A barber told how the twin powers of football and music are helping forge a connection between refugees being held in an Erskine hotel and the community, in the face of far-right agitators.

The row over asylum seekers being held in the riverside Muthu hotel has been the subject of much scrutiny.

Far-right group Homeland - who splintered from Mark Collett's Patriotic Alternative earlier this year - have held regular protests, and been opposed by trade union members, anti-racist activists and local residents.

When the shouting stops though and the protestors depart, a band of community-minded people work to improve the situation.

Says Jim Lister, a retired Unite organiser: "We’ve got a member who’s a retired chef and makes a load of food every Sunday, another one of our members organised a five-a-side football tournament.

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“We’ve tried to literally turn our backs on the fascists, because just shouting ‘fascist’ is something they actually quite like.

"Also the vast majority of the refugees have little or no English so they don’t really appreciate what’s happening there.

Read More: Erskine hotel asylum seekers row: inside a community meeting

“Slowly but surely we’ve built a relationship with them, and one of the things which became apparent in the little discussion we had with them is that many of them couldn’t afford a haircut - I think they get £9.80 a week.

“So a mate of ours who is a barber started running a Monday session in the nearby community centre and just through word of mouth the guys have been in.

“It is guys, because there aren’t the facilities for the women – I’m not gender stereotyping, it’s a community hall it’s not a hairdressing salon."

The barber in question is one Rob Kane, a former Rangers youth coach who manages the Clydebank women's team as well as performing stand-up comedy in his spare time.

He says: "I’ve only been involved for the past few weeks, I was supposed to get involved a wee while ago but due to red tape and a wee bit of resistance it didn’t go ahead until a couple of weeks ago.

“We’ve had to jump through a few hoops in order to go in and work with the guys, it felt as if there was a wee bit of resistance.

“It’s been good to finally get in and do the haircuts, get chatting to the guys and find out about them, who they are and where they’re from.

The Herald: Rob Kane cuts the hair of ayslum seekers every week for freeRob Kane cuts the hair of ayslum seekers every week for free (Image: Colin Mearns)

"The guys are brilliant, really nice guys, respectful and well-mannered.

“A lot of them are very well educated, they’ve got good cultural awareness. They want to learn, they want to find out about this country, they want to learn English, they want to work and contribute to the economy.

“They want to give something back to this country for doing so much for them, there’s a strong feeling of that.

"I’m a small cog in a well-oiled machine, the work that the likes of Jim and the guys at Unite are doing is way bigger than what I’m doing.

“It’s integral, without it these guys are going to be stuck in there with nothing. It’s also integral in order to help that integration, which will hopefully happen over time.

“It’s such a shame that a lot of people get the wrong impression of asylum seekers and refugees and automatically think negatively rather than having an open mind and trying to find out more about the people, where they come from, why they’ve come here.

“I think the work the guys are doing is so, so important, it’s absolutely priceless."

While Mr Kane was offered payment for his services, he does the work every Monday for free - Mr Lister says the barber "refused point blank" to take any money.

A few weeks in he's developing a solid relationship with his clientele, despite the obvious language barrier.

Mr Kane said: "A big thing I’ve noticed is music, I put music on and ask the guys to type in their favourite artists on Spotify and through the music we kind of bond and have a chat, or even a wee sing.

“Music’s a great tool for connecting people, a lot of the guys are into rap and stuff and I like a wee bit of rap – even though I’m maybe a wee bit too old for it!

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“So we bond through music and other common stuff, like football. A lot of the guys are big fans of football, a lot of them are good players as well from what I’ve heard, they won a wee 5-a-side tournament recently.

“Those are the kind of things I love: football, music, getting to meet people. So it’s a labour of love for me.

"We have a chat about football, teams and players. One of the guys was wearing a Rangers top the other day and I’m a Rangers man so I was chatting to him about Rangers.

“That’s something we’re going to try and do going forward, maybe try and get a couple of the guys who are decent a club.

“My mate’s one of the coaches at Petershill Juniors, but due to government regulations the guys aren’t allowed to go and play for them because their asylum status still isn’t settled.

“Because the government’s funding them to be here it means they can’t officially train or play with a club, they can go and train but they can’t be registered.

“It’s a wee bit foolhardy - why not let the guys go and do something they get enjoyment from while they’re waiting?"

The people protesting at the hotel come from far and wide - organiser Kenny Smith and his wife from Skye, Simon Crane from Bathgate. Their group, Homeland, had its first meeting after splitting from Patriotic Alternative on Hitler's birthday.

Read More: Far-right Patriotic Alternative running Skye soap business

Though they're a very small group they can be vocal - are the people in the hotel aware of them?

Mr Kane says: "I think it’s hard to miss to be honest with you.

“From what I’m led to believe a lot of the people protesting aren’t even from Erskine, yet they’re protesting about Erskine. I think that tells you everything you need to know about these people.

“I think the guys move quite freely from the hotel up to the community centre where I meet them on a Monday.

“I’ve not asked them that direct question, I know it goes on at the hotel but they manage to walk up because they obviously don’t have transport.

“They walk from the hotel up to the community centre and they don’t seem to have any issues with that.”

Mr Lister says: "I’m pleased to say the number of fascists has dwindled to barely a dozen whereas our numbers have steadily increased.

“We’ve got local trade unionists, people from the community council, people from the Bargarran Estate nearby.

“It’s turned into a bit more of a friendly, welcoming environment.

"I always knew there were half a dozen nutjobs who have watched too many Hitler documentaries, I think there were about 30 of them, there’s this guy who comes down from the Isle of Skye every Sunday.

“It’s got under my skin, I’ve never played the card but my dad fought on the beach at Normandy to stop people like that spreading their bile and poison.

“Happily though they’ve drifted away, and we now see a relationship with the refugees.

“We’ve done a fundraiser where we’ve raised about £1,000 and we’ve talked about trying to find a salon where the women can go.”