Friday 23 June
I thought it would be a friendly meeting in the park where I would witness a neighbourhood pulling together to create a community bread oven. I pictured it to be a picnic in the Garnethill sun. How ignorant I was. When I left after 45 minutes, generations of anger had been released and it was vicious.
A few months ago, students from the Glasgow School of Art had the idea of building a bread oven in Garnethill Park, which would be open for groups and individual members of the community to use to bake bread. With undertones of religion and romanticism, the disparate community groups of the neighbourhood – art students, members of the Chinese community, families who have lived in the area for generations, and newcomers to Glasgow frequenting Project Cafe and the community centre – would be able to sit around a fire together and break bread.
Pop-up consultations had been held, but after expressions of concern had arisen from the community council, the organisers behind the bread oven project had called for an open meeting in the park. At 5.30pm on Friday, drama ensued.
Over a picnic table with bread and hummus that were forgotten as soon as the first community members arrived, 20 people were gathered, shouting, insulting and accusing.
At times the discussion was about the oven. That it was being built in a park designed by the world-famous environmental artist Dieter Magnus and that the oven did not fit in with the overall feeling or symmetry. They also argued about its practical use. Who would bring dough from home and bake it in a park? What would happen when the art students who built it left? Other times, it was little more than compressed anger being released.
'Who are you to defend the oven? You don't live here!'
'Actually, I do live here. I have lived here for 30 years.'
'Well, we never see you!'
'You don't care about green space!'
'What – I love green space! That's why I'm in the park now!'
'You hate green space.' A pause. 'You want to destroy green space.'
In the aftermath I get talking to a pro-oven community member. He shakes his head and says, 'These are the same people who voted to leave the EU. Now they won't even let us have a bread oven.'
Monday 26 June
On Monday I first heard of the Glasgow Pound – a city-wide alternative currency. Similar concepts exist elsewhere in the UK, such as through the Bristol Pound and the HullCoin. In contrast to Bitcoin-style virtual alternative economies, community-specific currencies encourage individuals and businesses to reinvest capital within the community itself.
The Glasgow Pound came up in a conversation about non-monetary methods of rewarding volunteers for the time they put in. Perhaps the most well-known volunteer reward scheme is Timebanking, whereby volunteers are given credits for each hour spent volunteering, and can later exchange the credits for an hour of another volunteer's time, such as through a guitar lesson or gardening.
There have been countless initiatives and attempts to set up alternative local currencies in a range of different countries and contexts, although many have fizzled out after a lack of sustained input. Often local alternative currencies have been an aim in themselves, as an intellectual thought experiment put into practice to demonstrate that alterative economic systems are possible.
However, alternative currencies and non-monetary reward systems are also set up in contexts where they are a matter of urgency.
For many individuals with a precarious immigration status, such as those who are currently going through the asylum process or who have been refused asylum, alternative schemes are vital, as the individuals in question are forbidden to carry out paid work.
Non-monetary systems of exchange can thereby become key in ensuring that the individual can participate in a meaningful and equal exchange, whilst allowing the person's own knowledge and skills to be appreciated, and grant the individual access to everyday items and experiences that may otherwise be too costly. Through sharing skills on a local level, an ongoing process of community integration is also established.
In a similar ethos, the Unity Centre is currently running a buddy scheme whereby Home Office-issued payment cards (which can only be used in pre-specified stores) can be exchanged for cash. Individuals who have been refused asylum but granted temporary financial support by the Home Office are given the card along with a weekly top-up of approximately £35. As the card can only be used in specific shops, which are often expensive and which may be far from the person's home, Unity Centre buddies can offer to instead pay for their own shopping using the card, in exchange for the money being returned in cash.
Although it may be a while until salaries are paid in Glasgow Pounds, the small-scale alternative systems are already making a big difference for number of Glasgow's least wealthy.
Tuesday 27 June
A 10-year old boy who stayed in the Dunkirk refugee camp for months and who arrived in Glasgow at the beginning of this year called me on Tuesday. We turned on video call and waved and started asking each other question after question. I last spoke to him a few months ago, and was surprised to learn that the young boy has developed a Glaswegian accent thicker than the crust of a deep-fried pizza.
For a while, we talk about different Kurdish foods, and I send him a picture of a Kurdish meal that he doesn't recognise. He asks me through the video call what it is, and then writes his question in the chat: 'Wars dae?'