Building Connections


Telling a story, sharing an experience

Over the years I’ve spent many very happy hours enjoying a variety of performances in the world’s oldest surviving Music Hall, right here, in the centre of Glasgow. The Britannia Panopticon Music Hall remained hidden for far too long before being rediscovered and recognised for its importance to our cultural and architectural heritage and wider, incalculable benefits. That’s often the way with people, too.

So much had happened there and so much more was waiting for the opportunity to shine out again.  To me, it’s like the building has become the people, absorbing all the emotion; the delight; humour; hope and memories of all who passed through, over the decades, giving it a very strong pull for those who connect with that very basic human need of understanding a sense of togetherness, place and belonging.

It’s a place I connect with in the way I hope our gardening group members connect with our sites, yet there is not a plant in sight and the building is not set in a park, surrounded by Lime trees.  Yet its connection with nature remains its most powerful and obvious force.  The nature of humanity is abundant within its walls, its history and its plans for going forward – in just the same way as we find in our gardening sites.  Reflection brings comfort, activity bring aspirations and the shared experiences connect people from far and wide because we are all just human beings beneath all the layers placed on us by the life we’re in.

So, over the past year, with encouragement from Viviana Checcia from CCA Glasgow, we have experimented with collaborations we would never have otherwise considered, as a gardening group, yet the results highlight, consistently, that beyond strawberries, herbs, leeks and all the other crops we delight in, our biggest harvest is personal growth among our members. Latent talents come to the fore and our collaborations and events provide us with different outlets to reactivate our ‘possibility muscles’. I find it truly humbling to witness the amazing personal successes of our members and to experience the support of the people who join in and feed our growth.

So this is how members of a gardening therapy group based in Glasgow came to find themselves on the stage of the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall, sharing a programme with some renowned artists in their own field.  On the 400th anniverary of the death of William Shakespeare we, in our small way, continued the tradition of, not just sharing our stories through song, verse and prose, but by creating new stories in the process.  Each had different challenges and outcome, hopes and successes.  From all of that we each have new experience and memories.

Our event was the latest in our series #APlaceForEveryone a considered how newcomers to our communities might establish themselves and create their place of belonging.  We have our own community within our group but this took the idea a little wider, considering the many people looking to set up home and a new life in Glasgow, for whatever reason.  We have seen a growth in the richness of Glasgow’s cultural diversity and all that brings, through ideas, food, stories and traditions.

The amazing volunteers at the Panopticon gave us the warmest encouragement and welcome and our our programme kicked off with Jane having worked with son Frazer and friends Pete, Margaret, Mario, Alec and Dougie – known collectively as the Slush Puppies to share some lively and moving songs interspersed with poems from Jane’s own published writings, sharing with us vivid pictures of a changing Glasgow and memories of childhood and motherhood – lovely!

We heard the moving and inspiring story of Refuweegee from Selina Hales who really tapped into our theme of the importance of #APlaceForEveryone, opening our eyes to real human experiences going on around us all the time and the amazing work in hand to make the human experience a better one than it might have been.

Nalini Paul‘s readings took us around the world on a vivid journey through different cultures, time zones; even forms of existence with readings from The Raven’s Song which has striking illustrations in black and red – which all led to a beautiful and thought-provoking reading.

Michael Dawson took us across Continents with his memories of home and significant places revisited after many years.  We could really relate to observations on the passing of time and what remains the same while vast change is all around us.  The randomness of our connections was highlighted beautifully and images fired by the urge to identify and revisit what we identify as ‘home’ were strong.

Renowned performance poet Robin Cairns took us on a journey through Clydebank and pretty much the whole of human experience with his rousing performance of his original poems.  He achieved the audience participation begun by our musical introduction to the event and, against all the odds, included mention of a building very closely connected with an audience member.  Appropriately, he drew on images that connected the hardness of life with the comfort of shared memories of experiences both random and mundane-at-the-time but recognised as the furniture in our lives from which a reassuring familiarity is drawn.

I’m so proud of everyone and humbled by the raw ‘giving’ from everyone in the building; from the volunteers who manned the lights, made us welcome and put us at ease like lifelong friends, to the contributors who gave everything from within and really tugged at that thread of humanity that  binds all of us together – and our family members and partners who joined us in overcoming the myriad of challenges faced in standing up there and bearing our souls.

So, on April 23rd, 2016, The Britannia Panopticon Music Hall – the oldest surviving Music Hall in the world – absorbed a little more of the essence of humanity, a few more memories and many more shared experiences in the way it always has and, I hope, always will.  And when anyone asks of our events:

“What’s that got to do with gardening?”

I’ll remind them that we say; understand nature, understand life and know to point out that for each of our members, like any seed of any plant, we first, have to know that there is, truly, a place for everyone.  We find it or create our own and, safe in the knowledge that we’re in the right environment, we grow.  We Grow.

Well done, everyone involved, and thank you.