Hitting the high notes: Re-Tune’s musical mission is a Soup-erbowl success

They're all winners. Pictures by Mark Ferguson

It was an event which proved yet again that spontaneous community crowdfunding can triumph – and even help in the launch of the first guitar brand associated with the East End of Glasgow.

The Re-Tune project, which helps military veterans and others with mental health issues by teaching them to build and play stringed instruments, was voted the winner of the first Glasgow Soup event, held at Calton Heritage & Learning Centre.

The Soup model originated in Detroit and has since spread across the globe. The concept is simple: people donate £5 or more at the door, enjoy a bowl of soup, and listen to four people pitch ideas that help their community and then vote for their favourite. The presenter with the most votes takes home all the money collected to help their project.

Soup is already well established in Edinburgh, and events have also been held in Stirling, Inverness, and Aberdeen. It is hoped that, after the success of last week’s event in the East End, when 100 people packed the hall, additional Soup sessions could be held in other parts of Glasgow.

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Pitching for Re-Tune on the night were founder and manager David McHarg, and Shug McMillan, a 1991 Gulf War veteran, who openly admitted returning with mental health issues – but said the project had given him the confidence to face his community and ask for their help.

glasgow-soup-event_32David told the audience: “I came up with the idea after the death of a dear uncle of mine, who drank himself to death. He left the services with absolutely no access to any help and, working in social work at the time, I was disgusted how low priority ex-servicemen and women were.

“Rather than just moan about it, I wanted to do something to redress the balance in my uncle’s memory.”

He explained that instruments are made out of recycling ordinary objects like a skateboard, broom handle, and cigar box. It’s about regeneration, a philosophy that applies to the old tools they also use – and overall an apt metaphor for the Re-Tune project, which aims to give people with problems new skills and attitudes.

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The year-long programme is designed to boost confidence and wellbeing, as well as reduce social isolation. The practical nature of the project also gives people a number of transferable life skills, from learning how to use fine woodworking tools to how to read music and play an instrument.

In three years, 48 people have been through the process. Eight have moved on to further education and at least four have gone into some form of employment.

And where does the new guitar brand come in?  David – a proud luthier, or stringed instrument-maker – outlines a vision of creating an acoustic brand, made in the East End by its residents. His working title is the Larchgove, the name of the former children’s home where Re-Tune is based.

He was visibly moved after the vote, saying: “Honestly, it’s £500 but it could be £50,000, that’s what it means to us. I’m an East End boy. My Uncle Robert set me on the right path. Without him there, things would have been very very different. I owe what he gave to me.

“We want to make our own brand of guitar. We’ll need to go into social enterprise. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very romantic. The people who will make them will come from the area. That’s an essential.”

But it was a night of more than one winner, with the three other pitchers all gaining compassionate applause from a very supportive audience. The event was organised by the Social Care Ideas Factory, a Glasgow-based charity which runs a range of projects designed to help people to live braver and fuller lives, with catering provided free by the Spoon social enterprise cafe group.

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Charlie B-Gavigan (above) of SCIF told the audience in her closing remarks: “Tonight’s been inspirational. I’m hoping you’re going home with a spring in your step and a belief in people.”

And what did the audience make of the inaugural event? Green Glasgow MSP Patrick Harvie said: “I was very struck by Re-Tune because you have this incredibly rewarding project at the end of it.

“But I think one of the things that this format lends itself to is that there really isn’t just one winner. Far more people know about each project, and they can make new contacts. Those contacts that people make are as valuable as winning the prize at the end of the evening.

“I think there are a lot of people looking to start [social enterprises]. It’s difficult running a business, it has to be able to make enough resource to keep it going. But there’s also a lot of people looking to set up businesses that then get attracted to the idea of social enterprises instead, because it’s a different business model and one that then has a different range of people contributing.”

Tom Jackson, who works with the Glasgow Community Justice Authority, added: “What I really wanted is three more tokens, to be honest with you. I’m on the board of a couple of social enterprises which support people with convictions, so I’m interested in how this works as an approach. I’ll go back and talk to the organisations about coming here for the exposure.”

Even one of the “losers” was positive after the vote. Walter Brown runs a creative therapy group within the Sunday Recovery Café at Kelvin College’s East End Campus. The group is run by and for people recovering from addictions, but has also attracted members of the wider community including people facing social isolation or experiencing mental health issues.

He said: “I was really nervous doing it. I’m used to talking to people in recovery from addiction. Speaking in front of people from local communities can be quite overwhelming. I managed it, though. It’s good for me, for my own personal development.

“It’s about raising the profile of the project. People want to recover from addictions and that’s what it’s all about. The power of example of someone who’s in recovery. If they see that, it might encourage somebody who’s still wrapped up in addiction to seek help. If I can do it, anyone can do it sort of thing.”

During his speech, Walter described the success of the Sunday Recovery Cafe as amazing: “You need to witness it to believe it – it’s beautiful.”

It was a description that could equally have been applied to the city’s first Soup event. The recipe was right, the ingredients well chosen, and the results truly nourishing.

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The two other groups pitching at the Soup were:

Indepen-dancepreviously featured on Positively Scottish – is an inclusive dance company that brings together disabled and non-disabled dancers to enjoy, express and fulfil their potential through dance. The group has created a new dance show called Four Go Wild in Wellies and hope to visit nurseries and schools to perform their work, with the aim of changing perceptions of disability for the better.

Youth theatre by PEEK  Possibilities for Each and Every Kid provides a wide range of play and creative activities for children in the East End. Their mission is to improve the life chances of young people by increasing their confidence and self-esteem, as well as broadening their horizons. PEEK is planning a Youth Theatre project led by young people aged 13+, exploring the fallout from Brexit, which will be performed locally in April 2017.

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