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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) [Draft]

Meeting date: Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Energy Prices Bill, Moray Maternity Services, Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Decision Time, The BIG Project (20th Anniversary)


The BIG Project (20th Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-06158, in the name of Gordon MacDonald, on the 20th year of the BIG project. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I invite members who wish to participate to press their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates The BIG Project on its 20th anniversary; understands that The BIG Project was set up in 2002 in the Broomhouse area of the Edinburgh Pentlands constituency to support children and young people, aged five to 18, to learn, achieve, have fun, and feel good about themselves; appreciates that the project aims to combat low aspirations and lack of facilities and engender a sense of stability and continuity for children and young people, many of whom have experienced social exclusion and discrimination; notes The BIG Project’s unique approach and partnership with the local primary school; acknowledges that the project has built valued relationships with local families and is now the major provider of community-based open access, universal services for local children and young people in the area; further understands that by adopting a preventative approach, the project delivers attractive and enriching educational opportunities and experiences to develop and reinforce children’s skills, confidence, and self-image in a safe and supportive environment; praises the project for delivering open access youth work, targeted work and individual support, as well as promoting activities and interests, not as an end in themselves, but as part of a wider developmental process; understands that the activities allow the children and young people to develop new interests, acquire new skills, build trusting and valued relationships, improve their health and wellbeing, and receive support and guidance from adults, equipping them with the skills and confidence to become motivated and contributing citizens of tomorrow, and wishes The BIG Project well in its anniversary year.


Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

I thank members from across the parties for supporting the motion in order that we can celebrate the work of the BIG Project, which is based in the Broomhouse area of my constituency. In the public gallery tonight, we have management, staff and volunteers from the BIG Project. I welcome them all to Parliament in this 20th anniversary year of an organisation that has made such a difference to so many young people in that area.

I first came across the BIG Project back in 2012, when I attended the ceremony to award the freedom of the city of Edinburgh to Sir Chris Hoy, following his medal wins at the Olympics. The BIG Project choir was part of the event’s entertainment, and it went down a storm with the audience. However, there was an issue. The youngsters had been promised a seat on the balcony to watch the award being presented, but that offer had been withdrawn because television cameras were to be placed in that part of the seating area. I fought their corner, as any good constituency MSP would, and the young people were able to witness history being made. They also got their photograph taken with Sir Chris Hoy.

That was a memorable year for the BIG Project: not only was it the organisation’s 10th anniversary, but its choir, the BIG Sing, performed at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.

Why is that important? Well, back in 2002, the Broomhouse estate was known by some as “Little Bosnia”, as the community had long been enduring high rates of youth crime. At that time, it had the highest number of youth calls to the police in the city, vandalism was rife, and cars and property were being damaged. That, combined with underage drinking, drug misuse, fighting among groups of teenagers, low aspirations and a lack of facilities meant that something had to be done to give children and young people a feeling of safety on the streets.

It was at that point that the BIG Project was launched, beginning life as the Broomhouse intervention group. It was hosted by the Broomhouse centre, which has in recent years been rebuilt as Space, but back then there was a lack of space. The staff had to work across the wider area, utilising St David’s church and hall, Oaklands school, St Joseph’s church hall, Sighthill primary school, Sighthill community centre and Broomhouse primary school. That last partnership was to prove invaluable for the BIG Project, as relationships that were formed there resulted in an invitation to move on to the new primary school campus a year later, which enabled the organisation to gain charitable status.

Over the years, the BIG Project has run youth clubs for different age groups; music projects, starting with BIG radio and then the fame academy project, which developed into the BIG choir; and the mural project, in which murals were painted by youngsters to cover up graffiti. The organisation started the first local girls’ football team, back in 2004, and the grow project, delivering outdoor activities. In 2017, it staged its first musical, “The Wizard of Oz”, involving the drama group and the choir.

Music has always been a theme for the BIG Project. Some of those in the chamber and in the gallery may well remember the late Bay City Roller Les McKeown. He never forgot his roots in Broomhouse, and he paid a visit to the BIG Project in 2007 to show his support for the work that it was doing. Les auctioned off one of the famous Bay City Rollers jackets, and he was able to donate £700 to the project. As he entered the hall to chants of “Shang-a-lang” and the waving of tartan scarves, he commented how great it was to be back in Broomhouse and how much he had wanted to give something back to his community.

A major strength of the project is its low staff turnover, which ensures that it provides stability and continuity for local children and young people, many of whom have experienced social exclusion and discrimination on various levels. Activities are structured to ensure that time is available to nurture the positive relationships that are formed. The BIG Project aims to improve local young people’s long-term quality of life by developing self-confidence, resilience, optimism and a commitment to personal excellence as a basis for their potential role in life and as good citizens. As a result, more local young people participate in constructive activities and are less involved in destructive or criminal behaviour. That has resulted in happier children and far fewer being referred on to specialist services. The BIG Project enables youngsters to learn new skills and improve existing ones, and they are now more aware of opportunities that are available to them. Over the years, the BIG Project has enabled children and young people who would not otherwise have been able to do so to go on holidays and residential breaks, allowing them to spend more quality time with others.

There is no doubt that children and young people have the support of the project, dropping in not only when they are struggling to cope but also to share good news and spend time with staff.

For over 20 years, the BIG Project has contributed hugely to improving the lives of local children and young people. It has built valued relationships with local families, and it is now the major provider of services for local children and young people living in Broomhouse. Its credibility in the local community is high, and it is regarded as a local go-to organisation for children and young people’s services.

The work of the BIG Project has been recognised over the years through the many awards that it has won, starting with the Evening News young Edinburgh awards in visual and performing arts in 2005. It won the Queen’s golden jubilee award for volunteers in the community in 2016, and, this year, Sascha Macleod, the BIG Project’s director, received a YouthLink Scotland lifetime achievement award and Margaret Halkett was awarded an inspiring volunteer award from the lord provost of Edinburgh.

Broomhouse has changed dramatically for the better since I first moved to Edinburgh, in 1982, and lived in the neighbouring estate of Parkhead. It has new schools, a community centre and housing, but also—importantly—a stronger sense of community. That must be due in part to the hard work of the BIG Project staff and volunteers, who have supported and nurtured the young people of the area for the past two decades. I offer the BIG Project congratulations on 20 years of serving the community—long may it continue to do so.


Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

I thank Gordon MacDonald for lodging the motion and bringing the debate to the chamber. I, too, welcome some of my constituents to the public gallery tonight and wish the BIG Project a very happy 20th birthday.

The BIG Project is an amazing organisation, as we heard from the first speaker, and I join—I am sure—all my colleagues on all sides of the chamber in wishing the project not only a happy birthday but a successful future.

During my short time this evening, I want to associate myself strongly with the ambition of the BIG Project to combat low aspiration and a lack of facilities, and to engage with the issue of stability and community for children and young people not only in the area that the project serves but in many parts of Scotland. There are so many voices in the world today that tell our children and young people, especially children with disabilities or those who come from difficult backgrounds, that they cannot do this or that.

I feel that these communities are often patronised by those who assume that our capabilities are far lower than they are in reality. We are held back when expectations of what we can do are set so low. Disabled people will be served far better in a way that does not assume that they have no capability for dialogue and that shows how much ability they have to reach their potential. That is what the project that we are celebrating tonight does so well.

I make it clear that I am not saying that we should ignore disabilities completely and expect people with disabilities get on with life as if nothing was wrong. Of course, they are a limitation. That is what a disability is. However, we can all be surprised by the capacity of those whom society would generally count out.

I was fortunate to be brought up by parents who pushed me to be all that I could be. They encouraged me to try everything, and if I came up against challenges to which I could not adapt, that was okay. They provided the space for me to flourish without bringing in the boundaries. That is what we have seen with the BIG Project in the past 20 years. It has taken young people and children and has asked them to flourish without putting up boundaries that are not real.

I am aware that not everyone is as lucky as I have been. Not everyone has parents who instil a sense of aspiration from a young age. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we support charities such as the BIG Project to fulfil that role in communities where it is lacking not only for people with disabilities but for those who lack the support and facilities that they need to flourish.

By empowering such projects, we can move towards a truly inclusive society, including in the Parliament. The number of disabled people who have been elected as MSPs is still far too small. The number of Cabinet positions that are yet to be occupied by someone with a declared disability is far too big. We need to support the BIG Project and other such charities so that we can get society to not leave anyone behind and so that everyone can achieve more.

I again congratulate the BIG Project on 20 years of hard work and wish it well for years to come. That can happen only if we fund such projects. We have come through a really difficult three years and we all face further uncertainty with the economic crisis, but, whatever happens in the future, we cannot leave the third sector behind. We need to ensure that Government at Westminster and in Scotland and local authorities play their part by supporting projects such as the BIG Project that can inspire young people and make our society better.

I say happy birthday and congratulations to the BIG Project.


Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

I am pleased to speak in the debate. I congratulate my colleague Gordon MacDonald on bringing it to the chamber.

We live in troubled times and we must ensure as much as we can that children do not bear the brunt of social inequality. Inequality has always been with us but, shamefully, the gap is getting wider. It might sound clichéd, but it is nevertheless true that every child deserves the best start in life regardless of their background. A good start and the ability to reach their potential are the building bricks to a happier and more successful life as children grow into adults.

The project that we are debating is a fantastic example of an initiative that works. The BIG Project has been helping children and families for 20 years. That is quite an achievement. Children in the Broomhouse area of Edinburgh have benefited enormously from that vision and from the organisation’s innovative practices. Two generations of children have been helped to reach their full potential.

Projects such as the BIG Project are invaluable for young people. Many areas in Scotland have similar projects that have, once they have been established, become interwoven with the community. I am fortunate that, in my constituency, we have excellent schools and after-school clubs that encourage the ethos “Be all you can be” for children from all backgrounds. I know of the great work that they and other schools throughout the country do with children. I am constantly impressed by evolving initiatives to develop young people’s social responsibilities and confidence while letting them have fun at the same time.

However, I cannot speak in the debate without mentioning a project that is not in my constituency, but is in the east end of Glasgow—the Baltic Street Adventure Playground. I visited the playground in a personal capacity because a friend of mine is among the people who run it. I cannot speak highly enough of it. It is situated in one of the most deprived areas of Glasgow. It is not an exaggeration to say that it has become a lifeline for the hundreds of children and families who use it daily.

“Playground” is a word that cannot convey what the Baltic Street Adventure Playground offers. There is a space in which children can run, play, take risks, grow vegetables, light fires, and look after animals. It is their space. The approach is child led, and it allows them to develop and enjoy being children.

Baltic Street Adventure Playground also supports families by offering hot food to children six days a week, including during school holidays, and it has a food hub on Fridays. The project has become a focal point for an area that lacks its basic needs being addressed and, crucially, every service that it provides is entirely free. Like the BIG Project, it is a sanctuary for children and families that is run by dedicated staff and volunteers. A price cannot be put on the work that it does and the difference that it makes to children’s and families’ lives.

In conclusion, I wish the BIG Project the happiest of anniversaries and I wish every similar project throughout Scotland well, and I say a massive “Well done” to all the people who make such an enormous difference to young people’s lives.


Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Gordon MacDonald for bringing this debate to the chamber, and I add my congratulations and those of the Scottish Labour Party to the BIG Project on its significant 20-year anniversary. I thank it for all the work that it does for the community of Broomhouse and all the work that it has done across 20 years for thousands of young people, whose lives it has touched and changed.

It is right that we mark the project’s 20th anniversary. Mr MacDonald eloquently set out the project’s achievements over the period, his experience of it, and the impact that he has seen in his constituency. That is something that all of us can echo: we have heard in speeches about youth projects throughout Scotland and about the profound difference that they make to the lives of young Scots throughout the country.

It is clear that, through youth work, people find friends, their purpose and a place for themselves in which they can feel safe and find inspiration, and which makes an indelible mark on their lives. For many of them, it sets their future direction. Too often, we think of education and the experience of young people in relation to being within the formal walls of schools, rather than thinking about the breadth of the education that people experience through their families, friends and the youth work environment in many places, which makes such a difference in our communities.

We have heard familiar stories of partnership working in various organisations coming together in Broomhouse, where the BIG Project is housed, and in church halls and schools. People come together to add value and bring real benefit to the community.

The process is genuinely community led and is all the better for that. Local people understand the needs of their community and of young people, and they can respond to those young people and give them guidance and experience in their lives.

I pay tribute to youth leaders across all the communities in Scotland who are leading people to richer and better lives in our constituencies. They deserve our support and thanks, particularly in a time such as now, with the impact that the Covid pandemic has had on our communities and the diminished experiences that young people throughout Scotland have had as a result of being locked inside and taken away from their friends and from experiences such as those that the BIG Project offers. It is, increasingly, vital that we support such projects here and now in order that we do not leave a long-term mark on the Covid generation, but instead ensure that young people have the opportunity to rebuild relationships and to have the experiences and richness in their lives that such organisations offer.

In thinking about that, I was drawn to the work of YouthLink Scotland. There are a couple of calls that it is looking for us, as politicians, to respond to, one of which is about organisations accessing facilities after Covid. Perhaps the minister could touch on the matter in his closing remarks. Many youth organisations across Scotland are still struggling to get back into facilities including school and church halls. With councils reducing their footprint across Scotland in the face of cuts to their budgets, where organisations can go is an issue. We need a long-term stable solution to ensure that organisations such as the BIG Project and others throughout Scotland have a stable base in which they can locate themselves. That is a common problem across Scotland.

Rona Mackay was right to highlight the gap that is created by poverty—the distance between those who have and those who have not—and the very significant impact that youth work can have in that regard. The Scottish Labour Party is absolutely clear that youth work should be a right that is available to and can be enjoyed by all young people in Scotland. That could be guaranteed through maximalist adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I hope that the UNCRC will be brought back to Parliament very soon, so that the experiences of the BIG Project can be truly guaranteed in law and delivered to all young people in Scotland.

I congratulate the BIG Project on its 20th anniversary, and I thank it for all the work that it does for the people of Broomhouse.


The Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training (Jamie Hepburn)

I join others in thanking Gordon MacDonald for securing the debate. It is absolutely appropriate and correct that we have the opportunity to recognise the significance of the 20th anniversary of the BIG Project and, as Gordon MacDonald articulated, its clear impact on the children and young people in the area in which it operates.

I also thank Jeremy Balfour, Rona Mackay and Michael Marra for their contributions, which clearly demonstrated a shared recognition of the very positive impact that youth work can have on young people, which is encapsulated by the BIG Project and replicated across the country.

I also welcome the people associated with the BIG Project who are in the gallery this evening. I pass on my congratulations to them on the 20 years of great work that they have undertaken.

The BIG Project is an example of the outstanding work that Scotland’s youth work sector does day in, day out. We know the positive impact that youth work can have on a young person’s self-esteem, confidence and self-belief, and we know that it can improve their physical and mental wellbeing. Youth work does that by enabling young people to access educational activities—it is important to emphasise Michael Marra’s point that they are educational opportunities—that enable them to learn about themselves, others and society. That is why I share the stated values of the BIG Project of

“supporting children and young people to learn, achieve, have fun and feel good about themselves.”

There are few things in life that are more important than that.

The success of the BIG Project over the past 20 years is no small feat. Its dedicated staff have built valued and meaningful relationships with the local community, families, children and young people, who have been able to openly access supportive and enriching opportunities.

In June this year, I had the privilege of attending the youth work awards, where I met Sascha Macleod who, as Gordon MacDonald mentioned, received the lifetime achievement award. I once again congratulate Sascha on her lifetime of great work with children and young people.

The work that Sascha and others in the youth work sector undertake plays an integral role in addressing poverty by improving the life chances of children and young people in some of our most vulnerable communities. As the motion reminds us, the BIG Project currently delivers its services in the Broomhouse area of Edinburgh, which is an area that faces challenges relating to child poverty—almost one in three children in Broomhouse lives in poverty.

The ambition of the BIG project for that area must be matched by ambition in Government. The Scottish Government is committed to building a future in which families are financially secure, and children grow up safe, loved and without the worries of poverty. That is why we have declared a national mission to tackle child poverty.

In March, we published “Best Start, Bright Futures: Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2022-2026”—our second delivery plan—which sets out a range of action to drive progress to tackle child poverty—to support children and their families now while also building the foundations for a more sustainable exit from poverty.

Growing up in poverty has a direct impact on children and young people’s health and wellbeing, and addressing that must be a key priority not only for the Scottish Government but for our whole society. Our aspiration is that all families are supported to give their children the best start in life so that Scotland’s children grow up loved, safe and respected and realise their full potential.

Youth work can play a role in achieving that ambition. The wellbeing of children can be supported and promoted through the simple act of play by giving our children the fun, excitement and friendship that can support healthy development as they grow through life. That is exactly what the BIG Project delivers. It plays its societal role by delivering activities that are essential in supporting children and young people’s wider development needs.

Many children and young people from the Broomhouse area also experience social exclusion and have lack of access to facilities. I believe that third sector organisations play a critical role in using their expertise to address that. I recognise the point that Michael Marra made and I have been able to engage with Youth Link Scotland directly on that issue. I sent a message directly to all local authorities to ensure that they recognise the positive impact that youth work can have on children and young people, and they should make their facilities available for the use of youth work organisations. I place that on the record, again.

Jeremy Balfour talked about funding. I recognise that it is vital that we play our role in supporting youth work activities. We provide a range of funding for youth work and since April 2016 we have had a specific children, young people and families early intervention fund and an adult learning and empowering communities fund, which have provided more than £14 million-worth of annual core funding to over 100 third sector organisations across Scotland. Many of those organisations are actively engaged in the area of youth work.

We recognise that we need to provide as much stability of funding as we can to the third sector, and the opportunity for longer-term planning. That is why we launched a new competitive third sector fund—the children, young people, families and adult learners fund—in July of this year, which will provide up to £16 million-worth of core funding to third sector organisations over the next two years.

We are determined that Scotland’s young people who are furthest from inclusion will realise their full potential in learning, life and work, and we will publish a new youth work strategy at the end of this year. The issues that I have highlighted here today, such as providing opportunities for the future, health and wellbeing support and equality, are some of the key things that young people have told us are important to them and are areas that we want the new strategy to focus on. I want the strategy to ensure that we raise the voice of young people and I hope that it will provide a new framework that champions their voices and lived experience. My ambition is that the strategy will support organisations such as the BIG Project to continue delivering for the young people they serve.

Again, my thanks go to Gordon MacDonald for the debate and, fundamentally, to the BIG Project for the work that it has done during the past 20 years and the work that it will continue to do.

That concludes the debate.

Meeting closed at 17:58.