Citizen Fest. Glasgow Scotland : August 2019

‘We are one’: the only way to be – inclusive citizenship

Amanda Topps attends a festival of performance, wellbeing and debate that urged people to act like citizens rather than just talking about doing the right thing

A magnificent celebration of ‘inclusive citizenship in a world where everyone matters – without exception’ was the rallying call to attend Glasgow’s inaugural CitizenFest. People from across Scotland and the rest of Great Britain came to the summer event.

Focusing on concepts of life, freedom, purpose, love, money and home, the festival got off to a roaring start with Stay Up Late Scotland (see pages 14-15) hosting a huge night of live music, bands and DJs.

The sounds of The Outsiders from Leeds, Ayawara African fusion percussion and the fresh, colourful Well Happy Band filled the packed Strathclyde Student Union with dancing and conversation – a great way to start networking and making new friends as the festival kicked off.

Call to come together

Amazing and provocative talks, debates, workshops, music, films, art, comedy and music were peppered throughout the ancient halls and cultural venues of Merchant City in the heart of Glasgow.

The skirl of the Scottish bagpipes welcomed festivalgoers with traditional tunes, followed by the Every Voice Choir, a dementia-friendly choir entertaining an audience keen to join in with popular tunes from the Beatles to Abba and the Flying Pickets to the Proclaimers.

A provocation formally launched events as organisers introduced Dr Simon Duffy, director of the Centre for Welfare Reform, who challenged us to celebrate human diversity saying: ‘Too often, we each end up trapped in our little boxes and in our own special groups, each trying to fight for justice and inclusion.

‘But if we really want to see a better world, where everyone is treated as an equal citizen, then we must come together. We have to remember that we are one. We need to act like citizens – not just talk about it.’

Jackie Baillie MSP, who convenes the Scottish Parliament cross-party group on learning disability, addressed the gathering with a keynote speech, then the day’s workshops and activities unfolded along with excitement and expectation.

The packed programme was organised by Frances Brown and John Dalrymple, who are members of both Radical Visions and Citizen Network.

There were well over 50 events over the weekend including a performance by Fionnathan. This father and son duo from Ireland brought their Edinburgh Fringe show, a thought-provoking mix of comment, comedy and Irish music about living with Down’s syndrome, to CitizenFest. They want to have fun and change the world and certainly helped us to join in doing so. (Fionnathan featured in Community Living: The Phenomenon that is Fionnathan, summer 2017, page 14).

Activities included: caring for your mental health and wellbeing; Grow and Go, a planting workshop; massage; a safe space for women; and film and literature celebrating LGBTQIA+ people. There were also chances for attendees to graphically record their views about the important topics of the day, courtesy of Imagineer.

Talent and achievement

Festivalgoers included Sam Sly from Enough is Enough and Time4Change, who said: ‘CitizenFest to me was a celebration of all that is great about both diversity and togetherness. I had such a great weekend and a smile never left my face.

‘Hearing about talent, achievement, good music, spending time with good friends, making new ones and staying up late – I couldn’t have had a better time. I have always believed in citizenship and this weekend strengthened my desire to push forward on ensuring everyone gets what is their right.’

These sentiments were shared by many festivalgoers as the hot topics of citizenship, democracy, inclusion, autonomy and choice were discussed in seminars.

Bob Rhodes from Lives through Friends said: ‘The fundamental question boils down to: why – when services can’t possibly do those things that matter most to people, because those things derive from their relationships within reciprocal families and communities – does the government persist in investing in services that actively compromise and weaken communities, substituting a money-based, market economy for the love-based, core relational economy and attenuating democracy? I guess the answer has to be ignorance.’

The seminar gathered international guests to debate and imagine a better future and way of being to encourage positive change in politics and social care.

The presentations and discussions, the new language and ideas were challenging and stimulating; it was exciting to meet people who shared the same values and cared passionately about making a difference to see a more equal society and build community for all.

I left CitizenFest hopeful that by networking and supporting one another we can turn the tide for a more positive future through engaging, listening and interacting with each other to determine a more humane, person-centred culture and politics with policies rooted in rights and a deep understanding of one another.

‘We Are One’ echoed down the streets of Glasgow long after the last band had played at the Mono cafe and the conversations had faded, following each of us home and strengthening us with new vigour to cherish diversity and fight for equality.

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Amanda Topps is an researcher, evaluator, and community engagement consultant who has worked in adult social care for 29 years