1933 to 1934: Edinburgh Settlement Annual Report; Kirk O’Field; An Impression
A continual hammering, the sweet smell of wood-shavings, groups of men busy at a dozen benches, cupboards, chests of drawers, toys, photograph frames, and dozens of other articles in the process of being made, men whistling, or chatting amiably with their neighbours, men “queuing” up to get the advice of the instructor, one man assisting his neighbour in a particularly ticklish bit of work—these are some of the scenes which will greet you in the Carpentry Room at Kirk o’ Field Occupation Centre.
Downstairs, in the Cobbling Department, a very similar scene is witnessed, for there are ancient boots, boots worn threadbare by football-playing lads, boots whose toes are bent through the kicking of many tin-cans, small baby shoes, thin shoes of women, the enormous boots of the working-man, and all being patched, under supervision, by those who originally paid for them. Upstairs, on the other hand, there is peace in the Weaving Room, a reincarnation of old Scotland in the persons of these patient and pawky weavers, slowly working out their brightly patterned scarves.
Such is the picture of Kirk o’ Field through the day, a picture of energy and interest. Yet all these hundred men are unemployed, and without the life given by their communal work and the health-giving effect of labour they would be just another hundred listless ones in the Labour Exchange queues.
And at night ? The scene is, if anything, more encouraging, one holding out hope for the future, and fortifying the belief that the ancient virtues of hard work, intellectual curiosity, and love of learning have not yet left Scotland. The athletes are keen, and start skipping and shadow boxing before their instructors are ready. Groups going upstairs to their rooms are probably discussing German, or Zoology, or Political Economy, or ” Hamlet,” or Anatomy, or Wireless.
These preoccupied young men slipping up so quietly are going to build a model railway. They go up quietly, but just wait till they begin work ! The strains of “Come Back to Erin” fall sweetly on the ear—a male voice choir ! The enthusiastic young women crowding in are going to have a Cooking Demonstration from a man ! The sound of argument from that room tells of a heated discussion on “Germany To-day,” or “America To-day,” or ” Britain Tomorrow ” !
Enough has been said to indicate the altogether infectious quality of the Kirk o’ Field atmosphere. We are all amateurs, trying our hands at a new type of education, and a refreshing kind of social work. The College is young, and so are many of its instructors, and its students, though many are old in years, are young in their enthusiasm to learn. We all feel that we are doing something that has not been done before, and that is well worth doing.
“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive And to be young was very heaven.”
Wordsworth was right. We are enjoying this new work, we believe in its ultimate value, and we trust that in the years ahead we shall keep our enthusiasm.
This is part of the Edinburgh Settlements digital archive collaboration with Ragged University: