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GalGael Navigate Life Programme

The GalGael Navigate Life Programme is a twelve week programme aimed at people with a background in addiction and complex forms of exclusion to improve physical and emotional health and to increase resilience to sustain this transformation and move on in life with purpose. The GalGael community provides a place to work, attitudinal and practical tools and basic respect for others delivered through the medium of traditional crafts including wood working.

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What are the aims and objectives?

GalGael’s core purpose is “to initiate social, cultural and ecological renewal projects, re-visioning inclusive forms of peoplehood, establish an identity that builds resilience and embodies shared values, and community in modern Scotland”.

The programme empowers people to navigate life with dignity through expanded means of meeting their needs in life-enhancing ways and so enabling them to become more socially, culturally and economically engaged with their community. The project focuses on connecting people by giving them a sense of purpose and belonging and a way to contribute to society.

Why was the project set up?

In the mid 1990s, Colin MacLeod, founder of the project, along with a group of unemployed people, set about trying to re-establish a sense of ‘peoplehood’ and ‘belonging’ for local people and a reconnection to the community and the land. GalGael was formally established in March 1997, achieved charitable status in 1999 and employed staff from 2000. Participants started coming to the project in 1999/2000 due to funding from Scottish Natural Heritage. The project moved into its current premises in Govan in December 2004. The Navigate the Future project was launched in the same year.  The Navigate Life programme is now the main focus of GalGael’s work.

“It’s about progression rather than diversion.”  

The project recognises people’s inner need to contribute their creativity to their community as well as their outer need for a living wage. The work of the project is founded on the belief that we all have something to contribute both to our local economy and our local community.

Who are the participants and the partners?

GalGael works with adults (16 to 65 years) who are long term unemployed and who live in South West of Glasgow. Many participants experience complex and often multiple forms of deprivation and exclusion including addictions, homelessness, lack of qualifications, mental health issues, and criminal justice involvement. The majority of participants are male and aged between 25 and 45. The project works with 90 to 100 participants per year. Participants take part in a twelve week programme and attend GalGael for three and half days per week during this period.

The project is based in Govan, an area of Glasgow which has been deeply affected by the decline shipbuilding industries, and “where many individuals and families in the community have been left without work and meaning”. The programme is delivered from the project base in Govan, and complemented by activities in a rural bothy, Barmaddy Farm at Loch Awe, which provides a breathing space from city life.

The project works in partnership with a small number of organisations including Cardonald College and is funded by European Social Fund, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Henry Smith Fund, Integrated Grant Fund, and Garfield West. By engaging in local networks, the project ensures appropriate partnerships are formed to provide the full set of services and joined up interventions that participants require to progress towards the labour market.

“It needn’t be about what people are lacking.”

GalGael Trust is a company limited by guarantee with charitable status. The organisation is managed day-to-day by a staff-based management team responsible to the Board of Directors who provide the organisation with governance and strategic direction. Six voluntary members on the Board of Directors bring a breadth of skills and experience pivotal to the development of the organisation.

GalGael employs seven full time staff and one part time employee, alongside 15 regular and 20 occasional volunteers. 

What does the project do?

GalGael have become best known for building and sailing wooden boats in celebration of Scotland’s heritage. GalGael seeks to bring people alive to their surroundings and environment. In doing so the project allows people to see a new sense of self and a deeper understanding of who they are and provides the tools to help people overcome future challenges and times of adversity. 

“Wood working is a medium for everything else that goes on.”  

“The Navigate Life method is simple; give people a place to work, tools both attitudinal and practical and some basic respect an the rest comes naturally”. In this way the project creates a new relationship between what is important and valued in both the person and materials they work with. Based on a strong “learning is doing” method and partly inspired by the old apprenticeship system, the programme shifts focus from the individual and their issues and onto the creative task they are engaged with.

Working with natural materials such as wood, stone and metal, Navigate Life uses traditional skills as a vehicle to transfer new skills and get into good life habits, and enables participants to both “learn and earn”. The project creates, through the course of a week, varying conditions where different kinds of learning can take place in natural and inclusive contexts. Small furniture projects provide a practical focus while other transformations get to work on deeper personal levels. At the same time as creating an object of beauty that will enrich their home environment or serve as a gift to repair family relationships, participants find a sense of worth and achievement. 

A number of steps are involved in the 12 week programme including a short introduction to tools, materials and health and safety; completion of the SQA Introduction to Woodwork units verified by Cardonald College; a small personal furniture project and involvement in one of a wide variety of projects and commissions. For many participants this may be the first qualification ever gained, the first time they have finished anything or demonstrated their own creative potential and had the opportunity to work as part of a team.

The distance travelled during the 12 weeks by participants varies widely depending on personal circumstances. For some, completing the 12 week course is a significant achievement in itself. For others, the course is all they need to support them into employment or further education. A number of participants continue to volunteer with GalGael after the programme and for some, whilst the balance of what they receive to what they give back has immeasurably changed; they continue to experience barriers to moving into more traditional forms of employment.

At the end of the 12 weeks each individual is presented with a certificate stating the qualities they have demonstrated, their SQA certificate, a tool kit and their journal. Outgoing participants are invited to present incoming participants with a keepsake box they have made for them, bringing things full cycle.  At this stage the participant has earned membership of the ‘Clanship’ and this is celebrated. 

“It gives you pride in what you have achieved and in what you’ve made.”

The Clanship provides a package of further support and benefits including cultural and natural heritage excursions, evening learning gatherings and celebrations, the opportunity to share skills and play a peer support role for new participants, to sail the GalGael boats, and make use of the GalGael bothy – activities which further enrich the participants’ sense of belonging, positive forms of identity and positive values. 

It is recognised that Navigate Life will, for many, be one of several interventions they engage with in heading for an improved quality of life. A 12 week programme is not going to resolve all of the issues faced by participants but instead represents the start of a much longer journey that often takes years. Referrals to GalGael and the Navigate Life programme come from range of statutory and voluntary sector organisations including a local addictions team, the Scottish Association for Mental Health, a Social Work Criminal Justice Team, homeless projects and the South West Bridging Service. Self referrals make up 40% of intakes.

Has the approach changed over time?

The success of GalGael has come from continual reflective practice, looking at what has worked and why, building on this and doing more of it. Some of the most valuable project outcomes have been unintended. The ethos of GalGael is based on an expectation of mutual effort: the project creates the environment and the participants do the rest. 

The 12 week programme was devised in the knowledge that the reality for many experiencing multiple deprivation is that the road to inclusion can be a long one taking several years, and even longer in some cases. The programme was shortened from what was initially a 24 week programme to 12 weeks within the wider context of GalGael’s recovery community (‘the Clanship’). The European Social Fund contribution concludes at the end of April 2012. GalGael are now developing plans for a new programme called “Journey On” with a greater focus on volunteering opportunities. The new programme plans to move to a phased attendance approach with participants initially attending for three days per week, gradually reducing to one day per week, with a longer period of engagement with the project. This is in response to the finding that some participants develop a dependency with the project after their 12 week placement.

Furthermore, the SVQ course element was initially delivered after the personal project but following a review session to examine the high drop-out rate at this part of the programme, the staff assessed that the situation would be improved by delivering the SVQ element first, thereby improving skills and confidence before attempting a personal project and increasing motivation to complete the training. When implemented in April 2006, this change had a dramatic effect on attendance and SVQ completion (from 23% to 56% of those starting course). 

Alongside continual reflection and development of the activities and programmes offered, plans are also underway to further develop the community workshop. Restoration of the building will allow the project to improve the current facilities and expand the range of activities already taking place, in particular the ‘light crafts’ such as leather work, basket-making, spinning and weaving. It is hoped that these plans will help to increase the number of females engaging with the project. GalGael also has a newly emerging social enterprise, GalGael Timber, which, with support from the Third Sector Enterprise Fund, it is hoped will make a significant contribution to the future financial sustainability of GalGael.

In what way is the approach ‘asset based’? 

GalGael’s work is founded in the belief that we all have something to contribute both to our local economy and our local community. The project provides people with work to do and a place of work within the context of a supportive community. The project is focused on understanding and navigating life with dignity through supporting the participants’ needs in life-enhancing ways thereby enabling them to become more socially, culturally and economically engaged with their community. 

“The word ‘community’ is over used. When you see real community it’s overwhelming.”  

The GalGael ethos is clearly underpinned by asset principles. The project states that it cannot always protect participants from life’s storms but offers a safe harbour’.

“GalGael offers a place of acceptance where participants can experience a sense of belonging and self worth. It helps them to put down anchor points from which they can begin to navigate away from a battered and broken sense of self and re-orientate their lives, out of crisis, and issues such as addiction, homelessness, previous convictions, mental ill health and persistent unemployment towards an enriched quality of life”’

Navigate Life is described as a learning community rather than a training programme. GalGael provides a community of creative people who come together to cooperatively meet some of our inherent needs, our shared need for acceptance, to learn new skills, to work, to contribute our creativity, and to find friendship. Membership of the community challenges, inspires and empowers individuals, enabling them to find the best within themselves.

The project uses natural materials as a medium to develop new tangible physical skills, underpinned by the development of softer personal skills such as interaction, mutual support, relationships and community spirit. Navigate Life is focused on the development and creation of new assets and responsibilities through learning opportunities, team working and the development of life skills.  The project believes that creating a collective sense of responsibility leads to a sense of worth and empowerment. Confidence building and a sense of purpose is intrinsic to all project activities.

How has success been measured?

The impact of Navigate Life on “giving people their lives back” is hard to measure as it is about capturing a quality of life experience for participants and assessing ‘softer outcomes’.

“We’re at the benches building relationships.”  

On entering GalGael, the Progression Support Officer interviews and encourages each participant to score themselves in terms of core skills, life skills and work skills, to establish a record of each participants’ starting point. Ongoing assessment and review of participants is carried out during their time on the programme. Assessment and review is also used as a meaningful and motivational tool that helps participants to visualise their own progress and journey.

Over a five year period (2009-2014) the programme wishes to achieve the outcomes below:

  • 300 people with backgrounds in addiction and other forms of exclusion will have improved physical, mental and emotional health and the resilience to sustain this transformation, leaving behind negative lifestyles and moving on in life with purpose. 
  • 300 disadvantaged people will have had the opportunity to find their strengths and gain a broad and relevant range of transferable skills that will equip them for life’s journey as learners and earners.

A wide range of assessment tools are used including individual participant details and baseline records, induction sheets, participants’ barriers to inclusion; individual learning plan/life map; activity sheets; participant progress sheets; work plans; training schedules; participant evaluation sheets and follow up of participant outcomes.

What are the strengths and challenges? 

GalGael works to empower and support people to find their way in life by giving them a sense of purpose and belonging and a way to contribute to society, socially, culturally and economically. In the past four years, 246 people have completed the programme with 160 people acquiring an SVQ certificate, for many their first qualification. Of this, 21 people have progressed into employment, 15 into further education or training and 44 into volunteering. Furthermore, 82% of participants said their confidence had improved while on the course, 88% stated improved motivation and 76% said their outlook on life was more positive. Improvements in mental health, physical health and social health are reported by the majority of participants who engage with the project.

While harder outcomes such as employment and further education are comparatively low, these figures are concurrent with the reality that for many participants the road to positive destinations are long and GalGael is often the first step on the employability pathway. The current financial climate has had an impact on the opportunities available for participants – due to the limited options for progression it can be difficult to keep up motivation and hope.

Funding was identified as an ongoing challenge for the project. The demand for project places is increasing alongside a decrease in funding. Project staff highlighted concern about the changing nature of funding towards service level agreements and the need to fit into predefined agendas which constrains innovation and creativity and continuity of the services that can be provided. The challenges associated with funding have also stretched staffing capacity and the resources that are available, with little time available to pursue emerging work. Furthermore, due to the nature of the project in providing training in traditional skills, health and safety is an ongoing challenge.

The working relationship between statutory organisations and voluntary associations was also acknowledged as a barrier to ongoing delivery of the project. Staff felt that large statutory organisations do not always understand how voluntary organisations work and may insist on reducing funding over time with the expectation that the project should be income generating and self sustaining. Project staff feel that GalGael is helping to reduce the burden on statutory services and there is a need for the project to better translate the short and long term benefits of the project on statutory services and the associated funding implications.

“It’s given me energy and confidence.”

On a personal level, staff expressed satisfaction and pride in being part of a big family. The unique nature of the project – the provision of a community for people to work, eat, learn and share together – was highlighted as a setting for people to help each other through an informal network of support. Staff also articulated their sense of fulfilment from the rich cultural mix of the project and spoke of how this can be powerful for people who have not historically mixed within their communities, challenging preconceived ideas about people and helping to break down barriers between people.

Participants expressed appreciation and gratitude for the project and the encouragement, help and support they received. Participants spoke of the importance of GalGael in providing a new purpose in life, a structure to the day, new skills and relationships. Participants also highlighted their pleasure and enjoyment from being able to take part in the project excursions which offer the opportunity to visit new places and to see the natural beauty of Scotland.

Relevant links to other parts of the Understanding Glasgow site:  economic participation, education, poverty, social capital and Understanding Glasgow film series: Working Men