Crossroads youth & Community Association became a constituted group in 1968 and has delivered youth and community work in the Gorbals and Govanhill areas of Glasgow without interruption ever since. However, to better understand the organization we have to go back even further into the last century; to the early 1950's, to East Harlem in New York City, and to the social awaking of a young Scottish theology student and former dux of Edinburgh Academy, Geoff Shaw.
While on a fellowship at the Union Seminary graduate school of theology in New York Geoff witnessed at first hand the work done by East Harlem protestant ministers in one of New York's toughest and most disadvantaged area; and it would change his life forever. The East Harlem ministers had developed an approach of discipline towards money, religious activity and social action partly in responded to an earlier Scottish visitor, Dr George Macleod, founder of the lona Community, who had stated it was not enough to pray for a child dying of TB; it was also necessary to take political action to eliminate the circumstance in which tuberculosis flourishes.
On the left, the house in Abbotsford Lane where the Gorbals Group begun.
Geoff Shaw, one of the founding members of the Gorbals group and Crossroads.
When Geoff retuned to Scotland he joined with a fellow student at New College, Walter Fyfe, and petitioned his church to allow them to replicate in Scotland the kind of ministry witnessed in East Harlem. In December 1957 five people, two local residents and three ministers of the Church of Scotland came to work and live in the Gorbals, an area equal to East Harlem's social and economic problems, with the intention of sharing the problems of the area and joining with local residents in attempting to seek solutions.
Working from their tenement homes, they made themselves available to anyone. The early work of the group was a 'family affair'; they worked with small groups in an unstructured way and started informal youth clubs in their own homes after school. Direct action was a feature of the group's work; as there were no play facilities for local children members dug sand pits in the 'back courts' and organised a junk playground in derelict ground.
Geoff, Elizabeth Fyfe, Walter Fyfe and Kirstie Wedderburn, with a group of Gorbals youngsters.
By the late 1960's funds and sponsorship were slowly becoming more available for the community based services which the Gorbals Group were developing and in 1968 Crossroads Youth & Community Association was created and constituted as a secular successor to administer and employ staff for its growing youth and community work programme. In 1969 an arts centre was opened in a tenement building as was a short-stay accommodation for homeless young people. The first Crossroads' fieldwork unit for training social work students was established as a result of collaboration between Glasgow University, the Social Work Services Group and the Gorbals Group. In the year 1971-72 Crossroads opened student units in Govanhill and Gorbals, eventually training over 700 students before the last one was closed in 2008 due to government cuts and a change in policy in the training of social workers.
In 1973-4 two venues were opened up; the Community Rooms at the base of the newly built Stirlingfaulds flats and the Playbarn community and youth centre in Gorbals. Both were sites for community development, youth work and student training. The Association also help set up Scotland's first community newspapers, The View, which was published was published from a small shop front in Crown Street Gorbals. In April 1994 Crossroads Youth & Community Association became a Company Limited by Guarantee. The organisation has navigated the changes inevitably encountered in such a long and varied history, but what remains at its heart is the conviction, personified in Geoff Shaw and expressed by Dr Macleod, that private troubles often stem from public issues and action is required at both levels if positive change is to happen. Geoff died in 1978 at the aged 51. He was by then the first Convener of Strathclyde Regional Council overseeing services to over half the population of Scotland. He was the last resident to leave his Gorbals tenement flat in 197 4 before it was demolished.