Sectarianism gives way to social integration

29th April 2005 at 01:00
Bigotry, sectarianism and "all that stuff" is "an old person's illness", children tell the workers in Glasgow's Sense over Sectarianism project.

One child said: "I am seven and don't care about this, but I know that when you are 27 you fight about it."

Sense over Sectarianism (SoS) was set up four years ago to help people challenge behaviour that divides communities and promote social integration. Since then attitudes have changed, says Alison Logan, a former youth and community worker who co-ordinates the project.

"When I came into post four years ago, anywhere I went in the city, people thought I was off my head for even talking about sectarianism. I am still off my head but it's a different job. People are sitting around talking about the issue and teachers are on board. It's more mainstream; it's shifted from being a fringe activity."

As well as Glasgow City Council's decision to tackle sectarianism head on, other events have given the anti-sectarianism drive momentum. The composer James MacMillan has attacked anti-Catholic bigots in his speech at the Edinburgh Festival in 1999; the Liberal Democrat MSP Donald Gorrie has campaigned to make sectarian violence an aggravated criminal offence; Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has committed the Scottish Executive to consigning the "national shame" of sectarianism to the dustbin; and a summit on sectarianism in February, involving more than 30 organisations, has raised the issue further up the political and social agenda.

Sense over Sectarianism is a partnership first funded by the Millennium Commission to give grants for initiatives. Now the bulk of its monies comes from the Scottish Executive: it has pound;800,000 guaranteed funding for the next three years, and is backed by Glasgow City Council, Nil By Mouth, Celtic FC, Rangers FC, the Glasgow Presbytery of the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow.

Sense over Sectarianism funds about 40 programmes and projects a year in communities and schools across the wider Glasgow area and is involved in educational workshops in the primary and secondary sectors.

"We tell the kids we are not trying to drive the passion out of things," says Ms Logan. "We explain it's OK to be passionate about your own team but the problem arises when you hate the opposition more than you support your own team."

involving children in events such as the football fans' Old Firm United workshops - held at both Rangers' and Celtic's grounds - parents who might normally spend 90 minutes shouting abuse at the opposition are invited to Ibrox or Parkhead too to share their children's education.

Before you know it, says Ms Logan, you have Celtic-supporting dads having their picture taken beside Broxy Bear.

The SoS approach is to work alongside teachers, integrate the message of tolerance into the curriculum and add resources with anti-sectarian themes, such as Theresa Breslin's Divided City.

"We make books and materials available to schools," says George Mackie, an adviser in employability and regeneration. "We don't frogmarch them around and say 'You must read this'. If the books are good, teachers will use them.

"The Scottish Executive's new anti-sectarian resource is predicated on the idea of stopping what you are doing and doing that instead," he adds. "We believe that the curriculum is quite crowded. The chances are that you would have to make a conscious decision to use it, whereas we have tried to go with the grain. We have found that successful and effective." Taint of prejudice 4

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