What's the deal being friends if you can't share?

16th November 2007 at 00:00
When you are four years old, a friend is a friend. Different skin complexions or the fact that you go to different places on Sunday mornings matter little if you're absorbed in a joint effort to create a spectacular edifice in the sandpit.

A project involving a Glasgow nursery school sought to build on the unquestioning nature of young friendships before prejudices in the adult world can take hold, and the results can now be seen at Kelvingrove Art Gallery.

There had been previous work on friendship at Cloverbank Nursery, but recent activities took on a more ambitious scope by involving communities, faith groups and older children from other schools.

The infants worked with P6s from Blairdardie and St Ninian's primaries and special needs pupils from Gadburn School, mainly through art and ICT. They also visited places of worship and met clerics from different religions. Some parents came along, so that they could benefit too from the insight.

With the help of visiting art specialists, children used what they had seen to produce pieces of art showing how friendship crosses sectarian divides. Their work is now on display at Kelvingrove, It's Much Better to Be Friends, and it is, says Cloverbank head Christine Nealon, "amazing".

The project received pound;9,500 from Sense Over Sectarianism, a collective of organisations including Celtic and Rangers football clubs and anti-sectarianism campaigning group Nil by Mouth. This went towards costs such as art specialists.

"Fundamentally, we were talking about friendship - looking at the places people go and the things that they do," says Mrs Nealon, who came up with the idea. "

She stresses that there is rarely conflict in the nursery between children that stems from ethnic or cultural differences. The point is to make a difference later on. The work saw the nursery children becoming more articulate and reflective about friendship. "They began to recognise that there are values attached to friendship, and that there can be disappointments when these are not met," says Mrs Nealon.

She recalls one girl who felt left out after friends played with prams without her, and said: "What's the deal with being friends if you can't share?"

The P6s who worked with the Cloverbank pupils developed a sense of responsibility as they became concerned about their young friends, and there have been reports that behaviour has improved.

One unforeseen fringe benefit is that children moving up to primary school are settling in better, because they are seeing familiar faces.

Emma Lamb, parent-school partnership officer for the Knightswood learning community, is evaluating responses to the project from 27 of the P6 pupils. She is struck by the deep satisfaction they got from the friendships with younger children. She says few made comments referring to ethnic or sectarian differences, but two had observed that "all people are the same".

Regular parents' groups were organised so that the adults could also spend time with people from other communities, with whom they might not normally have any dealings. Although only seven or eight people attended the discussion-based sessions regularly, they came from a range of backgrounds and are keen to keep the group going.

"The nice thing was that people started recognising each other in the community," says Mrs Nealon.

After its involvement with the Cloverbank project, Gadburn invited St Catherine's, Barlanark and Barmulloch primaries and All Saints Secondary to get involved in similar work dealing with sectarianism and friendship. That has resulted in a parallel exhibition at Kelvingrove called Let's Face It, We're Friends.

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