Paisley food Festival

A summer full of fun and games is being planned for youngsters in Renfrewshire during the school holidays.

Bookings are now being taken for places on the popular OneRen Summer Activity Camps for school-age young people at various venues every weekday from July 4 to August 12.

Multi-activity camps for youngsters in Primary One to S3 are being held at the On-X, in Linwood and Park Mains Sports Complex, in Erskine with a variety of activities including sports, games, themed days and exciting challenges.

The more adventurous from Primary Seven to S6 can enjoy an Outdoor Multi-activity Camp leaving from the KGV Pavilion, in Renfrew. These activities include gorge walking, paddle sports, mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing and much more.

Youngsters from Primary 1 to S3, who like playing football can benefit from taking part in the OneRen/Scottish Football Association Football Camp, being held at Park Mains.

The football camps are designed by experienced SFA coaches in line with the National Player Pathway and are aimed at improving football skill, teamwork, fitness and communication.

Gymnastics and Dance camps for youngsters in Primary school are being held at Park Mains High School with the sessions being led by UKCC qualified gymnastics coaches and co-ordinators who will teach various disciplines of dance and recreational gymnastics.

The OneRen Active Families Disability Sport and Activity Club provides activity sessions for youngsters with additional support needs and their families. This weekly club is being held at The Lagoon, in Paisley and is for youngsters with a disability or sensory impairment in Primary One to S6.

As well as being able to take part in sports and leisure activities led by qualified coaches, there will also be a fun bouncy castle and siblings are also welcome to take part.

Fiona Watson, OneRen’s Sport and Health Services Manager said: “There’s something for everyone to enjoy taking part in during the summer holidays. Not only do our camps give youngsters the chance to learn new skills, they’ll have lots of fun and get the chance to make new friends.

“Our camps are very popular and parents and carers should book early to make sure their child has a place in the fun!”

Visit for more details about the activity camps.

THE world premiere of John Byrne’s new musical play, Underwood Lane is being staged in Johnstone Town Hall.

Written by the celebrated Paisley-born artist, writer and playwright, John Byrne, the play is set in his home town and was written in memory of Byrne’s lifelong friend and fellow Paisley Buddie, singer-songwriter, Gerry Rafferty.

Tickets are now on sale for the shows, which run from Thursday, July 7 to Saturday, July 9.

Underwood Lane is produced by the Tron Theatre in association with OneRen – the local charitable trust providing cultural, leisure and sporting opportunities to help people enjoy active and healthy lives – and supported by Renfrewshire Council’s Future Paisley programme.

And the local links continue with two of the actors in the production coming from Paisley. Both are experienced theatre and TV actors with Martin Quinn playing the part of Gill and Dani Heron as Maureen in the show.

The show, directed by Andy Arnold, was originally to be staged two years ago, but Covid caused its postponement. Following the performances at Johnstone Town Hall, the show moves to the Tron Theatre, in Glasgow for a run between July 14 and 30.

Andy Arnold says of the production: “When we realised that Underwood Lane would have to be postponed from 2020 to 2021, John Byrne said to me ‘I’ve waited 16 years to get this show on, I can wait another year!’  

“Well, as we now know, we have had to wait not one but two years – John and I, as well as all the cast and creative team, are champing at the bit to stage this brilliant piece of musical theatre.” 

Rikki Payne, OneRen’s Arts Manager said: “They say that all good things come to those who wait and now that Underwood Lane is finally being premiered in Renfrewshire, it’s more than good – it’s brilliant!

“It’s fitting that one of Paisley’s favourite sons, John Byrne, has his latest musical play – set in his home town and inspired by another famous Buddie, Gerry Rafferty –premiered on stage in Renfrewshire.”

Victoria Hollows, chief executive of OneRen said: “Paisley and Renfrewshire are known for their rich cultural heritage, and there is no doubt that this new piece of musical theatre is a wonderful addition.

“We are thrilled to be hosting the world premiere of John Byrne’s Underwood Lane, made all the more special with two of the cast having local connections to Paisley. It’s definitely been worth the wait, and we are looking forward to welcoming audiences to share in the experience.”

The play, set in 50s Paisley, is about fierce rivalry in life, love and the music business. Underwood Lane’s Dessie (Marc McMillan) and Darkwood Crescent’s Joey (Scott Fletcher) get a skiffle band together for an impromptu gig – uniting a group of young people whose paths might not ordinarily have crossed and whose lives are irreversibly changed by the catalogue of events that unfold. 

Ten actor-musicians drive forward the story through timeless late 50s/early 60s songs, under the musical direction of Hilary Brooks (Sunshine on Leith and Glasgow Girls).

Tron Theatre’s Executive Director Sam Gough acknowledges the support of OneRen: “We were delighted to be approached by OneRen to partner with them on creating this wonderfully ambitious, previously unstaged production from John Byrne.  We are even more thankful that now, two years later, we are still able to celebrate John and the town of Paisley. Without OneRen’s continued support this production would not be possible.”

With set design by Becky Minto and costumes designed by John himself, Underwood Lane promises to be a stylish, pacy and darkly funny production with all the hallmarks of John’s other iconic work for the stage and very special production for all lovers of Scottish theatre.

Tickets are still available and can be booked online at

Underwood Lane running time: approx. 90 mins (with a 20 minute interval)

Trent Kim

THE little-known art form of Lumia – creating colourful shapes and moving images using light – is being exhibited in a former department store in the Paisley Centre from tomorrow/today. (Wed. April 13)

The spectacular free exhibition, called Lumia: Performing Light, is being staged at the recently-created Art Department exhibition space by Outspoken Arts in the former Allders Store on Level 2 of the shopping centre.

Trent Kim

Members of the public are encouraged to come along to see the exhibition of the experimental artwork of light artist and University of the West of Scotland lecturer, Trent Kim, from Wednesday, April 13 to Saturday April 16 between 10am and 5pm and on Sunday April 17, from 11am to 4pm.

There will also be guest Lumia artists, including the celebrated American light performance artists Joshua White and George Stadnik.

Lumia is an art form established by Danish-born artist Thomas Wilfred in the early to mid-1900s and since then it has inspired generations of animators and lighting artists. It uses light and moving colours that blend and change to create a unique and captivating experience.

The exhibition has been commissioned by Place Partnership at OneRen – the local charitable trust providing cultural, leisure and sporting opportunities to help people enjoy active and healthy lives – as a taster for the forthcoming new Film and Media Space, in Paisley

Trent Kim said: “In the current post-truth era, how something looks and how it sounds seems more important than how things are.

“For me, meaningful arts bring new perspectives for us to experience the world differently, and advance understanding of our very existence.

“Lumia focuses on how light misbehaves and how lighting as a creative act offers an alternative method of image creation as opposed to the traditional method, using it as a tool to assist or project preconceived images.

“In my Lumia practice and research, I also question how the medium specificity of lighting can help us see the world outwith light.

“For instance, a depth of image that we see in Lumia is not a painterly perspective, but a direct result of how light is contained by its void.

“During the first lockdown, it made me think of how social distancing as the reinforced void illuminated how we are interdependent with one another and inspired me to create a new work, Corona Blue (2020) to express our experience of being at that moment in history by experiencing it through the perspective of Lumia”.

Muriel Ann Macleod, Creative Producer with OneRen’s Place Partnership programme said: “Artistic experimentation like Lumia is important because it can change our perception of the world.

“Trent’s work in Lumia interrogates how light can create space and how light can create another environment to experience as viewers

“Place Partnership is currently supporting a core collective of film makers to develop a new Film and Media exhibition space in Paisley, experimentation and innovation is part of the theme of that space.

“Trent’s work being developed here in Paisley demonstrates the ambition, skill and innovation of Renfrewshire base Digital Art makers.”

Rikki Payne, Arts Manager at OneRen said: “This stunning exhibition of light highlights the sometimes forgotten avant-garde art form of Lumia.

“The moving image immersive exhibition uses a series of displays of text, animation and video documentation using light as the sole medium of expression.

“It’s very unusual for an exhibition like this to be staged in Scotland and we should celebrate that we can do this in Paisley because of the developing artistic economy and the ambition of our artists.

“This exhibition gives us some insight into the Digital Art work that is being explored by artists and students in UWS Paisley and Ayrshire. Often the public just don’t get to see this kind of work or know its being made by local artists.

 “We hope this, the first of a series of exhibitions and events, goes some way to address this disconnect”

YOUNGSTERS are being encouraged to steam ahead and read a children’s adventure story set on a train on a new e-book app they can get from Renfrewshire Libraries.

The free-to-use BorrowBox e-book and audio book app gives people of all ages the chance to read or listen to the libraries’ many e-books on mobile devices or computers.

Between April 1 and May 31 there will be unlimited copies of The Highland Falcon Thief available for children to download and enjoy reading or listening to wherever they are.

Written by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, with illustrations by Elisa Paganelli and published by Pan Macmillan, the books tells how a boy called Harrison and his uncle encounter a mystery jewel thief, while they are on board a train making it’s way around the country.

More than 893 youngsters who are members of Renfrewshire Libraries have already signed up with BorrowBox to read The Highland Falcon Thief and there are plenty more copies of the book available to borrow on the app.

If anyone is not already a library member, they can join online and download the BorrowBox app by visiting or by contacting their local library.

Pupils in primary and secondary schools can also take part in a competition to win a set of the books for their school by creating a piece of artwork related to the story.

These should be emailed to or physical copies given into any local or school library by the May 31. Winners will be announced on the June 10 and copies of entries will be displayed in all public and school libraries.

Joyce Higgins, Digital and Library Development Manager with OneRen – the local charitable trust providing cultural, leisure and sporting opportunities to help people enjoy active and healthy lives – said:

“We’ve had significant growth in usage of our e-book and e-audio platforms during the last few years.

“Borrowbox is our newest platform to share with adults and children and we are delighted that so many children and their families have the opportunity to simultaneously read and listen to the same book.

“And we’re looking forward to seeing the creativity of all the young people as part of this project.”

PEOPLE affected by cancer are once again being given the chance to talk to a friendly face about their fears and get advice on how best to deal with the disease.

The invaluable free service provided by the local Cancer Information and Support Service has now fully restarted after Covid restrictions were eased.

The advice sessions are being held in four local libraries throughout Renfrewshire for the first time in almost two years.

The Cancer Information and Support Service is a partnership between the Macmillan Cancer Support charity and OneRen – the local charitable trust providing culture, leisure and sporting opportunities to help people enjoy active and healthy lives.

The drop-in sessions are run by experienced and specially-trained Macmillan volunteers, who can help people who have been diagnosed with cancer and their family and friends.

They are given information on different forms of cancer and their treatments with advice on the wide range of resources on offer from Macmillan Cancer Support.

The service also gives people the chance to simply sit and chat in privacy in a comfortable and welcoming environment.

The Cancer Information and Support Service sessions are being held at Erskine Library, every Tuesday between 2pm and 4pm; Ferguslie Library, on Wednesdays between 10am and noon; Renfrew Library, on Thursdays between 2pm and 4pm and Johnstone Library, on Fridays between 2pm and 4pm.

And as Covid restrictions ease, an even wider range of resources and services will be available at the sessions, which began in 2013 and was the first such service in the country at the time.

Joyce Higgins, Digital and Library Development Manager at OneRen said: “As well as our volunteers being very well trained, they are also a friendly face and very empathetic to the problems and issues people face when they are affected by cancer.

“We’ll also give people the opportunity to ask the questions or talk about the concerns that they perhaps didn’t ask about when they were first told they had cancer.

“Our service provides a wide range of information booklets we can give people who come to us and we can also request specific booklets if we do not already have them in stock.”

Lorna Mullen,OneRen’s Macmillan Health and Wellbeing Support Officer added: “Many times we’ve seen people come to us feeling a bit lost and needing to talk.

“But we’re here to listen and give people the chance to speak to someone about having to face up to cancer and what lies ahead for them in terms of their treatment.

“People tell us that they find it easier to talk to us about the fears they don’t want to burden their families with and the advice we give about getting financial help also eases their mind.”

The OneRen Cancer Information and Support Service are also looking to expand the initiative and for people to train as a Macmillan volunteer. Anyone interested should email

And for more information on the service, go to the OneRen website or email

Neil Ballantyne joins Renfrewshire Leisure in wake of being part of one of the highest-profile events of COP26 in Glasgow

A new manager has taken charge at Renfrewshire’s museums and says he’s looking forward to telling the story of his home region’s proud past while helping shape a vibrant future.

Neil Ballantyne has started work as museums and collections manager at Renfrewshire Museums Service, part of Renfrewshire Leisure, the charity which runs cultural venues across the region and is responsible for its globally-renowned collections.

He joins at a time of unprecedented investment, with work including the £42m transformation of Paisley Museum – and just weeks after he played a role in helping host world leaders and royalty as part of COP26 in Glasgow.

Dr Ballantyne, who grew up in Houston, said: “It’s exciting.The ambition and vision of Renfrewshire Leisure and Renfrewshire Council really should be commended. I hope to help make it a success.”

He has made the move to Renfrewshire Leisure after 13 years with Glasgow Life as manager of Kelvingrove – a role which saw him part of a team which welcome more than one million visitors a year while overseeing a vast range of high-profile, successful exhibitions and events which latterly also covered the People’s Palace and St Mungo’s Museum.

And he says it’s the chance to use his experience to be part of significant events in Renfrewshire which has attracted him to his new job.

The transformed Paisley Museum is due to open in 2023. It is expected to attract 125,000 visits a year – four-times its pre-overhaul numbers – and generate a £79m economic boost over 30 years. Paisley Museum Re-Imagined is the flagship project of Renfrewshire Council’s £100m regeneration programme in the town.

Dr Ballantyne said: “Working in Glasgow, I heard and saw how the city had regenerated itself through culture. I started to hear people talk about the vision for Paisley in the same way. 

“I was obviously aware of Paisley’s City of Culture bid and then heard about the plans for the museum. Colleagues were talking about how Paisley was building its vision by working with the community. That really made me take notice.

“The fact that it’s Paisley was a factor too. I’ve a history with the place. The first toy shop I remember going to was under the railway bridge at Gilmour Street. When I started buying records it was from Stereo One on Moss Street.

“Culture will play a major part in the regeneration of Paisley. It is going to be really interesting to be part of that.”

Dr Ballantyne, 56, whose mum Maisie Ballantyne is well-known as the former school secretary at Houston Primary for 32 years, hopes to use his personal experiences to help further the reach of his home region’s story. 

As well as showcasing art, science and natural history collections, the transformed museum will tell the story of Paisley’s pattern, the town’s famous weavers and being at the centre of the global thread-making industry.

“I am really looking forward to having the chance to help Paisley Museum develop and become a place where the people of Renfrewshire feel welcome – and proud. I hope it will not just be a place which tells the fascinating story of our past, but be a major part of our present too,” he added.

“We have internationally-important collections and there are a lot of stories still to be told. I’m learning things all of the time.

“One of the things I hope to do is help to get people from outside Paisley into Paisley. When I was at school in Houston, I don’t remember any trips into Paisley. I would like to see schools coming into the museum as a matter of course.”

Managers at Renfrewshire Leisure have welcomed Dr Ballantyne to his post.

Kirsty Devine, Project Director of Paisley Museum Reimagined, said: “We are delighted to have Neil join the team. He brings the perfect combination of extensive museum sector experience as well as great local knowledge. This undoubtedly will prove invaluable as we develop both a world-class Museum and a community resource at the heart of the town’s regeneration.”

Just weeks ago, Dr Ballantyne’s previous role – as manager of Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – saw him part of the team which welcomed world leaders, including US President Joe Biden and then German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to the venue.

“I had responsibility for the museum team inside the venue for the Heads of State Reception. We had 120 world leaders and four members of the Royal family there,” he explained.

“It was a massive job, with a huge team involved. There were 1,200 police officers outside Kelvingrove that night.

“It was interesting, exciting and a little scary at times – a great event and experience to have had.”

Before embarking on his career in the museums sector, Dr Ballantyne served in the Army for three years from the age of 17, as a tank gunner and driver in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.

Message reinforced following latest update from the Scottish Government

The chief executive of Renfrewshire Leisure has highlighted the safety measures that the charity continues to follow in order to mitigate the risks posed by Covid-19.

Dr Victoria Hollows says vigilance remains high – with stringent measures in place – across the organisation’s leisure, sport, cultural and community venues throughout the region.

She reinforced the message after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tightened guidance in an attempt to battle the coronavirus Omicron variant, including the reintroduction of physical distancing in the likes of shops and hospitality venues.

Dr Hollows said: “Our staff, customers and the wider community should feel reassured that our charity’s entire team is doing all that it can to keep everyone safe. 

“For example, we have maintained physical distancing between equipment in our gyms and other venues since reopening following lockdown earlier this year. We also have rigorous cleaning regimes in place.

“The team here has been fantastic in following guidelines at all times and doing all they can to ensure that those using our sites and services have been able to do the same. We have, however, reiterated our safety messages to colleagues this week. Visitors should feel confident that their safety and that of colleagues is our priority.

“We all have a part to play in trying to prevent further strain on our NHS by doing all that we can to slow the spread of Covid-19. Visitors to our sites can help that by following the safety and hygiene measures we have in place, including physical distancing.”

Guidance shared with staff this week includes asking them to follow all of the guidelines shared by the Scottish Government, whether at work or home. This includes having no Christmas gatherings. Calls for them to be fully vaccinated have also been repeated.

Renfrewshire Leisure is monitoring all Scottish Government advice and will react immediately on any updates to that.

Any knock-on effects from the wider work to tackle Covid-19 on services will be shared with members and customers as they emerge.

Extension of gym hours part of Renfrewshire Leisure’s ongoing work following impact of Covid-19 on charity’s services

Gyms at three of Renfrewshire’s most popular leisure centres are to be open for longer in response to customer demand.

Hours are being extended from Monday, November 29, at the Lagoon in Paisley, ON-X, Linwood, and Renfrew Leisure Centre. Session slots are available now.

The move is part of operator Renfrewshire Leisure’s ongoing recovery of services following disruption caused by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mark Tokeley, Head of Leisure and Community Services, said: “We’re listening to our members and customers all of the time and tailoring our services as best we can to meet their needs. We’re delighted to be able to offer this increase in hours at the Lagoon, ON-X and Renfrew. We hope they will give more people the opportunity to use our services to lead better, healthier lives.”

From Monday, Renfrew Leisure Centre will be open from 7am until 9pm Monday to Thursday. Services are currently not operating between 10am and 3pm. A Covid-19 vaccination centre currently operates there each Friday.

Both the Lagoon and ON-X will be open from 6am until 9pm, Monday to Friday. Weekend sessions at Lagoon will start an hour earlier at 8.20am. Currently, each only opens at 6am on two days of the week, opening at 7.20am on the other days.

At all of the venues, the first and final sessions of each day will be longer. For the final session of the day, that gives users the flexibility to arrive later than 7.20pm for the session. The final entrance time is 8.20pm.

For the latest details about all Renfrewshire Leisure services, go to


Renfrewshire’s Provost Lorraine Cameron is searching for community heroes across Renfrewshire as nominations open for the 25th edition of the Provost’s Community Awards.

The 2022 event will see seven categories, including one introduced last year to recognise businesses who have adapted to ensure their survival during the Covid19 pandemic.

Anyone who lives or works in Renfrewshire can send in a nomination for the following categories:

  • Community Volunteer (sponsored by Glasgow Airport Ltd)
  • Community Group (sponsored by City Gate Construction)
  • Sporting Achievement (sponsored by ACRE Industrial)
  • Employee of the Year (sponsored by UNISON Renfrewshire)
  • Carers Award (donated by the late Provost Nancy Allison)
  • Arts and Culture Award (sponsored by Renfrewshire Council)
  • Ingenuity in Business (sponsored by Provost Lorraine Cameron)

This year’s awards will also see the return of an in-person awards ceremony – due to take place in March – after last year’s was conducted online due to the pandemic.

Renfrewshire’s Provost Lorraine Cameron said: “I am delighted and honoured to be able to open nominations for the 25th edition of the Provost’s Community Awards.

“A quarter of a century on from the first edition, we are living through a time which has brought so many challenges, as the pandemic continues – so it is as important as ever we honour those in our community who go above and beyond to help those around them.

“I know Renfrewshire has more than its fair share of unsung heroes and the awards are a great way for them to be recognised.

“It’s always a pleasure to be involved in and the fact the nominations come from the community themselves makes it extra special – so I’m looking forward to seeing your nominations.

The deadline for entries to all categories is Friday 7 January 2022.

For more information, and to submit your nomination, visit, or email

THE trials and tribulations of living through the coronavirus lockdown have been captured on film.

Renfrewshire Leisure is to screen the video diary style movie – 2020 – A Film By Paul Mothersole – on its Ren TV online channel.

Like many other people Paisley-based filmmaker Paul had to endure not being able to visit his mum and dad, Mary, aged 73 and 74-year-old Vincent, sister Fiona, aged 40, along with other family and friends during lockdown.

And Paul decided to ask his family to make a video diary documenting his family’s experience of living through the coronavirus restrictions. Filming took place between November 2020 and June 2021.

The innovative short film – funded by Creative Scotland’s Venue Recovery Fund and supported by local charity Renfrewshire Leisure – has been described as “incredibly moving” is being broadcast on Ren TV at 8pm on Thursday 25th November.

It can be viewed free of charge by logging on to

Paul said: “Like many others, my family were communicating via video conferencing and social media.  It occurred to me that collecting these videos, calls and clips and photos would be a great way of documenting this unique time in our history. 

“Though this is my family’s experience of lockdown I imagine that many people experienced something similar and I hope that my film will remind people of what we have gone through.  Hopefully in future years it will be a reminder of what we have survived.”

Paul continued: “My 50th birthday was at the end of lockdown and that was the first time our family could get together after lockdown.

“The film’s final scenes are of my birthday celebrations, so we were able to end the film on a positive and hopeful way.

“When my mum and dad saw the film, they were quote emotional as it showed everything they had to go through during lockdown.”

Richard Weeks Film Project Producer at Renfrewshire Leisure said: “Renfrewshire Leisure has been working with local filmmaker Paul Mothersole to document this important part of Paisley’s history. 

“Paul’s family have shown great courage in telling their story. The film is incredibly moving, is told from multiple perspectives and provides a valuable reminder of the pandemic which may otherwise be lost in the mists of time.”

Collaboration and commitment credited with making town stronger highlighted as a trailblazer for other communities to follow

The collective will which has helped power the transformation of Paisley has been hailed as an inspiration for other Scottish towns to follow.

Work to improve the community is highlighted in a recently-launched website designed to empower and inspire those determined to make the nation’s towns stronger and more attractive.

Scotland’s Towns Partnership’s (STP) Town Toolkit aims to help local authorities, community groups, social enterprises and businesses take action to build better communities. More than 200 people and organisations contributed to the Toolkit, whose development was supported by the Scottish Government. 

And Paisley will be among the communities highlighted as a prime example of success as the toolkit is discussed at the Scotland’s Towns Conference next Friday (November 26).

Nick Wright, a Johnstone-based town planner who developed the toolkit for STP, will speak of the town’s achievements.

He said: “Paisley may have had its struggles in recent decades, but now the town is leading the way in showing what collaboration, commitment and a strategic approach can achieve.”

Among the initiatives highlighted are the “inspirational” 2030 vision for the town centre, which shows how Paisley can be redesigned to re-energise the high street, mapping out how that can be achieved.

The £100m investment in the town centre – spearheaded by Renfrewshire Council – is also highlighted, with work including the transformation of Paisley Museum, revamp of Paisley Town Hall and a new library, learning and cultural hub on the High Street.

On the lessons that other communities can learn, Mr Wright added: “The council may be taking a leading role in Paisley’s transformation, but it knows it doesn’t have the power or resources to do everything.

“Much more impact can be achieved by helping everyone’s projects and initiatives to materialise. So a crucial part of the council’s role has been to support everyone involved in the town centre to work together, from the local youth theatre to the chamber of commerce.

“Collaboration helps individual projects come to fruition – such as the proposal for a community-owned cinema on the High Street to reconnect socially isolated individuals of all ages, circumstances and abilities, making cinema accessible for all.”

Mr Wright said that the toolkit is about sharing that wealth of experience from across the country – showing that communities can do it because it’s been done before.

While inspiring communities and groups, it is also hoped that the toolkit will prove useful for local authority officials working in planning, community development, leisure, transport and the economy when considering developments in their region, as well as for politicians at every level.

For more information, go to Details about how to join in the discussions at Scotland’s Towns Conference, which runs from November 22 to 26, can be found at

Pen Pals2

Powerful impact of writing project in forging friendships highlighted as Renfrewshire Leisure and Ethnic Communities Cultural Steering Group secure grant to continue creating cultural connections

Children from diverse ethnic and migrant communities have described how finding pen pals has made them feel loved as they build lives in Renfrewshire.

Pen Pals1

A group of six to 11-year-olds have forged new friendships while taking part in a project aimed at encouraging understanding and creating new cultural connections.

Ten children of Syrian refugees living in Renfrewshire have been paired with 10 youngsters of African heritage, writing to each other – sharing all kinds of experiences and feelings – so that they can learn more about the background of each other’s families.

Pen Pals2

The scheme, led by the region’s Ethnic Communities Cultural Steering Group – comprising, Renfrewshire Leisure, Pachedu, School of African Cultures, Jambo Radio, Inspiring Families and the University of the West of Scotland – aims to create a greater understanding of the diverse cultures that make up modern communities, particularly “new Scots”, whether they be those whose families have lived in the country for many years or those who are new to the country.

Its success is attracting national interest, with a pilot project launched as part of Refugee Week securing £4,420 to continue it through this year.

Describing how the work made them feel, one of the children who took part said: “It helps create love, friendship and respect for people from all countries, fighting racism everywhere.”

Another said: “I want to make a new friend – someone who can relate to me but who is completely different.”

The cultural steering group is spearheaded by community charity Renfrewshire Leisure, which works with communities across the region.

Heather Paton, Renfrewshire Leisure

Cultural Development Officer Heather Paton said: “A rich diversity of cultures make up modern Renfrewshire and Scotland. We want to build relationships between and celebrate them all, encouraging understanding. It’s so important. Families will have shared experiences that each can relate to.

“It has been fantastic to see the difference this has made to the children. Particularly during lockdown, we could see the difference that these connections were making, tackling loneliness while allowing them to learn about each other and what they enjoy about being in Scotland.

“This project will play an important part in shaping their outlook on life here while celebrating their family’s roots as well. This is something we can all embrace.”

The project is run in alliance with Pachedu – a charity which promotes dignity and tolerance – and its School of African Cultures, established to enhance cultural identity for children of African descent born in Scotland and to redress stereotypes in wider society.  

Young people of African Heritage from The Redeemed Assemblies church also took part in the pilot scheme.

Explaining more about Pen Pals, Regine Bews, Founder and Project Coordinator at the School of African Cultures, said: “We want to build bridges between different ethnic communities in Renfrewshire – Polish, Chinese, Syrian, African, Asian – and find ways to connect with each other.

“Children are a great way to break down barriers and reach adults. Introducing the Pen Pal Project to the Syrian Community was a way for the African Community in Renfrewshire to say ‘welcome’. 

“The theme of Refugee Week 2021 was ‘we cannot walk alone’. This connection has demonstrated that the Syrian children who are settling in our communities are not walking alone.

“Children from all of the communities in Renfrewshire love Scotland.

“Through these letters, young people connect with other ethnic community groups, they learn about other countries and cultures, they present their own country and culture, they improve their art and English writing skills, contributing to removing cultural barriers and stigma.”

Rahaf Sharif, who coordinated the Syrian children who took part and works closely with Syrian families living in Ferguslie,  said: “The children really enjoyed it.

“It was something new that made a difference for their lives during the restrictions in the pandemic. It helped them socially to make new friends, gave them confidence, meant less screen time and more positivity and self-expression through creativity.

“They learned to do something their parents had before the internet which helped improve their English writing, communication skills and encouraged them to learn about other cultures and be creative.”

It is hoped that the new Scottish Government grant will further strengthen connections across communities, allowing the team to work with up to 40 children over four months. News of the support has been welcomed.

Aneel Singh Bhopal, Regional Integration Coordinator for the South West of Scotland with the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “It’s great to see Renfrewshire Leisure’s Pen Pal project receive funding to build on the positive work done with children from refugee and other minority ethnic communities from across Renfrewshire and the West of Scotland.

“I am confident that the project will continue to help strengthen connections, improve integration and enhance the artistic skills of a diverse group of young people living in Scotland at a crucial time.”

The stories and artwork that the children share with each other will be collated into a book so that everyone who takes part has a copy to keep. That book is set to be shared with the public as part of Paisley Book Festival in February, where all of those who took part will be invited to an event to celebrate the work.  Copies will be shared in Renfrewshire’s libraries.

The project is supported by Future Paisley and part-funded through the European Union Asylum Migration Integration Fund, making management of migration flows more efficient across the European Union.

Its successes are also being highlighted as part of Black History Month events in Renfrewshire throughout October. More details about those can be found at