Bairn Banter: A community play group investing in the demographic future of the area

We arrived early at Lagwyne Hall in Carsphairn, a spacious hall with plenty of light.  While also engaging her own young children, Melissa was setting up equipment to provide a range of activities, exercise and learning opportunities at the stay and play group, Bairn Banter.  And we got to see the lovely snack box that had come from the local Galloway Food Hub – healthy, locally grown, organic snacks. 

It wasn’t long before families started arriving for the weekly Saturday session: 14 children and 11 adults that week.  A few of the adults came early to have a quick discussion with Melissa and others about community work.  And from 10 o’clock the play and the banter among the children and the parents, carers and grandparents was in full swing.

In talking with the families, what struck us most was the diversity of those who had grown up in the local area of Glenkens, returned or moved there recently, and the obvious connection among them, with small groups of activity or chatting in different parts of the hall.  There were plenty of Dads as well as Mums.

We heard stories about the reasons they were there in the Glenkens, from those who had settled recently in the area, to a child back from Austalia (where their parents had emigrated) visiting their grandparents.   The benefits and opportunities for individuals and families, as well as the challenges.

So often we hear of the importance of jobs for retaining and growing population in rural and island communities.  But nurturing connections and social opportunities are as important, which help to develop community networks, support and resilience, as well as identity and belonging.  And for young children positive social interaction is critical for their development.  Bairn Banter is making a vital contribution on all these fronts.

Sadly, Carsphairn has not been helped by the mothballing of their primary school.  The loss of a local school can be a real blow to the sustainability of a local community: schools are often the very heart of a community.  And by mothballing, rather than actually closing the school, the local authority avoided any consultation with the community about the impacts of this decision, on children, families, the community.

Melissa explains, “As the country emerged out of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, which caused a detrimental effect on rural communities and young families, it was felt by many local parents and grandparents that there was a lack of social opportunities within the local area for pre-school children.  Carsphairn also suffered within the same year with the mothballing of the local primary school, which severed vital connections for young children within the parish. Coupled with the on-going cost of living crisis, social situations seemed to ‘dissolve’ and many young children begun to struggle without their vital socialising needs being met.”

Public policy that is built on managing decline rather than investing in the future is deeply damaging to so many rural and island communities.  This is in spite of so much evidence now that people, especially young people, have different aspirations, for whom rural and island living and working has many attractions … but not without a local school or other services.

Beyond organising the weekly sessions, which are of course at the core of Bairn Banter’s work, the group is determined to do much more.  A small amount of project funding, quickly matched from funding from the local windfarm, has enabled Bairn Banter to purchase a trailer just now to take the opportunities Bairn Banter deliver elsewhere in the Glenkens (they are currently the only pre-school/children’s group operating in the area).  The word is out there in the community that Bairn Banter have the opportunity to be mobile, and the first event is already booked for June 1st. 

With the determination to promote the Glenkens as a great place to live and work, the group is now awaiting quotes from artists to design and decorate the trailer with a unique mural to help promote Bairn Banter and other aspects of the local area such as farming, renewable energy, local community initiatives, etc.  Bairn Banter hopes that when the trailer is ‘on tour’, people will be drawn to the attractive display and perhaps be encouraged to visit and indeed, down the line, settle in the area.

The trailer will allow Bairn Banter to offer more outdoor learning opportunities for children, young people and their families, and connect communities together within the beautiful outdoor environment.  In doing so, they are delivering on the Scottish Government’s commitment, made in Scotland’s National Outdoor Play & Learning Position Statement, to value and expand opportunities for playing and learning outdoors.

Melissa is already working towards achieving a Level 3 Forest School Leader qualification by September this year.  The trailer will become Bairn Banter’s ‘mobile welfare base’ as well as vital storage of equipment such as waterproofs, water, tools, safety equipment, etc., whilst travelling to areas of the Glenkens, especially outdoors, for example in woodlands.

Bairn Banter has enabled many young families, including those who have moved into the area, to meet socially on a regular basis, to enable children and families to socialise with each other, a critical investment for the future population, economy and community in the area.

“I have now been coordinating Bairn Banter since June 2021, and over this time span, I have met a wonderful selection of families from many walks of life.  Both me and my children have developed some long lasting friendships.  Given the current absence of the local mothballed school and the damaging after effects on social and emotional well being from the Covid 19 pandemic, many families have been left feeling socially vulnerable and isolated, as they struggled to meet these essential needs to socialise, and develop vital attachments/social relationships with other peers.  I feel confident that Bairn Banter has provided this community need as we continue to provide a consistent, warm, safe, comfortable play space for these families to attend weekly, without the restrictive ‘barriers’ of an entry fee.  Our volunteer run group also ensures that the children and their parents/carers are offered a nutritional snack during the session, as a ‘means’ to support healthy eating amongst children, and to help with the on-going cost of living crisis and food poverty issues which many families face at present.  Bairn Banter welcomes all ages to attend, and we all have lots of fun indoor and out every Saturday morning.  I look forward to this essential, fun little group growing into the future, including with the new trailer.”

Melissa Ade

Bairn Banter is another example of great things being delivered in rural and island communities by energetic and committed volunteers, in this case a group of dedicated parents led by the intense investment of time and energy by Melissa and her family.  This is all part of community resilience and cohesion, but exacts a significant toll on rural and island people.  Dependency on volunteering also limits how much communities can do.  Funding to pay some hours to volunteers who deliver on so many Scottish Government priorities could have a dramatic impact on services and cohesion within rural and island communities, and invest in their long-term demographic, social, cultural and economic future.

All the actions supported under the ‘Community Action in Uist and Glenkens’ project clearly demonstrate how even small amounts of funding for locally rooted community intiatives can trigger significant action: the returns on the investment are large when communities are enabled to deliver on their priorities, what they are passionate about.

This was demonstrated so clearly in practice during the pandemic, but since then funding has often reverted back to the much more highly controlled and outcome-driven processes, with outcomes so often determined by distant policy-makers or funders, rather than by communities themselves.

The recent Addressing Depopulation Action Plan (2024) “endorses the importance of local leadership and seeks to exemplify the maxim ‘local by default, national by agreement’. We know that a place-based approach to applying national, regional, and local policies will be essential to sustainably and effectively address depopulation.”


To find out more about Bairn Banter, read this casestudy.

We thank all our partners, and the funder Scottish Rural Network, in this project on “Community Actions in Uist & Glenkens”.  The views expressed in this blog post are our own.

One Reply to “Bairn Banter: A community play group investing in the demographic future of the area”

  1. I attend Bairn Banter from time to time with my grandchildren and I think this is a fabulous group. Everyone is always friendly and welcoming and the children enjoy their time there very much. I can’t praise Melissa highly enough for all she does in our small community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *