Self-reliant groups and 'the economics of friendships'

By Gillian Sharpe
BBC Scotland

Image caption,
Members of self reliant groups often develop small business ideas

Self-reliant groups are bringing together people from some of the country's most disadvantaged communities to help themselves and each other. Six years after taking root in Scotland, a conference in Glasgow called "The Economics of Friendships" has been hearing how they are faring.

Down one side of a busy room, there are small tables selling craft - undulating wooden bowls polished to show the grain, hand-painting on silk, brightly-coloured bags and more.

They have been made by members of Scotland's Self Reliant Groups (SRGs) - a movement based on an idea which originated in India.

It involves groups of people - mainly women - coming together, finding friendship and saving small amounts of money each week. The money can be used to develop small business ideas and many SRGs give small loans to members in times of need.

"I actually just wanted to go for the social aspect to find other adults that I could have a wee bit of adult conversation with," says Trishy Gannon, an Inverclyde-based SRG member who is attending a conference in Glasgow on how the movement is progressing.

She had found herself with three children and pregnant with her fourth child when her husband was taken into hospital.

The group gave her friendship but a lot more, including somewhere she felt safe, warm and welcome.

Image caption,
Trishy Gannon says her self reliant group helped give her confidence to start a small business

She says: "It was an environment where my confidence grew enough to think that maybe I actually could start my small business, maybe I could create stuff that, strangely enough, people might want to buy. I think from that it's all snowballed."

She is now running a small business selling tie-dye products.

"SRGs are for me a mindset, it's about how we view people as our equals," says Noel Mathias, managing director of WEvolution, which provides support for the SRGs.

From small beginnings six years ago there are now groups in Dundee, Inverclyde, Glasgow, Stirling and Perth. Partner organisations have developed groups in Inverness, Manchester and Wales.

Mr Mathias says the starting point is always friendship, added to the "simple practice of saving".

"Once you have both those things happening you have an incremental increase in aspirations," he adds.

"All of a sudden they want to do a business and this is a group of people that would never have imagined or expected themselves to be doing any business of any sort."

Image caption,
SRG members can develop friendships or even small business ideas

This week's conference brought together SRG members, as well as organisations from elsewhere in the UK and beyond interested in whether the idea could work in their situation.

"We went to Inverclyde and I enjoyed very much seeing how strong and proud the women were," says Barbel Goedeking.

She is a Protestant minister in the Netherlands, working in a poor area of Rotterdam. There, they have social enterprise projects but they are not, she says, really self reliant.

She hopes to learn, from the experiences of SRGs here, how to set up groups in Holland "which are really making people strong rather than making them weak or something".

Among the faces at this week's conference is someone BBC Scotland first reported on in 2012.

Since then, Jake Crawley says she has noticed real changes in her confidence about standing up and speaking in front of people she does not know.

Image caption,
Jake Crawley is part of a self reliant group which opened a laundry in Glasgow

Ms Crawley is part of the Provanmill self reliant group in Glasgow. It was Scotland's first when it launched six years ago.

They started running a lunch club for people in the area, saved money and were able to open a laundry in a church basement where they volunteer.

Eventually she hopes to be able to get a wage from it but the real payback has been friendships among the group and positive changes in the wider area.

"We talk about our problems with each other," says Ms Crawley, adding that it has also got local elderly people out of their houses.

"There's always a buzz in the community as you're walking about, they all stand and speak to you and you can help them with household things or just help them up the road with their wee bag of messages.

"Everybody's all brilliant together."

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