Children as young as ten are being lured to illegal drugs in an area branded Glasgow’s ‘forgotten’ community

Emily Cutts, a youth worker and award-winning campaigner, says she was shocked by the hopelessness she encountered in the Wyndford area of Maryhill. 

She set up G20 Works, which is inspired by a Los Angeles gang rehab project, because she wanted to create something for the over-16s who were "excluded from everything".

She mentions that one of the volunteers has been stabbed and it’s common for dealers to loiter around the project’s doorstep because they have a captive audience.

“What I realised, having a project right in the community, is that there is so much hopelessness,” said the youth worker.

“Drug dealing is horrific, there are a lot of drug-related deaths.
“It feels like nobody is caring about this place.

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“You hear rhetoric that everything is getting better but I look around and think, not here. 

“We don’t want gentrification, we want to empower the people who are here.”

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The project director led the successful and award-winning campaign, launched in 2008, to save an area of waste ground in North Kelvinside being sold off for housing by Glasgow City Council.

The Children’s Wood is now a thriving outdoor community centre, used by groups including National Theatre of Scotland.

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The Wyndford has historically been a problem area, she says, but issues came to a head around five years ago with an escalation in violence and other anti-social behaviour.

“It was very clear that there was a group of young people who were excluded from everything,” she says. 

“We chased them around for a bit, asking how we could help.

"People want them to be a certain way [but] you have to start where they are at.”

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The mother-of-two, whose background is in psychology, says more police patrols would be helpful.

Many of the young people who have self-excluded from school are on reduced timetables and “left to roam the streets”.

“I find it really odd that the most vulnerable kids who are not getting on at school are allowed to have a reduced timetable without any other support,” she said.

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“I know some schools do it but I speak to so many young people who don’t have that.”

While there are youth clubs in the area, she wanted to set something up for the 16-25 age group, who were falling through the cracks and at risk of entering the justice system.

She was inspired by the Homeboy Industries scheme, now the biggest gang rehab project in the world. It was launched in 1992 by Father Greg Boyle, the pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles to offer young people training for work and wraparound services.

G20 Works has an on-site cafe and outside car wash with training provided by the owner of one of Glasgow’s most successful businesses. A Buddhist monk, who lives nearby is offering anger-management classes.

The building had been lying derelict for ten years and they got it for free.

Despite only being set up last April, and operating on a very small scale, with ten young people, the social enterprise is already making a difference.

She said: “If you speak to anyone in the community, they will talk about the difference it is making.

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"No one wants to be a drug dealer or to go to prison - that’s no one’s aspiration.” 

She says she hasn’t been involved in plans by the Wheatley Group to demolish the area’s four tower blocks and build replacement housing and would prefer to stay neutral, given that the project has divided the community.

The Herald: Four tower blocks in The Wyndford are earmarked for demolition. Photograph by Colin Mearns.

“It will have a huge impact whether they come down or stay up,” she says. “We will support them whatever is decided.”

She believes the project has great potential, but at the moment it is being operated on a shoestring budget. They were overlooked for council and the Scottish Government funding and rely on a £10,000 grant from the Scottish Drug Fund. 

“It’s very frustrating because you can see that it is working,” said the youth worker.

“We’ve been developing relationships with these young people for five years and you can see them making better choices.

"We can’t control what is going on in their lives but we can try and make this a safe place, a happy place and show them there is another way.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said it was very concerned by reports of children as young as ten consuming illegal drugs.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:“We know from lived experience that many people who go on to have a drug problem started their drug use at an early age.

“We take a comprehensive approach to help those at risk of developing problem substance use and are investing £1.5 million in Planet Youth - an evidence-based initiative for substance use prevention which brings together communities.

"We’re also investing nearly £4 million to expand the successful Routes model which supports young people who experience substance use in their families.

“We recognise that with over 800 applications to our Investing in Communities Fund there will be many organisations delivering valuable work that will be disappointed at being unsuccessful this time.”