Small Scottish charity was the inspiration for workers co-op produced BBC documentary.
Never work with children or animals, goes the old adage – but a group of film makers did just that, with fantastic results.
Workers from Media co-op - a Glasgow-based social enterprise and employee-led cooperative - spent 18 months filming five primary-age children, one dog and a cat, to create a documentary for the BBC.
The film, The Wee Govan Pipers, follows the 10-year-olds for the formative moments of the new Govan Schools Pipe Band. It’s a story of laughs, tears and bagpipes; and it packs a surprising political punch.
Key to the entire project was the work of a small Scottish charity, the Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust (SSPDT).
Its mission is to give children in deprived areas the chance to play Scotland’s national instrument.
The charity's Fair Play for Pipes campaign combats a quirk in Scotland’s music education policy that means lessons in classical instruments are funded in state schools, but traditional instruments aren’t.
A couple of years ago the trust commissioned Media co-op to run their social media and make a series of short films to promote the aims of the charity.
Media co-op’s four minute promo showing primary school pupils from Govan competing for the first time in the Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championships won a Royal Television Society Scotland Award.
However, the film makers believed the story of the Govan youngsters and their multi-cultural band could speak to a wider audience. With the trust’s approval, they approached the BBC, who commissioned a one-hour documentary, which became The Wee Govan Pipers.
It’s been a treat for us to make such a feel-good, upbeat film that also manages to convey political messages that are close to our hearts
During the film, Govan parents take to the streets to raise awareness, asking people to guess how many piping tutors are funded by Glasgow City Council to cover 138 primary schools and 38 secondary schools.
They’re shocked to discover the answer is one tutor. Across Scotland, provision is patchy. Some areas like Highlands very well provided for, but over a third of local authorities serving 44% of state school pupils don't offer any piping or pipe band drumming tuition.
A highlight for the children is meeting the first woman ever to win a major piping competition, the legendary piper Rona Lightfoot, age 79 - who says “nearly every school has a choir, but it would be great if every school had a pipe band as well. The pipes belong to Scotland, and those governing us should be putting money towards the schools so that the children can progress on the pipes.”
The Govan families discover for themselves over the course of the filming that piping means a lot more than music.
One of the mums, Sandra Clark, said: “it is very, very loud. But luckily we've got good neighbours!
“It’s really boosted my son Scott's confidence, because he has got something that he's proud of doing. No one in my family has ever played the pipes before. It’s just amazing how far this has taken them already.”
Thomas Rankine, dad of Thomas, agreed, saying: “I laughed at first. I thought – bagpipes! No way! But my son’s confidence really came on. This has seen him standing up on stage in front of people playing the pipes. All the children in the band, they've got a rapport going.”
Iain Watson, a hardened ex-copper who tutors the Govan schools band, is captured on film reduced to tears by the children’s achievements.
He said: “I've won the World Pipe Band Championships, but to see what the Govan kids have done in such a short time, it’s absolutely amazing.
“And this is just the start. That's what Govan Schools Band means: it's not just a pipe band, it's the community coming together as one, regardless of your ethnic background, or your religious background, it's coming together and playing the Scottish national instrument. It can only do good for the community.”
The Wee Govan Pipers has strong threads of humour and comedy alongside the drama of the unfolding story and the underlying social themes.
It illustrates the changing face of inner-city Glasgow. Damilola from Nigeria, and Brenda, the only girl in the band, who is Chinese, demonstrate the massive contribution of migrants to Scottish culture and our communities.
Solomon Fadun, Damilola’s dad, said: “In my wildest dreams I never imagined that my boy would play the bagpipes! If somebody had told me two years ago, I would just have said “no, that will never happen”. I think teaching children how to play bagpipes is very good, to keep the heritage of the Scottish.”
In the context of the UK’s current moral panic about refugees and incomers, one of the film’s main points is important to underline – it shows how well the Scottish and migrant children get on.
Racism exists in Scotland, but racism is not natural to children, it has to be taught.
Lucinda Broadbent from Media co-op added: “It’s been a treat for us to make such a feel-good, upbeat film, with plenty of jokes, that also manages to convey political messages that are close to our hearts.”
Alex Duncan, chief executive of the Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust, said: “The film gives thoughtful insight into the benefits that pipe bands bring to young people, schools and communities.
“Pipe bands are much more than a musical pastime - they promote the teamwork, self esteem, individual and group achievement, commitment, a sense of discipline, fun and friendship.”