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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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Welcoming new Scots to an old tradition at International Cafe


Anna Byatt on the power of participation

I am a student studying Community Development (CD) at the University of Glasgow.

CD is a value driven course supporting people and groups to recognise they have a voice and  feel empowered . As a requirement of the CD course, I must complete a 450-hour placement working within a community organisation which contributes to putting the learned theory from class into practice and continuously reflecting upon my facilitation skills.

This is known as praxis and is underlined by Paulo Freire – an enthusiast of popular education. Intrigued by this notion of popular education and the works of Freire I chose to complete my placement hours at Rosemount Lifelong Learning (RLL). 

RLL is based in north Glasgow and is dedicated to promoting lifelong learning focusing on informal teaching. RLL takes a Paulo Freire approach to learning by encouraging learners to pick the topics that are of most interest to them rather than what others feel may be useful. The organisation supports a diverse range of ages and cultures including adults, families and young people. One of the primary aims of RLL is to reduce social isolation and RLL’s chosen approach to achieving this is by focussing on connectedness during group sessions/learning activities.

The International Cafe meets up every Monday at RLL from 12:30-14:30 and provides community members a safe place for chit-chat and an opportunity to practice their language skills in an informal setting.

As a vast majority of this group are comprised of English speakers as an additional language with varying levels of spoken English, often the learners are keen to practice English conversational skills and reading skills.

Recently the group has had a profound interest to explore the Scottish dialect, recognising this is foundational to their engagement with others in the community. Angela (group lead), myself and another fellow student at RLL have enjoyed engaging with the group learning various Scottish slang terms mainly focusing on Glaswegian (as we discovered this is almost a language of its own right!).

I thoroughly enjoy hearing about participants cultures, we try to compare if any Scottish traditions/events are similar to any of the participants' home countries. The group consists of various backgrounds which provides great chat around the table learning skills from each other whilst sharing a tea/coffee and biscuit. 

On 25 January this year we focussed our session on learning about the history of Burns and the traditions associated with by attempting to read some traditional Burns poetry which, as a Scot, I find incredibly difficult to understand and but in true International Cafe spirit I agreed to take up the challenge.

Despite the difficulties, the group had fun learning about Rabbie Burns which developed into a comparison between Burns' literature and other cultures, providing an opportunity to share and learn.

Although the group was fond of learning about Burns and his love affair scandals, they found some traditions associated with Burns rather bizzare, such as addressing a haggis and discovering a haggis is not really an animal!

However, participants stated they will continue to keep up the Scottish prank and pretend to their friends and family at home a haggis is a rare animal found in Scotland. Some of the group were inspired by Burns poetry that they decided to write their own poems about interests personal to them. One even wrote a poem for me! 

The International Cafe has a chilled, laid-back atmosphere which is conducive to learning and welcoming to all. This group creates a purpose for many individuals and brings a sense of belonging. What I find amazing is observing growth in personal confidence as they attend.

Their language and literature skills improve, but most importantly the group make friends and connections as a result of their attendance. I am always filled with enthusiasm attending the International Cafe, as I have a great time chatting and learning from the mix of group members while honing my skills as a student practitioner.

Anna Byatt is student community engagement worker at Rosemount Lifelong Learning.



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