Submitted by Jane@STAR on 27-03-2017 19:14:15
Firstly, welcome to this blog and thanks for having a wee read. I'm Jane and I'm a student at the UWS who is lucky enough to be doing my placement with the fabulous STAR Project (Scottish Charity SC028133) which is committed to building safer, more connected and resilient families and communities (www.star-project.org.uk). By joining Gail and her fellow 'STAR-Striders' on their walks around the local community during February, I'm hoping to learn a bit more about this exciting town and celebrate Paisley with the people who know it best. Winning the bid for the UK City of Culture 2021 would be a fantastic boost for the town, and wider Renfrewshire, and go a long way to help build a 'fairer, more inclusive place where all our people, communities and businesses thrive' (Renfrewshire Community Plan,2013). At the STAR Project, we're right behind the bid, which is why I am excited to be experiencing Paisley with some of its brilliant buddies and share this with the Paisley2021 Campaign. Over the next six weeks, I'm hoping you'll join me on this journey through these blogs and share your experiences and thoughts with me too - I'd really love to hear what you have to say about Paisley; it is a pretty special town after all, and this is a very exciting time.
Earlier this week I felt welcomed by the 'STAR Striders' on their first walk of the year around Paisley together. It was a chilly winters day, yet the inviting atmosphere of the group tempted seven of us out; even those who considered "giving it a miss this time" gave in to the encouragement and were joining us out the front door and heading toward the Fountain Gardens, "One of the best things in Paisley". After playfully pretending to jump in and making a wish, It didn't take long to appreciate being out in the fresh air and in the company of friends - we even all enjoyed the (albeit brief) feeling of sunshine on our faces at one point. It was true "Even if you don't feel up for it at the beginning, you're glad once you get out". (I'm guessing the spur-of-the-moment singing and playful atmosphere has something to do with this). At one point, knowing it would be of interest to my placement project, someone in the group walked back to show me the corner stone on the front of an old building. It certainly was of interest as one of Paisley's greatest assets is the architecture and listed buildings (the most in Scotland outside of Edinburgh (Paisley 2021.co.uk), yet such thoughtfulness also highlighted another great asset to this town; the friendliness of the people. This sense of community and the welcoming, fun and supportive atmosphere is a big part of Paisley and Renfrewshire and a massive asset to our overall health and wellbeing to be part of it. Like someone said to me today "The more stuff I go to, the more I find out about other places...a friend told me about STAR, and by coming here I've heard about lots of other places to get involved in too". I'm certainly looking forward to next week, and I'll 'make sure I have my porridge'.
Stopping in the Fountain Gardens to discuss which way to go, some of the same friendly faces from last week and some newbies alike (the newest addition being only 8 weeks old!) decided to head for Underwood Road. We walked past St James church and up Well Street - where it was pointed out there is a book shop, *Abbey Books, where students can buy and sell Uni books (noted! Thank-you) - and past Coats memorial Church and the Territorial Army Hall and onto the High Street.
Discussing the buildings and architecture as we went, someone summed it up… “we just forget to look up, but when you do, there’s so much to notice.” It can be too easy to keep your eyes down when you’re rushing from here to there, but when you’re out with the walking group, you see and notice things you might otherwise easily miss (whether it’s Christmas decorations still up in February or The King Solomon statue above what used to be the masonic hall on the High Street). We walked down past *Deli Malatso (who’s owner opens on Christmas and invites anyone who has no company or no money) and saw King Solomon, the Tollbooth, The Cenotaph and where the Old cinema once was... We admired The Last Post, talked about Tannahill’s cottage, the old Jail…and in doing so shared Paisley’s history and personal memories. Some people on the walking group grew up in Paisley, others arrived later in life – but everyone had something to share and learn.
Even before we’d even left Fountain Gardens, people were bumping into people they knew, so as you can imagine the High street was no different. As we stood, admiring the ‘STAR Project valentine message’ in the British Heart Foundation’s window, we bumped into Tommy McGrory from *Loud ’n’ Proud. As soon as we explained to him that we were a walking group, *Les Fernie’s name was mentioned. Les has been giving guided tours around Paisley for the last 22 years, and when you mention walking groups or history, people mention Les. Straight away, one of the ladies in the group shared her story of his infamous Ghost tour! Last week I met with Les, in his office in the YMCA to chat about the impact of his walking tours; not only do they celebrate Paisley’s rich heritage, but they are sociable and fun events, accessible for the whole community to enjoy together. I came away from our chat last week inspired by Les’s community spirit, passion and generosity, as well as having learnt a lot more about witches, poets and slugs (and even the very building I live in!)
By walking as a group and meeting other people from (Pardon the pun…) ‘all walks of life’, and enjoying our town in this way, both ‘The STAR-Striders’, and ‘walking-wheels’ tours help to bring the community together and celebrate it with each other; they help us to stop “look up!” and admire all the great things about Paisley - and whilst doing so, they help make Renfrewshire safer, stronger and even more fabulous in the process.
*Abbey Books, 2 Well Street, Paisley. 0141 887 7303
*Deli Malatso. 50 High St, Paisley PA1 2DJ, 0141 533 0790
*Loud ’n’ Proud. 42 High Street, Paisley. 0141 8401090
*Walking tours on wheels. 39 High St, Paisley. 01418892876. 07941 784932
Deciding we would walk despite the miserable weather, we took our chance on a sunny break and headed out into the elements, dodging puddles as we went. Moments after reaching Love Street, the rain and wind returned, but we were greeted by a rainbow so persevered. Hoods up, we strode down Murray street in the direction of St Mirren Football stadium.
Arriving at the stadium we spotted the recognisable bright colours of the Culture bus – The Street Stuff Youth initiative on wheels which visits different areas throughout Renfrewshire, with Games consoles, DVDs and music stereos on board, offering young people a safe and fun place to meet, above and beyond their football and dance opportunities. We recognised it from when the Paisley 2021 tour visited The STAR Project, a busy campaign tour visiting many organisations and businesses throughout the area promoting Paisley’s City of Culture bid.
Outside St Mirren stadium we talked about supporting our local football team, and how even though this “may be difficult at times, it’s good to back the local team”. Inside we admired the merchandise, the Panda mascot and even bought hat (a very wise purchase given the weather). This got me thinking about football and its impact on the local culture, how it can unite us whether through a shared support for a team or simply a passion for the game,.
Returning to STAR, I was mulling over this thought whilst thinking about the Culture bus we’d seen earlier. I was wondering about the different services for children and Young people in Renfrewshire, and how whether it’s through taking part in football, dancing, or joining a walking group, these opportunities connect us to our community and “build equality, inclusion and aspiration.” (Empowering Communities, The STAR Project, 2014) in Renfrewshire.
It has been lovely to look through the STAR striders feedback forms regarding the walks as it's clearly a much-loved activity within the STAR Project. Although it is clear by the comments and chats during and after the walks, the effort members go to join and the atmosphere when we're out and about, seeing it in black and white shows clearly the extent of what a community walking group achieves and provides an opportunity to monitor and evaluate, celebrate successes and make positive changes moving forward. Each evaluation form mentioned the social aspect; "the banter", "the conversation", and "getting to know people better". I've personally found the walkers to be continuously friendly, supportive and welcoming each week, and it's clear I'm not the only one! Each walker gave the highest mark possible for 'feel more supported', and I'm not at all surprised. The walkers noted their increased "confidence and motivation to get out and about" and the benefit walking has "for mental health". Most weeks, someone mentioned how glad they were they came, even if they didn't feel like it at first, but as we walk together we improve our wellbeing and motivation, in turn getting us to go out walking more, and even state that we "need more of it". People told us how much they enjoyed "visiting St Mirren Park, the museum and the Abbey" commenting on the "amazing" art work and how they enjoyed "learning about my area, Fountain Gardens, Love Street and Shortroods". Each week we discovered or shared something about Paisley, so it doesn't come as a shock that everyone who offered their feedback said they felt more involved, included and connected to their community - important during a time of change and growth in the area. This leads us to, if and how the walking group can be improved. There weren't many suggestions, other than "better weather"- which I think we can all agree improves a good walk, but alas, being the west of Scotland, the weather might have other ideas. It looks as though The STAR Project will "repeat the experience in the spring/summer" programme, and Les Fernie has kindly offered to give the Striders a *Walking wheels tour, so fingers crossed the weather will oblige our sunshine request. One of the highlights of these walks has clearly been "making new friends", and in true 'Buddy' fashion, when asked 'what would make it better for you?' someone replied, "Nothing, but open to new ideas". This shows the open and refreshing attitude of the group...and also the town. An attitude that could go a long way in becoming the City of Culture in 2021, and an attitude that makes Paisley a lovely community to be part of. *Walking tours on wheels. 39 High St, Paisley. 01418892876. 07941 784932
The STAR Striders walks have been missed the last few weeks, so it was lovely to head out again - this time to our Walking wheels tour of Causeyside Street. We met Les Fernie under the cherubs of the Russel Institute, where we heard about the history of philanthropist Agnes Russell, the architect J S Maitland, and even about the nit nurses. Going further up the street, Les highlighted the writing on the pavement relating to Paisley’s weaving heritage (part of the Town Centre Heritage Initiative and Conservation Area Regeneration Strategy) and told us about the Weavers triumph - receiving payment from the ‘cork’ (manufacturer) for the ‘Sma Shot’(the invisible, yet vital thread)- a history, captured in the paving poetry that you see when you look down. We all learnt something new – and spotted something we hadn’t seen before, reminding me of the ‘looking up’ conversation we shared weeks earlier. Unmissable, was the new Gable Wall Mural of the kingfisher, just opposite the old Fire Station; a bright and impressive addition to an historical part of the town. In Paisley, there seems to be something to notice if you look up, down or right beside you!
The purpose of my joining the STAR Project’s walking group was to gain a greater understanding of walking groups and the role they play in our community - in particular during a time of change, growth and regeneration. Walking together has been about stopping to ‘look up’ and take notice of what is happening in our town, appreciating its assets and enjoying our surroundings. It has been about spending time with friends, getting to know one and other better and having a laugh, and it has been about having our say, and feeling more connected and involved in our community, on its journey towards a “Fairer, more inclusive place were all our people, communities and business thrive.” (Community plan 2023). Being part of a walking group has highlighted how much there is to celebrate here (especially with the possibility of being the UK city of culture in 2021) from the Culture bus to Loud ’n’ proud, from the lovely volunteers in the Abbey to Les Fernie’s infamous Walking_wheels tours… and of course, the STAR striders themselves- which leads me to my final note…
I’d would just like to say thank you…
The STAR Striders have welcomed and included me in their group, going out of their way to support my university placement by sharing stories, photos, and the history of their community - especially as they know I am not an original Buddy. Les Fernie has been very helpful and generous giving the STAR Strider’s their own walking_wheels tour and taking the time to share his experiences with me about his walking groups. Online, Engage Renfrewshire and The Community Planning partnership have been both encouraging and supportive by sharing this blog, and of course all the staff at The STAR Project have been supportive and patient; sharing their ideas, expertise and time with me. Throughout this placement, I have experienced a real openness and generosity in Renfrewshire. Taking an asset based approach to regeneration may include celebrating the towns rich heritage, history and architecture, but it’s also about celebrating the people and organisations within it- who are all striving for (and striding toward!) a safer, stronger and more resilient and connected community, together.