Remade’s Repair Academy

A visit to the Galgael Trust helps Remade’s founder Sophie Unwin reflect on the values and vision behind the project

We’re three weeks into the launch of Remade’s Repair Academy – and it is so wonderful to see something dreamed up four years ago turn into reality: offering repair skills for young people who can also contribute to their local communities as they learn. And ensuring opportunity is open to all by offering the trainees a Glasgow Living Wage for the programme.

Recruited by our community partners from across Glasgow, the idea is to provide young people with practical repair skills, a vocational qualification, a way of engaging with their own communities and building their own learning community and – at the risk of sounding grand – developing an intellectual and ethical framework for the work we do. To paraphrase the Centre for Human Ecology, it’s about ‘head, heart and hand’.

Because the vision behind setting up Remade was more than learning to fix things – it was about building a repair economy across the city, recognising the skills that are already in communities, and ensuring that power and resources sits with people, rather than institutions. This has been enabled by the contract we hold with Glasgow City Council to refurbish and redistribute their old computer stock; which I negotiated on the basis that all benefits would go back to local people.

Early funding proposals for the repair academy set out a philosophy informed by liberation theologists and radical educationalists like Brazilian author Paulo Freire, who made connections between poverty and learning and showed how much mainstream teaching doesn’t serve the communities that need it. In his most famous book, “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed” Freire calls traditional pedagogy the ‘banking model of education’ because it treats the student as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge, like a piggy bank. He argues that pedagogy should instead treat the learner as a co-creator of knowledge. It’s a privilege to draw on these ideas, and try and bring them into the mainstream with support from sources as varied as the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the UK Government’s Community Renewal Fund.

We couldn’t do this project without all the partnerships that sustain it. These community partners at DRC Youth Project, NG Homes, Parkhead Housing Association and Cranhill Development Trust have helped recruit the trainees and for up to two days a week host them in setting up practical projects – like pantries and repair kiosks, and supporting our desktop distribution project.

It is a real privilege to be working with the Galgael Trust in Govan, who are offering practical woodwork skills and are contributing to the development of the curriculum for the repair academy along with the Centre for Human Ecology and the School for Social Entrepreneurs Scotland.

Galgael was born of the motorway protest movement, where they created the ‘Pollok Free State’, camping up trees to try and prevent the M77 motorway extension which cut through five schools in poor communities and cut off people’s access to Pollok Park. When the motorway went ahead, they didn’t see it as a failure, as a beautiful community had built up around the protest movement which developed to offer new practical skills in boat building. The same principle applied – that everyone was welcome – with the proviso that freedom also brings with it responsibility. The short film, the Birdman of Pollok, chronicles their development and offers a beautiful tribute to the life and work of their founder, Colin Macleod, who died aged 39 and lived the light of a bright flame.

The strong spirit of the work bears witness to the Highland Clearances and the decimation of the shipbuilding industry in Glasgow, anger against injustice and wonder at the natural world and a need to re-build opportunity for local folk. A wooden carving on the wall says: “The work is the therapy.” They use boat-building language as a metaphor for their work too: their motto is ‘hold fast’.

Still to this day, Gehan, Colin’s widow, and the community that developed around them work with people to help them recover a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives – from hard to reach young people, to burned out middle-aged executives. “They turn up at 7.30 in the morning, they’re so keen” says Dorothy Graham, their manager.

Dorothy tells me how the young people on Remade’s Repair Academy are thriving, how she loves their young energy, and welcomes their varied learning styles. She says: “Curiosity is one our key values – we go back to the thinking behind why we were set up to what we do”. A two year reflective process helped Galgael form their ‘Charter’ – the statement that underpins their philosophy.

Dorothy says “Whilst Remade is focused on new technologies – computers and electrical goods, and Galgael is focused on older crafts of woodwork and boatbuilding – we both share a common purpose that we are offering an alternative approach to the corporate world. This is a relational approach, treating people with dignity, bringing a soul to everything”.

Rather than blaming individuals, it helps her to look at the systems in which we’re based and ask questions about it. Why, for example, does Scotland have some of the highest rates of drug use and violence in Western Europe? And it is hugely validating when she says that the reason Galgael are working with Remade is because of the vision and values on which we were founded – and the similarities they see between our twin approaches.

It’s wonderful to hear the positive feedback from the trainees themselves – they are flourishing at Galgael. And the other partners can see it too. The varied programme means the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Arthur McNeaney, the Manager at DRC Youth Project is similarly inspired by the echoes in the Galgael philosophy with his own work building relationships with young people to help them find new opportunities and confidence in Yoker. He says:

“Our trainees have really taken to the Remade format and are really enjoying the course. The team at Remade have bene fantastic and we can see the young people’s confidence growing as every week passes.”

Long may this work – and these beautiful partnerships – continue.

Sophie Unwin, Founder and Executive Director, Remade Network