillor, you can't go in to a meeting in your own ward and be prepared to be photographed then you really shouldn't be a councillor. Incidentally, one of the Councillors for the area, Willie Coffey, is now the SNP MSP for the area. I'll put a link here to the page on the Council website so you can see who they are, although I should point out that there only appeared to be two councillors there and (obviously) as their faces were blurred I can't see who was present.

Secondly, it uncovered a raw underbelly of Scotland which we like to hide. The fact is, all middle-sized towns in Scotland have got an area like Onthank. There are people there, like the family trying to reopen the community centre, trying to make the best of their lives. But for too long we've tended to either forget or simply overlook this and concentrate on describing them as "sink estates".

Some of the people in the documentary clearly couldn't be bothered, but others - for example Marvin, Bullet's owner - seemed to be genuine in wanting to try to change. The thing is, they need support to do that, and need to be steered away from situations where they are again tempted to do drugs and other unsocial behaviours.

This needs investment from Councils, and a bit of thought too. Going back to the community centre, one of the problems the residents encountered was that it was going to cost £50,000 just to get it open, and the Council seemed to have given up on the idea. Now, I'm pretty certain that a bit of research and a bit of nouse could have found this money through grants and other fundraising - I can think of a number of local projects in Fife where this kind of money has been found for similar projects. I can't believe that East Ayrshire don't have similar kinds of funding, or access to similar grants.

We should be promoting community involvement in this way. If people feel part of their community, they're more likely to respect both the community area and the people in it. Councils should give people the ability and support that they need to take ownership of their community, through expertise and, yes, finance. We'll probably never be able to eliminate deprivation entirely, but what we can do is make sure that people have the ability and opportunity to move out of deprivation and on to a more successful, fulfilling life. In a country which prides itself in treating each person equally, we should be roundly embarrassed that there are areas like Onthank in every Scottish town, and ensuring we're improving the lives of people living there.

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