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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
25th April 2013

Christina McKelvie is on the street

A few weeks back, I had the privilege of welcoming members of The Street into the Scottish Parliament. I’ve been involved with this gritty, hard hitting youth drama group since it began and I’ve been hugely impressed by what they do. I wanted some of my parliamentary colleagues to share the experience.

It isn’t pretty or relaxing. It’s real, it’s rough and it’s brutal. But life is like that for quite a few young people in Scotland.

There is a whole generation of kids who have lived with the iniquities of Westminster policies that they didn’t want and for which their parents didn’t vote.

The gap between rich and poor has grown wider and wider during successive Westminster governments with more young people enduring more disadvantages. They have become caught up in gang violence, drugs, heavy drinking, domestic abuse, vandalism and crime – especially knife crime.

You can set up drop-in centres, provide counselling, offer social services support – and all of these are important – but the one thing that really makes an impact is when those same kids communicate directly with their own peers. Telling it like it is from the people who’ve been there has far more impact than any outsider coming into those lives can ever hope to have.

Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt could be a mantra for The Street.

They played through a drama of their own creation in the Parliament. It told the chilling story of a teenage girl who ends up murdered by a knife. A few minutes after she’s been introduced, you learn that she’s been dead for two days so what you see is told in reverse. The tale that unfolds is how it happened.

At the end of the production, the MSPs looked not just shocked but thoroughly shaken by what they saw. They were also profoundly impressed and gave a standing ovation to the group.

Wendy McInally is the project manager and a great evangelist for its success. She told me: “Our main aim with The Street is about trying to get young people to be aware of their own actions. The urban simulation makes them see that every action has a reaction. We’re trying to get young people to make decisions about their own behaviour and considering the repercussions of their actions before they take them. The Street draws our attention to violent and brutal consequences of actions taken by others to highlight their point with issues varying from knife crime to sexual assault.”

The young people themselves are testament to the impact. Gavin Queen said: “I did a lot of this stuff on the streets myself. That’s the idea and what makes it powerful. It could happen to you.”

Grant Wingate, who has already served time for various offences, says The Street has turned his life around: “It has given me back that focus and drive that I had when I was a youngster before I got into all that trouble and I can see myself past the finish line with this and moving on to other things as well.”

As Wendy says, what makes The Street different is that they don’t give advice or counselling. She says it’s the way the kids innovate and totally engage in these productions, which mainly take place in a simulated urban street in a warehouse in Hamilton, that makes the real difference. They aren’t being preached to by adults or told how they ought to behave. They’re working it out for themselves.

I’m flattered to hear Wendy’s response to my own involvement: “Christina’s support is really important to us. She has thoroughly and avidly advocated our group and its engagement with the young people in her constituency. We really welcome that backing.”

Find out more about The Street here:

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