Easterhouse is where my roots are,’ says Ian Monteague, chair of Family Action in Rogerfield and Easterhouse (FARE), a community charity based in one of Glasgow’s toughest areas. He has lived and worked in Easterhouse for most of his life, and knows the anguish of relating to an alcoholic father, the challenges of gang culture and the crippling impact of ‘social discontent’.
At the age of 15, Monteague had a ‘vivid awakening’ to the fact that ‘things needed to change’ and ‘I needed to do it’. He started to attend public meetings and dared to ‘frame questions’ to those in power.
Monteague is guided by his Christian faith, and knew early that his ‘calling’ was to work at community level, although he could have had a career in politics: ‘I hope the rhetoric comes from my faith. Politicians work from a distance and from a height.’ Instead, he trained as a teacher. His first job, at the age of 19, was as a youth worker with the Easterhouse gangs – a job that nobody wanted. He is fervent about ‘supporting people into work’. People need to feel valued, he says, and where high unemployment destroys vision and hope, a vicious cycle results. ‘The job scene is not about money, it’s about self worth.’ Everyone has a gift, and a responsibility to exercise it. His commitment is to ‘awaken that spirit’ in those he works with.
FARE was set up in 1989, by local people who were frustrated about the lack of amenities in Easterhouse, an estate which hit the news in 2002 when conditions there moved Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith to tears. Most of the charity’s projects focus on youth. StreetwYze provides an eight-week course for children in the last year of primary school, to help them ‘understand what temptation may come their way’. FARE’s Mer Tae Me PSD programme works with young offenders and groups on the periphery of gang violence.
Gang culture, Monteague says, draws on the human need to belong. FARE’s projects help young people to see that ‘there’s more to me than being in a gang’ or ‘there’s more to me than being deprived’. The projects’ success is based on working and standing together in ‘spiritual energy’.
‘We have worked with a number of agencies – the police, fire and rescue,’ says Monteague. Anti-social behaviour and crime has reduced overall by 55 per cent since 2007, according to Scottish police statistics. ‘It just illustrates what is possible through collaborative work.’ FARE’s focus has moved from reacting to gang culture towards being more proactive in schools so as ‘not to slide backwards’.
Monteague is currently securing funding to roll out the Easterhouse scheme to other parts of the UK. ‘When people are heard, they are like seeds. At some point they will germinate. Even in times of social deprivation community spirit can rise from adversity.’