frame: the lost voices from Britain's urban hell
An article by Billy Briggs in the March 28 2005 edition of the Herald.
THE slim, dark-haired young
boy looks into the camera.
"This is not a good place
to come home to," he says. "I don't want to live here any more because
people want to fight with me and it's crap. I've tried to hang myself and
I've tried to drown myself and I've tried to make myself bleed to death,
and that's it."
The words of a 13-year-old
boy living in Arden in Glasgow. Steven is speaking on film about his life
in one of the most deprived areas of Europe. He is talking about what it
is like to be poor; how it affects his life and why he wants to commit
The film cuts to the next
scene and the camera pans to four young boys. Jim, 15, and some of his
friends are ducking into a ramshackle hut they have built in woods near
the Castlemilk area of the city. It follows them inside. The four
teenagers sit close together, knees hunched up, and explain to Ruth
Carslaw, the film-maker, how to smoke cannabis using a bong.
"You go to a dealer, you
buy a half deal or a deal, that's a fiver or a tenner, or as much as you
want. Resin, you just burn it for a wee while, then you sprinkle it into
the gauze, that's the gauze," Tom says, pointing to a thin mesh over the
top of an empty plastic Coke bottle he is holding. "You sprinkle it in,
then you light it and burn it for a wee while, and because of the water
the smoke goes in and then you inhale it."
The four boys tell Ms
Carslaw that they have just started smoking hash. The den and the drugs
are their escape from the tooled-up gangs, from the boredom and from their
own weary existence in an impoverished part of Glasgow.
A recent report by the
Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Britain's leading social policy charity, in
conjunction with Oxford University, depicted a dark picture of a lost
generation trapped in urban housing schemes across the UK that have seen
little or no improvement for a generation.
Glasgow fared worst. It has
the highest number of council wards in Britain (28), where more than half
the children are in families receiving out-of-work means-tested benefits.
This was more than double Liverpool's total of 12.
Despite a number of
high-profile regeneration projects by both Labour and Tory governments
since the early 1980s, the cycle of family breakdown, drug abuse, crime
and violence prevails. Thousands of children in Glasgow continue to be
born into a life of poverty, social exclusion and deprivation.
In January, a study
commissioned by the Scottish Prison Service said that people living in the
most deprived parts of Glasgow are more likely to be imprisoned than black
men in the US. One in nine people will have been jailed by the time they
Another study published by
St Andrews University in December linked suicide rates among young people
with poverty. It found teenagers in poor housing schemes were four times
more likely to kill themselves.
Suicide rates for young men
in Scotland have risen dramatically - up by 72% since 1980; for young
women the increase was 19%. It is now the nation's biggest cause of
unnatural death among young people. Drug abuse, divorce and unemployment
were the major factors and the report strongly criticised the Scottish
Executive's lack of priority given to social deprivation in its 2002
national strategy for combating suicide.
These shameful statistics
confirm that deprived children in Glasgow suffer some of the severest
poverty in the Western world.
Ms Carslaw's groundbreaking
films - to which The Herald was given exclusive access - are about the
children. They give them a voice and provide a human face to the
"A stat means nothing -
what is it? 200,000? We show these kids, we give a face to that, we give a
voice to that, to those statistics. And every single child living in
poverty has a different experience," Ms Carslaw says.
In the den, Paul, bearing a
wound on his head from a bottle attack, is telling her that there is
nowhere for them to play football anymore.
"We used to play football
every single day, didn't we?" he says. "Then that school got took down.
Now we can hardly run to save ourselves."
The boys now play on a
small area of grass in a local graveyard.
"I want any pitch. A grass
pitch. We need something to do. Like a club to go to. I want something to
do that will stop us smoking hash. Something to do, man, something to f***ing
pass time so you don't need to smoke hash. This is all we do, play
football in a graveyard because there's nowhere else to play football,"
The bottle attack was a
result of a fight over drugs.
"He stole my pal's hash. I
was fighting and somebody ran up behind me and hit me over the head with a
bottle. People use swords, bottles, knives, anything they can that will
Ms Carslaw has been working
with impoverished children in Glasgow for five years and is based in Govan
with a charity called the Braendam Project.
She spends time with the
children gaining their trust and then hooks them up with a camera so they
can speak candidly about their lives. The results are very raw footage of
them taking her through their environments. "Its about guiding kids
towards artistic expression," she says.
Her films are attracting a
great deal of interest - from Ireland, from Ken Livingstone, the mayor of
London, and from Berlin where Ms Carslaw will visit this July to show them
at a conference.
She plans to premiere her
latest production, Generating Movement, in a late summer public street
screening in Glasgow.
"I follow the kids with a
camera round their area and let them talk. It's simple but effective . . .
Every single child living in poverty has a different experience."
Her work is not easy. On a
visit to Milton the other day, she explains, she could not do any filming
because the children she was with had had their windows broken and there
were gangs roaming about on an area of grass behind where they lived.
"There was glass
everywhere," Ms Carslaw says. "The kids were worried they would come back
and break more windows. But there's a sort of 'I'm getting on with it'
attitude about these children. It's their imaginations and that's part of
the work as well. It's about getting a child to speak out about how they
actually feel- about the darkness, the smell. I was guided downstairs once
by a child with a lighter. It was so dark in the flat you could not see."
Ms Carslaw mentions another
young girl who was homeless for two years and talked about people beating
up her brothers. She would sometimes mention gunshots and people coming to
her door at night.
"There's only so far, so
much they will tell you. How you get them speak about their lives is a
long process." she says.
Stacy is 11 and lives in
Penilee. She smiles at the camera and jumps on a swing.
"Here we are in the scabby
park. I think it's scabby because of all the writing all over the place.
It's a dump and there's hardly anything to go on. I've got to travel from
Penilee to Paisley (around three miles) just for a park and fun things to
play on like this.
"We really need things like
that up there (Penilee)," Stacy says.
Despite showing one of the
earlier films to MSPs in Glasgow almost four years ago, little has changed
for these children.
"I don't want to say that
things have not got better but we showed the film and launched the stage
one debate of the Housing (Scotland) Act back in 2001 . . ." Ms Carslaw
sighs and pauses.
"You know, everyone was
like 'Oh, good, children speaking out, fantastic'. One boy who worked on
it said he wants to see little changes. Glass burst the tyres of his bike
and he said he wanted it cleaned up. He said 'I want my area cleaned up.'
He actually came up with the idea of recycling. Who is listening to him?"
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