For the past 20 years our purpose has remained unchanged – to work together and demonstrate that more humanity is possible in the world. This is demanding graft, but for us, it is where hope is made possible.

Our beginning 

Our story is crafted by many people. It starts in one of the most deprived areas of Glasgow, where the GalGael grew from an environmental campaign. We lost the campaign but learned many things about how to make community in a difficult space; how to take responsibility, articulate our concerns and find common purpose.

We created GalGael as a vehicle to take forward what we’d learned and to move from being about what we didn’t want to what we did want. Colin Macleod, our founder, who we lost in 2005, was clear about this not being ‘setting up a charity’ but rather ‘reconvening peoplehood’. In that sense, we see ourselves as a community of creative people, who come together to co-operatively meet some of our needs: our shared need for acceptance; to learn and contribute our creativity.

Early developments

In 1997, we were granted charitable status. Shortly afterwards, with no funding, we built a 25-foot timber-frame workshop using timber from the local park. This experience was a defining moment in the development of GalGael and shaped much of our work that came afterwards. It taught us to start small and to start in practical ways that have meaning. It taught us the value of self-reliance and of the power of practical outcomes in engaging the community.

This work also prompted the statutory addiction services to ask us to design a project for their clients to minimise the chance of relapse. This work started as the construction of a 12-foot model birlinn (a Hebridean galley) with John MacAulay from Harris. Through this, we began to develop our own understanding of how this work benefited people whose lives had been tough as well as the value of heritage as a transformative influence for positive change.

In the years that followed we wrestled and worked together and built two full size birlinns; Gift of the Gael – the first boat to be launched on the Clyde in the new millennium – and our flagship, 32ft Orcuan, launched in 2002.

Our work

We grafted together all that we had learned over that first eight years and established our Journey On programme (a successor to Navigate Life) This is more than just a work-based training programme. It seeks to give people purpose, skills support and compassion, so that they can reclaim their future. From 2005 to 2016, 951 people have made this journey.

In addition to building boats, our work has expanded to timber processing and woodwork. We now have a sawmill, prepare and sell timber; teach woodcraft skills and make products. Bridging connections between our rural and urban living has always been important to us. We have a community allotment and farmhouse and land in rural Argyll. New streams of activity continue to emerge.

Our interests in themes of community-led regeneration, cultural and maritime heritage, traditional skills and social justice have resulted in GalGael becoming engaged in a wide range of activities. These include events, traditional boat festivals, voyaging, traditional construction and cultural regeneration projects.

Track record

In the past two decades GalGael has become a well-known landmark on the Govan landscape. We have built a growing reputation for making a real difference to many who struggle with the challenges of today’s modern culture that leaves some marginalised and disenfranchised. And we continue to contribute to the conversations and learning about how to make Scotland a place that can work for all.

Central to all our work is learning how to create and practice healthy community – community that is good for individuals and society as a whole.