GalGael, crossed something of a milestone last year. A little over twenty years ago, shortly after 31 March 1997, we received a letter from the tax man – recognising our charitable status. On 24 July 2017, we held an event to celebrate all we’d learned over the twenty years that have passed since then.

We were joined by about 100 or so folk in a dark room on a stunning day in Glasgow’s CCA (Center for Contemporary Arts). The event was an opportunity to look back over the past 20 years or more, share with others in what we thought we were learning but also to use this as strong ground from which to look to the future. It was quite a challenge to do justice to the past two decades which have been incredibly diverse – the acts of the story are happening faster than we are able to record them. 

Even numbers don't do it justice; over 11 ½ years 951 people have worked with us. We have built about 21 boats. Soup or a basic meal is an important part of our daily ritual and we estimate that we’ve shared 27,120 bowls of soup in the last seven years.

The event format resisted the usual ‘service user testimonials’ which can objectify people’s lives in ways. Instead we opted for an ‘open mic’ so as to invite many voices to tell our story and say a little about what GalGael means to them. Our own Alastair McIntosh took the many threads of contributions from those gathered and spoke to the soul that has carried the organisation through the years. Flickery old footage put together by Thomas Wall brought to life memories of past adventures.

After lunch we were joined by some esteemed speakers to help us reflect on what we have learned so far: Sir Harry Burns, Professor of Global Public Health; John Carnochan, co-founder of the Violence Reduction Unit at Strathclyde Police; Karyn McCluskey, CEO at Criminal Justice Scotland and Katherine Trebeck, senior researcher with Oxfam UK. Each made sharp contributions that reflected connections between what GalGael’s work represents and themes such as new economic models, social and criminal justice and health inequality.

Despite what felt like a tall order, the day hit all the right notes. In a stuffy room we managed to generate energy and there were a number of comments and tweets that suggest people left uplifted and hopeful. We concluded the day with launching our Charter – the outcome of a collaborative process that involved our whole community; participants, volunteers, board members and staff. The Charter felt more called for than the strategic plan that had lapsed. Our plans while producing much that was useful, always fell short in my view of speaking to the full depth and breadth of our work. The essence that made us GalGael was somehow missing. As we crossed the threshold into the next twenty years it felt important to try to distill this somehow.

Our Charter sets out this understanding of the context we’re working within and our vision, our purpose and the impact we seek to have in response to this. It makes clear the values and working principles that will keep us anchored. It stakes out who we are and what’s important to us – not in the hand-me-down business terminology of a strategic plan but in our own language and our own poetry. It is a piece of work which allows us to truly say ‘us’ and ‘we’. In the words of one of our volunteers, Iain – “two words I didn’t use until I came to GalGael”.