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There’s no short­age of poverty in Fer­gus­lie Park but grow­ing up there, Jean Cameron also found plenty of mu­sic, danc­ing and po­etry. Now di­rec­tor of Pais­ley’s bid to be­come UK City of Cul­ture 2021, she’s con­vinced the arts are key to the town’s fu­ture. Rus

Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS - Pho­to­graph: Kirsty An­der­son

Say good­bye to sum­mer with hot au­tumn tones

IT’S been a long, long time since Jean Cameron was last in­side her child­hood home, but the mem­o­ries haven’t faded. The woman in charge of Pais­ley’s bid to be UK City of Cul­ture in 2021 is stand­ing – slightly self-con­sciously, as she ad­mits – out­side the house in Tan­nahill Road, in Fer­gus­lie Park, Pais­ley. She vividly re­calls grow­ing up here in this four-in-a-block, of play­ing in the small, shared front gar­den.

“It was good grow­ing up here. There was a lot of love,” says Cameron. “I don’t want to be Pollyanna about it, be­cause there are chal­lenges here, but I felt very well loved.

“My mum worked in the mills. She was even on a TV doc­u­men­tary re­cently, The Town That Thread Built, talk­ing about her time there with her old friends around a ta­ble in Paolo Nu­tini’s mum and dad’s cafe.

“My dad worked at Chryslers [car fac­tory] but he was on strike a lot in the 1970s. So my mum was part of that strong Pais­ley fe­male work­force that put the bread on the ta­ble while their men­folk were stand­ing up for what they be­lieved in in terms of so­cial jus­tice. That was typ­i­cal of the time.

“But at least I grew up know­ing that I lived in a street that was named after a poet, a Pais­ley poet [Robert Tan­nahill, the famed Weaver Poet, born in 1774] who, it turns out, couldn’t take him­self se­ri­ously be­cause he was never go­ing to be Burns. There’s some­thing in that, isn’t there? He said, ‘An hon­est heart is never poor’, and there are a lot of hon­est hearts in Fer­gus­lie.”

Cameron, who is 48, re­mem­bers grow­ing up with a sub­stan­tial fam­ily and church com­mu­nity. Both the lo­cal churches, St Fer­gus and St Nini­ans’s, had solid youth-work pro­grammes, too.

She glances at her old gar­den. “I’ve got great photographs of us in that gar­den, in our school uni­forms.” Her first love was dance, and she re­mem­bers tak­ing part in a dance dis­play at the age of three, in Pais­ley Town Hall. Dance al­lowed her to mix with chil­dren from other parts of the town.

She at­tended St Fer­gus Pri­mary, then St Mirin’s and St Mar­garet’s High, where among the other pupils was one Ger­ard But­ler, now a Hol­ly­wood star.

We’re walk­ing down Tan­nahill Road at mid­day on a work­ing day, and it is eerily quiet. A good num­ber of the houses are boarded up. Tan­nahill Road and nearby Tan­nahill Ter­race form part of a scheme that has some­times been de­scribed as “no­to­ri­ous” in the tabloids; to­day, though, it looks per­fectly or­di­nary.

A year ago Fer­gus­lie Park, long a short­hand term for ur­ban de­pri­va­tion, found it­self – once again – at the bot­tom of the Scot­tish In­dex of Mul­ti­ple De­pri­va­tion, or SIMD, but Ren­frew­shire Coun­cil is con­sult­ing on am­bi­tious pro­pos­als to trans­form the area by in­vest­ing in new hous­ing and build­ing a £15 mil­lion re­gional sports vil­lage.

A few min­utes’ walk up from Cameron’s old home, and vis­i­ble from its back door, is the eight-year-old sta­dium

that houses St Mir­ren Foot­ball Club, the Bud­dies. A spon­sor­ship deal signed with Ren­frew­shire Coun­cil in 2015 gave it a new name: the Pais­ley 2021 Sta­dium.

Cameron was a Bud­dies fan when she was younger. “I was at Ham­p­den in 1987 when we won the Scot­tish Cup,” she says. “And my mum and dad were en­gaged in 1959, the night the team last won the cup. I wouldn’t be here,” she adds with a quick smile, “with­out that St Mir­ren vic­tory.”

Cameron, who is pro­ject di­rec­tor for Pais­ley’s 2021 bid, is gen­uinely en­thused by the pos­si­bil­i­ties City of Cul­ture sta­tus would open up, and the so­cial and eco­nomic ben­e­fits it would bring. And if any­one knows about cul­ture as a cat­a­lyst for change, it’s her.

After study­ing Ital­ian and French with busi­ness stud­ies at Ed­in­burgh Uni­ver­sity, she re­turned home to work at Pais­ley Arts Cen­tre. She took the BA com­mu­nity arts course at Jor­dan­hill Col­lege then em­barked on a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in the arts, ini­tially in Glas­gow at prom­i­nent venues such as the CCA and the Arches.

She pro­duced the Glas­gow In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val of Vis­ual Art and, 12 years ago, Scot­land’s na­tional pre­sen­ta­tion at the Venice Bi­en­nale. She worked on the Aye Write! book fes­ti­val, and on Glas­gow Mela, and was the lead in the in­ter­na­tional strand of Glas­gow’s 2014 Com­mon­wealth Games cul­tural pro­gramme. It’s an im­pres­sive CV, and she is now bring­ing her ex­pe­ri­ence to bear on steer­ing Pais­ley’s dream of suc­ceed­ing Hull as UK City of Cul­ture.

The town, she says, is ex­cited by the im­mense re­wards that vic­tory would bring, should it be cho­sen ahead of its ri­vals – Coven­try, Stoke-on-Trent, Sun­der­land and Swansea.

The Pais­ley 2021 cam­paign speaks of the equiv­a­lent of 4,700 new jobs be­ing cre­ated over the next decade and a £172 mil­lion boost to the lo­cal econ­omy, while a pro­gramme of “ma­jor events and world-class cul­ture” in 2021 would at­tract au­di­ences es­ti­mated at 1.7 mil­lion. The me­dia cov­er­age alone would be amaz­ing, you sus­pect.

Hull has en­joyed over £1 bil­lion of in­vest­ment since win­ning the ti­tle four years ago; it’s in­ter­est­ing to en­vis­age Pais­ley, a town that has suf­fered badly from in­dus­trial de­cline over the decades, rein­vent­ing it­self as a cul­tural bea­con. Cameron ac­knowl­edges that Hull has “re­ally seized the op­por­tu­nity. They’ve set the bar very, very high and we have drawn in­spi­ra­tion from that”.

If the long bid process has en­er­gised Pais­ley, bring­ing the town to­gether and snuff­ing out lo­cal scep­tics whose re­ac­tion could be summed up as “yeah, right”, the loom­ing fi­nal bid sub­mis­sion to the De­part­ment for Digital, Cul­ture, Me­dia & Sport (DCMS) on Septem­ber 29 is con­cen­trat­ing minds. “That’s our send­off mo­ment,” Cameron says, “and it’s won­der­ful, be­cause it’s a col­lec­tive fo­cus for us all. There’s a lot to do, but it feels good, and we’re all fo­cused on that task.

“The next thing we know is that the judges will visit Pais­ley at the end of Oc­to­ber. They’ll visit all five places then. They’ll want to see the 2021 Part­ner­ship Board and see that that’s au­then­tic. They’ll want to see our venues and the cul­tural in­fra­struc­ture.

“In terms of the buy-in for our bid, we’ve had over 33,500 face-to-face con­ver­sa­tions with lo­cal peo­ple – we’ve had Pais­ley 2021 cul­tural con­ver­sa­tions, we’ve had cul­ture tours of the town. That rep­re­sents over 40 per cent of Pais­ley’s pop­u­la­tion.

“We know we’ll be in Hull on De­cem­ber 6 and 7, in the judges’ cham­ber, and that they’ll make an an­nounce­ment pre-Christ­mas.

“For this fi­nal bid,” she adds, “it’s a case of re-stat­ing your vi­sion and your part­ner­ships. We’ve had great feed­back from DCMS on our vi­sion, about the need in Pais­ley, about the role of cul­ture as a driver of re­gen­er­a­tion. It’s very much about the specifics of how you are go­ing to do this, and what is your legacy.”

Things have been pick­ing up speed in re­cent weeks. In recog­ni­tion of the fact Pais­ley is car­ry­ing Scot­land’s hopes, VisitS­cot­land, the na­tional tourism agency, has re­cently joined the 2021 Part­ner­ship Board.

Lord Dun­can, Par­lia­men­tary Un­der

Sec­re­tary of State in the Scot­land Of­fice, has en­thused about the bid in an on­line video. Eleanor Laing MP, deputy speaker in the House of Com­mons (and, in­ci­den­tally, the Pais­ley-born MP for Ep­ping For­est), came back home to visit the town’s cre­ative in­dus­tries in­cu­ba­tor, in­Cube.

Pais­ley Pat­tern, the dis­tinc­tive de­sign that took the town’s name around the world, and which can trace its roots back to Per­sia in around 221AD, is be­ing “re­pro­filed as a great lo­cal as­set”, Cameron says; Pringle of Scot­land has used some ex­am­ples of the Pat­tern, held in the town’s his­toric mu­seum, to in­spire its au­tumn/win­ter wom­enswear col­lec­tion.

“It’s all about repo­si­tion­ing Pais­ley and its sig­nif­i­cance to Scot­land, the UK and in­ter­na­tion­ally.”

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s West Coast pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion on “De­vel­op­ing Scot­land’s Cul­tural Strat­egy” will be held in Pais­ley on Septem­ber 19 – “some­thing else”, Cameron ac­knowl­edges, “that I sus­pect prob­a­bly wouldn’t have come about with­out the bid”.

Pais­ley has the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of listed build­ings in Scot­land after Ed­in­burgh. A stroll through the town cen­tre takes you past the an­cient Abbey, past the splen­did Thomas Coats Memo­rial Church, past the Pais­ley Mu­seum and Art Gal­leries. The last is to un­dergo a £49 mil­lion re­gen­er­a­tion to turn it into an in­ter­na­tional-class at­trac­tion based on the town’s tex­tile and de­sign her­itage. And the ar­chi­tec­tural trea­sure that is the Rus­sell In­sti­tute, a 1920s A-listed build­ing, has been re­fur­bished. The town also has a thriv­ing arts scene. There is, plainly, a lot go­ing on.

In­dus­try is a dif­fer­ent story, though. For gen­er­a­tions Pais­ley was the thread cap­i­tal of the world, thanks to the pi­o­neer­ing work of J&J Clark and J&P Coats. The two merged into J&P Coats, and at the in­dus­try’s peak it em­ployed more than 11,000 peo­ple, a fig­ure that had been dras­ti­cally re­duced long be­fore the last Coats mill shut down in 1993.

Since the bid process got un­der way in Novem­ber 2015, it has helped guar­an­tee a string of positive news sto­ries from Scot­land’s largest town. “Thank good­ness for that,” ob­serves Cameron, “but, run­ning par­al­lel to that, at least 1,000 jobs have been lost in the town, or are on the cards to be lost, dur­ing that time.” Spir­its pro­ducer Chivas Broth­ers is to close its Pais­ley plant but has of­fered 460 staff jobs at its Dum­bar­ton fa­cil­ity.

That the town’s in­dus­trial de­cline still ex­ists can­not be gain­said. Per­haps this is what lo­cal MP Mhairi Black meant when she said ear­lier this year that the 2021 bid was “partly a cry for help”. It could, she added, also be trans­form­ing, and she was hugely en­thu­si­as­tic about the cam­paign.

Given the de­cline, says Cameron, it made per­fect sense to seek to be­come City of Cul­ture. “The cre­ative in­dus­tries are the fastest-grow­ing in­dus­tries in the UK,” she says. “One of the big at­trac­tions for me to re­turn to Pais­ley was, when I was grow­ing up, there weren’t the cour­ses and cre­ative in­dus­tries and cul­tural skills that you have here now.

“There are some­thing like 2,500 stu­dents be­tween West Col­lege Scot­land and the Uni­ver­sity of the West of Scot­land cam­pus, and that is a real ta­lent pipe­line. Be­ing UK City of Cul­ture will cre­ate jobs in an area of the econ­omy and will boost the cre­ative in­dus­tries and cul­tural in­dus­tries.

“It’s a re­ally spir­ited area but it has real, real chal­lenges,” she says, re­fer­ring to its sta­tus on the SIMD de­pri­va­tion in­dex. “But the peo­ple here have a cando at­ti­tude. There’s a group of women here who go un­der the name of SWIFT – Strong Women in Fer­gus­lie To­gether – and they ab­so­lutely want to be seen as peo­ple who are cre­ative and as­pi­ra­tional for this place.

“The area has be­come much more di­verse, too. Fam­i­lies First pro­vide early-years train­ing at Glen­coats Pri­mary School. Out of the 300 fam­i­lies they work with in Fer­gus­lie, 19 per cent are non­white, peo­ple who do not have English as their first lan­guage. That has led to a big de­mand for ESOL [English for Speak­ers of Other Lan­guages] learn­ing.

“Sta­tis­ti­cally, 3,000 chil­dren in Pais­ley live in poverty, so in terms of cre­at­ing a bet­ter fu­ture, the 2021 bid is so im­por­tant. But there is a groundswell of some­thing positive here – peo­ple are pal­pa­bly feel­ing up­lifted across Pais­ley by the bid­ding process.”

On her walk around her old stamp­ing ground she points, with ev­i­dent pride, to things that have been added since her day – the com­mu­nity hub, the Tan­nahill Cen­tre, opened in 1995, and the new St Fer­gus Pri­mary School, which re­placed the one she at­tended all those years ago.

Walk­ing down Black­stoun Road, Cameron nods to­wards the Glen­coats Lodge Nurs­ery, in the old gate­house of the Coats fam­ily es­tate. “When I was grow­ing up, the pri­vate gar­dens were like a wilder­ness you went into … we used to call it ‘the priv­ies’.

“Three or four months ago,” she adds, “St Ninian’s Church hosted an event for Syr­ian fam­i­lies in Pais­ley. It was stand­ing room only, and it was a sunny day. That sense of a com­mu­nity look­ing after its own is still here.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing in pri­mary six at St Fer­gus and learn­ing Gaelic songs, and hav­ing a real sense of an in­dige­nous Scot­tish cul­ture. I re­mem­ber, when I was in pri­mary seven, and young peo­ple were in­vited to be part of the wor­ship at the church. It was very cre­ative, and I re­mem­ber danc­ing as part of that and fall­ing in love with a piece of clas­si­cal mu­sic –Med­i­ta­tion, a piece for vi­o­lin from [Jules] Massenet’s opera Thais, that has been with me since the age of 11. It’s a touch­stone of my life, and I heard it in Fer­gus­lie Park.

“So there was a def­i­nite so­phis­ti­ca­tion there. There was never any dumb­ing­down here. I re­mem­ber Scot­tish Opera com­ing to school, thanks to teach­ers who val­ued the arts. The arts have def­i­nitely been brought into this com­mu­nity.” She’s grate­ful for be­ing ex­posed to the arts at such an early age: in ret­ro­spect it is no sur­prise that she went on to make cul­ture her ca­reer.

Cameron re­calls that the most re­cent time she heard the Massenet piece was live at a Cre­ative In­dus­tries Fed­er­a­tion con­fer­ence in Lon­don days be­fore the short­list­ing an­nounce­ment.

“It was per­formed by the vi­o­lin­ist Maria Shaker, who had been forced to flee her na­tive Syria and now lives in the UK. I have to ad­mit I did think at the time, ‘Here’s a wee some­thing very spe­cial that re­minds me of my grow­ing up in Fer­gus­lie Park tap­ping me on the shoul­der’ and I did won­der if it might be a sign about the forth­com­ing an­nounce­ment from DCMS.”

We’ll find out in De­cem­ber.

Pais­ley has its fair share of his­tory, but the town’s cre­ative side is never far away.

Jean Cameron still feels huge affin­ity for the com­mu­nity in which she grew up; top right: as a lit­tle girl out­side her Fer­gus­lie Park four-in-a-block; bot­tom right: the dance classes that helped ce­ment her love of the arts.

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