Bolt with abilities to transform

21st March 2008 at 00:00
An urban running trend from Paris is making an impact on pupils taking part in an arts outreach programme in Inverclyde

Outside the Clune Park Resource Centre in Port Glasgow one frosty morning, the quiet is interrupted by the headlong rush of gangs of teenagers, mostly lads but with a few girls, charging down the ramp, leaping over and swinging under the safety barriers and running off.

All is well. They are pupils from St Stephen's High up the brae, practising their parkour for the multimedia Transform Inverclyde: Bolt event this month.

Parkour is the "free running" that started in Parisian housing schemes as a way of expressing the individual's refusal to be dominated by oppressive urban architecture. Starting as merely the shortest route between two places, it has added to a street philosophy of "liberation", an aesthetic of how the individual can, with grace and tenacity, create flow in a rigid and angular cityscape.

Chris Grant is the visiting specialist, cajoling and chivvying the various age groups to be different, to find new routes.

John and Darren wait their turn. They volunteered for the activity after Mr Grant came to their school with some videos and an open invitation. They enjoy it, especially the danger, and say they want to carry on after the event at the town hall.

In saying that, they go a long way towards vindicating the Transform manifesto. The National Theatre of Scotland calls its Learn outreach programme Transform to flash the message that this arts programme, with its music, visual art, video and drama specialists, intends to make a real difference to the schools and localities it visits. To make that kind of impact, it needs to pack a punch, and stay the distance.

Distance is no object; the arts team have been in residence from October to March. And being the NTS, it packs a considerable financial punch. For this residency, they are laying out pound;65,000 and benefiting from partnerships with Determined to Succeed, ScottishPower Learning, Inverclyde Council and Riverside Inverclyde. The money shows: Bolt is advertised on the biggest billboard in Greenock (there isn't one in Port Glasgow), and the students are given video phones to record some of the activities.

Both the schools in the project, St Stephen's High and Port Glasgow High in Inverclyde, are schools of ambition and - importantly to Learn - signed up with Determined to Succeed. After an address to every year group by the Transform specialists, more than 100 pupils were referred or self-selected for it.

Simon Sharkey, an associate director of the NTS and head of Learn, emphasises how the project depends on the resilience and co-operation of teachers and the way they make pupils and resources available. Transform does not come with a script, he says, but draws its themes and stories out of the community.

Inverclyde is, in some ways, typical of the areas that invite Learn. It is in transition, from ship-building to a container port: "Export capital of Scotland" says the town sign.

The views from St Stephen's High are spectacular, looking down on Inverclyde, squeezed between the hills in the distance and the railway, the M8 and tidal shipping route of the Clyde in the foreground.

Inevitably, the theme of arriving and leaving emerged, dictated by the river. As a result, the town hall event made much of the port's containers - symbols of leaving. Several of these 20m monsters were scattered round the town, as art installations, with design and graffiti to take the eye.

The layered resonances of this kind of symbol are important to Mr Sharkey, and it shows in the choice of project title. Bolt is the lightning that he hopes will charge a community. A bolt secures the door of the community, allowing entrance and departure but determining a boundary. The ship-builders' rivets were a kind of bolt. And "bolt yer rocket", he says, is a contemporary demotic dismissal. Generously, he allows the clients the last word.

National Theatre of Scotland; T: 0141 221 0970.

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