One event I couldn't miss last week was the ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) event in Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall. I was a guest of the irrepressible Suzanne Zeedyk. Having training as a research scientist and developmental psychologist, Suzanne is now a leading advocate for ACE awareness and attachment-led practice in Scotland.
ACEs is a growing grassroots movement formed to increase public awareness that childhood trauma creates harmful levels of stress, especially when a child is left to manage their responses to adversity without the support of emotionally reliable relationships. Trauma left untreated and unresolved has long-term consequences which effects learning, behaviour and health. Exploring a biopsychosocial view of stress, trauma, attachment and addiction, the gathering of nearly 2,000 people in the Royal Concert Hall listened to inspirational speakers exploring and recommending action that Scotland can take for a future that is healthier, emotionally connected and socially just.
Without a visual or power-point presentation to be seen, the speakers were outstanding. An inspirational introduction by Suzanne Zeedyk – grounded ACEs in social justice – was followed by probably the most moving presentation I have ever heard at any conference: James Docherty and Kim McGuigan (see photo below). Kim's story of overcoming chaos and adversity, standing alongside James, her mentor and supporter throughout her recovery, brought me and many others, to tears. The courage and vision of these two remarkable working-class Glaswegians brought the main speakers – Dr Gabor Maté and Darren McGarvey – together for this event.
Winner of the George Orwell prize, rapper Darren 'Loki' McGarvey, is a superb communicator who articulated what stress, chaos and trauma does to a child, particularly if brought up in an area of deprivation, as we call working-class districts these days. The main speaker, internationally renowned Dr Gabor Maté, is an expert on addiction, trauma, childhood development and the relationship of stress to illness. He spoke for hours, holding the audience gripped throughout. In an age of short attention spans, that was some feat. It's impossible to do him justice here, but if you're interested, he is a bestselling author of a number of books.
There are criticisms of ACEs, which is not surprising. Scotland (and rUK) doesn't have a child-centred culture, a country where even legislation to outlaw violence against children, the euphemistic 'smacking ban', will meet with huge public resistance. The main criticism of ACEs is that it promotes individual social experience over structural issues of political economy and it medicalises social circumstance. Thinking about this Marxist critique, it strikes me that surely, we can address both the individual and society, especially in a small country such as ours?
As to medicalisation, there was just one aspect of Dr Maté's talk that made me feel uneasy: the linking of childhood trauma to cancer in later life. Cancer is a complicated disease where many real-world factors (smoking, stress, etc) are at play alongside cell mutations, inheritance and random errors that occur when cells divide. But further research is required as clear answers of cause and effect for this blasted disease are as yet, undiscovered.
Overall, I came away from the ACEs event – a vital movement for Scotland – inspired, motivated and determined to get involved. It is not only providing an innovative framework for addressing widespread childhood trauma, but asking what changes are needed in criminal justice, economic and social policy to foster resilience and overcome a culture that has been stressed for far too long.
Café Gandolfi and Glasgow's art centre
Rarely do I have coffee or lunch in the Café Gandolfi in Candelriggs, Glasgow, and each time I do, I wonder why I don't meet friends in that wonderful place more often. The occasion recently was meeting up with two friends, both former colleagues from Glasgow School of Art, one of whom knew the history of this café very well.
Around 1973, the photographer and GSA technician, Iain McKenzie apparently had the brilliant idea of converting the old offices of the cheese market into a café and photographic gallery. It was named after the Italian box-camera photographers, the Gandolfis. McKenzie was a pioneer of Glasgow's café culture. With attention to detail, not only did he insist on the highest quality of drinks and snacks: specialist beer, homemade scones and a splendid coffee-machine, he retained the old panelling of the premises, and commissioned Tim Stead to design the solid, beautifully-crafted Scottish hardwood furniture, still in use today. Adorning the walls of the interior are rows of Iain's superb photography.
The café opened in 1979, and thereby initiated the regeneration of the old Merchant City. Iain owned and ran it for 20 years, selling it to the current owner who has changed little, so Iain's sensibilities remain untouched. Beautiful stained glassed windows and glass light fittings are the only additions.
After our delicious brunch, we crossed over Argyll Street to another area of Glasgow I seldom visit: the creative section of Glasgow. Passing the Glasgow Print Studio, the Community of Ideas hub, the South Block which houses the studios of a number of artists (WASPS), and the Modern Institute Gallery. The South Block is rented from Glasgow City Council on what is called a 'peppercorn lease': a rather lovely idea for often financially struggling artists
Finally, we reached the magnificent Briggait, Glasgow's old fish market, where my friend, the creative practitioner Alison Harley, has a studio and an exhibition (now finished) in the exhibition space on the ground floor. Characteristically of Alison, her studio and work evoke tranquillity and beautiful understatement, so I came home well-fed, calm, impressed and educated.