We all live in a….Paper submarine (Building boats, building relationships and ABCDE)

We are delighted to be hosting a blog by Kieran Renshaw(@Kieranr87) an ABCD practitioner in Glasgow, Scotland. For us, the story shows the importance of finding space for the gifts of those potentially on the margins of community life. Part of a community builders role is too pay attention to such situations and foster strong relationships that exponentially grow the agency of citizens by bringing them into relationship with one another to share their gifts. We look forward to hearing how this story unfolds in the future (excuse the pun).


On Saturday the 9th July, I was invited to the Whiskey Bonds summer party to attend one of their many interesting and exciting workshops. The Whisky Bond is a collaborative workspace in North Glasgow giving “people the freedom and facilities to succeed in arts, culture and creative industries” It’s a wonderful place to work and I’m surrounded by some very exciting, creative and interesting people.

An artist called Frank Bolter who was running one of the workshops during the party got in touch with me when he heard I was a community builder. We sat down in his office and discussed his plan to 1) Build a paper submarine, take it up to The Whiskey Bond and sail it down the canal 2) Take it out of the canal, transform it into a car and take it up the road to Cedar Court 3) Then build it into a paper airplane, take it to the top of the high rise flat at Cedar and throw it off.

Needless to say, he didn’t have permission to throw a massive paper airplane off a high rise flat, but he was optimistic he would get that sorted in due time. Anyway, the reason he wanted to speak to me was because he really wanted local residents to get involved in building the submarine and wondered if I could help him do that.

I contacted Row for Shore, a local group from Possilpark whose dream it is to build a boat for the use of the community. Possibly a great way for them to connect their ideas and dreams with other people and have some fun at the same time. So I got in touch and shared the agenda for the summer party and this mad idea of building a paper submarine and sailing it down the canal. So on Saturday, Neil, one of the longtime members of Row for Shore came down and together we helped Frank start building a paper submarine.

While having lots of fun and actually seeing a submarine like shape coming along – something wonderful happened. Meet Tele (guy with the white t-shirt in the picture) As we were building the submarine outside his flat, like many other local residents, he came down with his daughter to see what on earth we were doing. After explaining the idea and what was happening, he gave us a smile and said ” I must help”.

Turns out, Tele is a MASTER at origami. He explained to us that he spent his childhood in Nigeria building things out of paper and loved the idea of creating a submarine – although like many of us, wondered how we could sail it down the canal – especially when Frank told us he wanted to find a captain to take the helm and sail it on its journey south (we put the submarine on top of 3 tied up canoes for anyone who’s wondering)




After Tele had studied the plan, he informed us of some ideas and methods we could use to make it look more like a submarine and some ideas to improve how durable it would be on the water. He showed Frank some tips and tricks and started taking the lead on what to do next, in which Frank responded “he’s got this, what fantastic ideas – lets follow his lead” and we did. It’s hard to describe in a blog but you should have seen him go, it was almost as if he had built a paper submarine a thousand times before and knew exactly what to do. But origami wasn’t his main gift here, in my eyes anyway. The way he spoke to people, the way in which he took the lead and shared his knowledge and stories with other people was incredible.

Before you knew it, a group of 3 had turned into a group of 15 – all local residents from Cedar Court and all following Tele and Franks lead in building a giant paper submarine. The next phase was to carry it up the road to the canal. Unfortunately, Tele had family commitments and couldn’t join in on the fun any longer. We did have some insightful and inspiring conversations in the short time we met. I asked him what is it like to live here and he replied “I like it but, back home in my village I knew my community. I knew them all by their first names and we shared life together. I don’t really have that here” he went on to explain the concepts of community building and ABCDE, without ever hearing of it as a named term. This enriches my belief that ABCDE has tapped into this natural sense of human connection and relationships between people and communities. He completely blew me away. We finished the conversation with a let’s meet up next week over a coffee and together, we will find a way so that the residents in cedar court can start connecting, building relationships and getting to know each other’s name…..So watch this space on what happens next.

But to bring this story to a conclusion – we managed to get the sub in the water, on top of the canoes and with Neil sitting on top. More and more local people came and together and we pulled Neil down the canal on a paper submarine. Unfortunately plans of building a car, then a plane was halted by the rain – but no one cared, including Frank and Neil – the submarine was more than enough and we had such a great day together. Neil got to captain a ship and share the Row for Shore story, and we all experienced the power of ABCDE in Tele, sharing and inspiring his gifts for creativity, building, leadership, ideas and action with all his neighbours – who soon will know each other by their first name.


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