Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet)

Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland

Making It Happen in Peterhead

The Make it Happen Café in Peterhead was a SSAMIS initiative led by Claire Needler from 25th to 30th July 2016.  Its main aim was to create a welcoming community space in the heart of Peterhead where migrant workers and local people could come together around different social activities. In this article she describes some of the background, happenings and potential future of the project.


       The Living Map at the Make It Happen Cafe

At the Make It Happen Café we have started something beautiful.

This week of Participatory Action Research in Peterhead is a small part of the 4 year SSAMIS project but has the potential to make a real difference to the lives of the people who took part.

SSAMIS, Social Support and Migration in Scotland, is a research project about what brought people from Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union to Scotland, and what makes them feel settled, particularly in terms of language, employment, culture and friendships/belonging. Over the last 2 years we have talked with over 200 people who have come to live in Aberdeenshire as well as in Angus and Glasgow. From this research, we discovered that the opportunity to make friends and relax, to learn and practice speaking English, and to share their experiences and skills is something they would value. The Make It Happen Café was designed to try and meet this need.

We designed a packed programme for the week-long The Make it Happen Café. I am particularly interested in how to promote social justice through language, creativity, and education, so I drew on the expertise of other organisations, including Modo, the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), Caged Beastie, Community Learning and Development, Aberdeenshire Museums, and Peterhead Projects. I also had the invaluable support of the SSAMIS team from Glasgow. Between us we ran language cafés, art and animation workshops, a gardening session, a visit to a local museum, a politics café and a talk on Scottish tourism through the eyes of a Latvian living in Peterhead. These activities were tailored to meet the needs of language learners, but were open to everyone who wanted to take part. The café was also open to the public during our activities.


Imagining a ‘pocket park’ at the Gardening Cafe

The Make It Happen Café was an experiment to find out what would attract people to a community café, what days and times would work best for people who are committed to shift work, and to build a collective vision for a longer term plan for similar activities. The beginning of the week was quiet, but our numbers increased as word got out, and most people who engaged with the Café came back again and again. The 6 day programme of morning, afternoon and evening sessions gave us the opportunity to build significant relationships, and by the end of the week we had a core group who will lead on future activities. The surprise hit was the politics café, which was advertised as a Q&A on the Life in UK citizenship test, following Brexit. It evolved into a lively political discussion, and the group met the following Saturday, without any SSAMIS support.

Politics Cafe

Deep in discussion at the Politics Cafe

A key goal of the PAR is that the participants are at the heart of the action research, co-creating knowledge, and creating initiatives that meet their needs. Loneliness and social isolation for migrants and a lack of community spaces in rural areas are findings from earlier phases of SSAMIS research. The Politics Café, as part of the Make It Happen café, is a great example of participant-led activity.

Community workers from the surrounding area came to visit and take part in the project, and we have discussed running similar events in other North East towns. The Make it Happen Café is testament to what can be done on a small budget providing the passion, will and connection between people is kindled.


Delicious cakes on our home-made cake stand

The Language Café was one of my favourite sessions. On the Thursday evening, while Modo’s youth café and circus workshop was in full swing, we met in a quieter upstairs room. We had carefully planned loads of language activities, exploring the themes of home, memories and reminiscences, music, and traditional customs. However, the conversation flowed, cakes were eaten, excellent coffee was drunk, so we stepped aside from the lesson plan, and had a brilliant evening. We still worked hard, shaking our Polaroid pictures, and plotting them against Katrena’s tree of happiness. We also contributed to the ever-growing living map, and importantly, discussed our future hopes for more language cafés and began to think about how we could Make That Happen too!

The Make It Happen Café started just days after the Choose Peterhead final report was published. Choose Peterhead was a creative, participatory, town planning process, and one of the key recommendations was that a Community Café is set up in the heart of Peterhead. Obviously, this is a great opportunity to increase the impact of the SSAMIS research.

I am keen to build on the successes of the Make It Happen week, whilst recognising that there are things we would do differently next time. It wouldn’t be sustainable to run a six day/week programme with 12 hour days all the time, but we always knew that this was an experiment to find out what people would value in a Community Café, and how best to move forward. I am hoping that we can continue to work with Modo, and run language cafés, probably a couple of times a month, ideally with a combination of morning, evening and weekend sessions, so we can still meet people on different shift patterns.


Juggling balls at Modo

Modo, based in Peterhead, is an organisation that uses circus to engage young people across Aberdeenshire and to help them to change their lives for the better. Harnessing the skills and thrills of circus, Modo helps young people to improve life chances, skills, confidence and self-esteem while celebrating and creating the culture and community of the region. They were an obvious partner for The Make It Happen Café because they have a great venue, are at the heart of the Peterhead community, and have the energy and vision to want more out of life, including a thriving community café.

As well as the Living Map, during the week we made some fantastic art, including a series of portrait photographs, a mobile museum and some film. This art will form the basis of ‘Journeys’, an exhibition exploring migration to and from Peterhead, in the Arbuthnot museum in September, where I am also planning a series of community engagement workshops. Doubtless, that exhibition will inspire me to write another blog…


This article is the third contribution of a series of posts from SSAMIS, which is hosted on this site.

For more information about these and other SSAMIS initiatives, follow us on twitter @ssamisproject, or like us on facebook.


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