Transforming a community through arts and culture

The success of Platform is an ode to the power and ability of arts and culture to help connect a community ravaged by poverty. The unique circumstances and location in which Platform operates though, makes it altogether that much more inspiring.

Located in the northeastern Glasgow suburb of Easterhouse, which boasts a population of nearly 9000, Platform is the arts centre at the heart of The Bridge, a state-of-the-art local community centre. What makes Platform’s work cut out for itself, though, is its location’s particularly dark and complicated history. Easterhouse has been called time and time again as one of the worst places to live in the United Kingdom. It repeatedly falls into the category of most deprived areas in the country and has a historically negative reputation of poverty, gang violence, and other urban ills. The area, though the subject of many urban regeneration efforts over the years, still continues to suffer from persistent social problems.

Here arrives Platform. Essentially, their mandate is that culture and creativity are the foundation of a healthy and inclusive society, and its role is to make arts accessible within this famously deprived community.

A board hangs in the lobby of The Bridge to describe the events happening at Platform.

Platform offers year-round programs for performance arts, music, visual arts and more. These programs offer choices such as music classes, artists’ talks and art workshops for children, teenagers and adults looking to develop their creativity. The visual arts program includes artists’ commissions, residencies, public art and exhibitions that take place throughout the public spaces of the building. Besides these program sessions, Platform also holds festivals and exhibitions that are open for locals to get involved. Some of the events they have planned for 2017 include “Celtic Communications,” the largest annual winter music festival of its kind in celebration of Celtic music.

Every April, they transform their studio performance space into a pop-up gallery, and every year, Platform hosts the end of year showcases for students from Glasgow’s Kelvin’s College’s Creative and Digital Industries courses. Students from Acting and Performance, Dance, Musical Theatre and Visual Arts present their work.

A sign inside The Bridge announces an event run by Platform.

James Dean, events and communities lead at Platform, is a passionate man who has worked in the area for more than a decade. He chats easily with the residents milling about in the lobby of the Bridge, and says hello to all of the familiar faces he recognizes. He speaks to the effectiveness of Platform’s work and the ideas behind it.

“Platform is making arts affordable and serving the community as an essential cultural hub,” he says. “For instance, if the local cinema offers a film showing for 8 quid, we offer it for 4. When we have a film screening, we create an open invitation to hang out at the pub after so that people can come after and socialize. This provides an opportunity for people to get out and engage with others.”

Dean explains that above all, isolation is the enemy in a community like Easterhouse.

It’s about forming baseline relationships. People get to know you and start to feel comfortable. Some people who have come to the screenings before now come by to say hi just if they’re in the area.

Their work is evidently focused on engaging directly with their audiences. To better achieve this, they have also partnered with a variety of local and national organizations to pool resources and hold bigger events. Creative partners in the past have included artist collectives, production companies, festivals and other cultural venues. Platform also commissions and co-produces with numerous artists, as they look to support individuals making a career in art to help develop their work.

The team behind Platform consists of an eclectic bunch of 14 people all working in some form of community engagement and in program operations. Some work full time, some part time and some even hold different jobs on the side. Dean himself has recently switched from full-time to part-time in order to take on some other projects that he’s interested in.

A sign for Platform hangs on one of the entrances to the parking lot outside of The Bridge.

The arts hub is now more than a decade old, as Platform was set in 2003 as a limited company with a board of trustees. It was registered as a charity in advance of the venue actually opening in 2006 and is managed by its parent, Glasgow East Arts Company (GEAC). This arts venue is at the heart of the Bridge, which is in itself a one-of-a-kind building that acts as a multifunctional community hub. It houses a swimming pool, computer facilities, a café, and a library. It came to fruition through a regeneration plan drawn up in 2002 by the Labour party in power in what was one of many attempts to help renew the destitute area.

“The aim was to deliver a high quality art program in the venue which is accessible locally, have it also compliment what happens in the city, and for Platform to have aspirations nationally as a venue for visiting companies to Easterhouse,” says Dean.

The GEAC was set up to manage the arts venue and attract additional funding to the area, which the local authority would not be able to access. The city council provides a block grant of funding each year, but it is set to reduce annually. The GEAC is expected to find other funds to support the running of the venue and arts program. Essentially, the team at Platform manages and delivers an arts program for Platform as a service level agreement with the council, who has overall ownership of the Bridge.

The core funding, though, is received from Integrated Grant Funding at Glasgow City Council to support running the venue and outreach programs. Creative Scotland also provides regular funding to Platform to support the artistic program of music, drama and visual arts. A lot of funds are also derived from ticket sales of the program’s classes, shows and hires. Any profits from the café bar in the Bridge also go towards supporting Platform. Other funding sources may also come from trusts, housing associations and commissions for specific projects or pieces of work linked to the programs.

A window outside of The Bridge reads “Made in Easterhouse.”

After more than a decade in action within the community, Platform has drawn high praise. Dean says that the feedback from locals, visiting companies, and visitors from other parts of the city have been excellent.

“The majority of our customers come from the local postcodes and are repeat customers to our classes and performances, because of the uniqueness of the building and the range of activity we offer. It’s fun to take part and good to come and watch a range of art genres in the heart of Easterhouse.”

The crux of Platform’s work relies on its welcoming atmosphere. The impression that it gives, along with The Bridge, is that its doors are always welcome. As teens gather in the café for gossip and downtime, others are working on setting up the stage for that night’s performances. The bass of the music is pounding through one of the rooms on the ground floor as dancers get their groove on. On a gloomy afternoon in Easterhouse, Platform easily manages to maintain its role as a hub of activity and energy.