THEY often get a bad press but Ferguslie Park in Paisley and other communities fighting a negative stigma could give other parts of Scotland a few lessons on community spirit, according to playwright Lisa Nicoll.

“They really show what people can do when they get together,” she told the Sunday National. “For example, Ferguslie Park has this phenomenal community market that gathers food waste from shops and where people pay £2.50 and get £20 worth of food.

“They also had a ‘bingo bus’ that toured around and did bingo from a tannoy during lockdown to keep spirits up.”

Examples like these have inspired Nicoll to write a new play set to tour Scotland, beginning with Ferguslie Park next weekend.

Other Side Of The River is a play with a difference as not only will the audience be included in a game of bingo and a spot of karaoke during the show, they will also be able to enjoy a bowl of soup made by the local community cafe which will be included in the pay-what-you-can ticket price.

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“I want to combine theatre and food and the way we use food waste and use community cafes,” said Nicoll. “If you look at Mediterranean countries, people still gather round food, but in the UK and Scotland we have lost that, which makes me feel sad. We don’t really sit round the table any more because life is so busy, but food is something that should gather people together.

“I am questioning how we get back to some traditional things where we cook food and meet people because I think we’re in a dangerous place in society just now where we can lose all of these things. I want to convey that sense of gathering together. We can learn so much from communities like Ferguslie Park.”

Originally commissioned as part of the 2021 Paisley City of Culture bid, her new play focuses on a working-class community’s fight to be noticed for who they are and not how they are portrayed by government statistics, figures or media headlines.

In Motion Theatre, in conjunction with local food and community partners, is also arranging pre-performance activities for the areas the play is due to visit, from cooking classes for local residents to journalism sessions for high school pupils.

The play’s characters are inspired by residents in Ferguslie Park, including Terry McTernan, who has been campaigning for a change of attitude to places that receive negative press around poverty.

McTernan is a member of the Darkwood Crew, a group of residents whose aim is to help Ferguslie flourish and provide support for the community around food insecurity, fuel poverty, isolation, loneliness, mental health and the local environment. It was the Darkwood Crew that ran the lockdown bingo bus to bring the game to local residents.

McTernan said “Working in partnership with the In Motion Theatre company has really helped in the personal and collective empowerment of local people, helping change the often negative narrative about Ferguslie Park.

“Against a backdrop of a cost of living crisis and a climate change emergency, many positive lessons can be learned from a vibrant, active, self-aware, thrifty and more importantly caring community like ours. The play captures all of the nuances associated with the positive cultural aspects of Ferguslie Park and is a fitting next step in our regenerational journey.”

Nicoll said the support of the Ferguslie Park community had been “amazing and generous”, adding: “There is no doubt that there are struggles and obstacles in these communities but the play is about how people pull together and make use of what they have.”

She has been attending community lunches and going to warm spaces across Scotland to get to know people in the towns where the play will be staged.

“There is a real sense of universality in the play’s themes in how communities connect,” she said. “There’s also a strong sense of gathering in these towns and that is the aim of the play – it’s not just a theatre show but an experience with bingo, food and song, three things in addition to theatre that can bring us together.

“We are living in a world highly dominated by technology and social media and being embraced by these communities makes you realise that as human beings we need to speak, hug and listen to people in the flesh.

“This play began life before the current cost of living crisis and it feels more apt than ever that it is being staged now. The Other Side Of The River is a play to gather people together, to see positives among adversities and to take eyes away from screens, even for just a short while.”

The production is in association with OneRen and is commissioned by Future Paisley, set up to develop arts and culture in the city and surrounding area.