Culture and Me: Provost Lorraine Cameron
In the first of a series of online exclusive pieces that places the microscope on Renfrewshire locals and their relationship to the notion of culture in their own lives, Provost Lorraine Cameron talks ingenuity in adversity, her inalienable love for the area and how her formative years placed her on the path that she walks on today.
When you’ve been a prominent public figure, sometimes the real you can be obscured by the title you hold. From the outside looking in, many people assume someone who holds a lofty position may become disillusioned with the world and its hierarchies once they see their in’s and out’s. But in the case of longstanding Provost of Renfrewshire Lorraine Cameron, her zeal for the job is as potent today as when she first took office. After all, how could it not when she sees it as one of the biggest honours of a life that’s been defined by a deep affection for her heritage in this very community?
For Lorraine, the concept of culture is multi-faceted and registers on a variety of different levels when it comes to not only her day-to-day work in Renfrewshire, but the experiences within her hometown of Paisley that have helped to shape her since her earliest days.
When asked about the City of Culture 2021-led revolution that she’s had a front row seat for during her time in her current office, Lorraine believes that it is the product of a mounting and collectivistic desire to cast off any aspirations about what Renfrewshire is capable of offering to its locals and the world at large. Furthermore, she is certain that the shared plight of Covid-mandated lockdowns has actually helped in spotlighting a groundswell of local talent that may have otherwise shielded itself away from view.
“The council’s emphasis on using history and culture and the arts stems back quite a few years now. I think it might’ve been about 2007, 2008 when they began to draw up a blueprint for what it could look like, because it was clear that we were never going back to that place where it was just full of empty retail units. There was a lot of talk about it then, but nothing much was really done to force it.
“But with the 2021 campaign, we were allowed to push that message and get a lot of people involved. We might not have won, but even the last year has been amazing. Paisley never stagnated. I thought people would’ve been down in the dumps, and they were for a wee bit, but they didn’t stay that way. They just saw what we’d achieved and thought ‘okay, there’s a wee taste of what we can have. We’re going to keep fighting for it.’
“Then, Covid struck, but that actually allowed people to appear that we might’ve not noticed before as they were taking it on themselves to make content. You had musicians, actors doing wee plays, people writing the most fabulous poetry and sharing their stuff.
“So, it kind of exploded last year and that was one of the benefits that came out of it. I think Andy Campbell and Gary Kerr [of the Facebook hosted Paisley Community Trust Chat Show] are really helping to get people to connect with each other and see what’s actually in the town.
“I think I know a lot about the town and region, but I’ve learned a lot from guests that they’ve had on and I know people have formed friendships and helped one another through their businesses after an appearance. It’s wonderful to see.”
As new platforms were hastily erected and a new, situationally enforced awareness of livestreams gave everyone the ability to broadcast themselves to the world, Lorraine, like all of us, was able to marvel at the richness of Renfrewshire’s cultural landscape from within her own four walls. Encouraging as this was in itself, the provost was even happier to see the adoption of a communal feeling among both audiences and performers that spurred each other on and abandoned the every-man-for-themselves mentality that often arises in arts spheres. In fact, she believes that the idea of banding together to work towards a common goal is even more widespread than many people realise.
“Definitely, I think the telling thing is the lack of negativity that you’re seeing on social media nowadays. You’ll remember that a few years ago, you couldn’t go onto any Paisley site without seeing comments about how Paisley is terrible and it’s this or that. That’s what I’ve noticed as a dramatic change, as that’s a real breath of fresh air,” the provost enthused. “People are challenging this and the collective passion for the town is amazing. What we need is positive people because the council or organisations like that can’t do it alone.
“When you see bands and artists starting out or looking to launch something, we need to do absolutely everything that we can to support them. You’ve even seen it through Covid, with the crowdfunders and ‘buy me a coffee’ platforms that people are using. We helped people in these situations as we knew they couldn’t perform anywhere, but why shouldn’t we keep doing that? Because we know how hard it is for people to try and get onto that ladder of success. We should be lifting each other up, whether that means putting in a pound or £100, it all makes such a difference.
“I think people have become braver and that’s because they’ve been in their own surroundings when performing,” Lorraine continued. “Whereas if they were doing the food and drink festival for the first time, that might be a bit daunting. We’d never struggle to get people playing, but this has given others the chance to do it in ways that they felt secure. I think people kind of know what they have to do to change their life and have thought that they don’t want to go back to where they were before. How many people will follow through? I think they’ll be in the minority rather than the majority, but I’m sure a lot of people will have learned something that will stay with them.
“It’s allowed so many people to drive awareness to what they like to do. For example, there’s a girl called Ami Torrance that began putting out these poems about the situation and because they were relevant to everyone, they were getting shared all over the place. Next thing you know, she was picked up by BBC The Social. These are instances where you think, would anyone have taken notice of her talent if she wasn’t applying it to what we were all experiencing?
“One of the instances where we really noticed the benefits of social media during lockdown is when we put out the Provost Community Awards,” Lorraine informed us. “Suddenly, we had more nominations than ever and I think there’s one of two reasons for that. Paisley FM gave me a great wee profile that I believe that helped, but I think the fact that social media was no longer optional and people were helping each other get connected would’ve really aided it too. With that, we decided to set up the first art and culture award [won by Riverbrae School teacher Calum Coutts] and that’s a testament to what we have in the town and the area as a whole.”
Although she’s inspired by the creative renaissance that she sees around her and is an avid supporter of the arts in all forms, when it comes to the provost’s relationship with the notion of “culture”, her personal resonance with the term is deep-rooted in matters of identity.
“Culture plays a lot of different roles in lives and means a lot of different things. I think if it’s what’s round about me, that’s really important,” Lorraine detailed. “We should use culture in order to improve our town and environment. If we’re looking at the perception of the public in terms of what we need, I don’t think that it’s that we need more shops, it’s that they need somewhere to go.
“I remember when I was a young girl, my mum, my granny, everybody would get up early and head into the town. They’d meet people they knew, have a blether, shop, all of that. People think there’s nothing to do in Paisley and that’s just not the case. We just need to sell it and culture is the way to do it. We need to repurpose the culture in the town, put a different message out to people and get a different thought process out there.
“There’s so much out there that people still don’t even realise about the town. I hope when the town hall and the museum opens back up, it’ll provide a new focal point to look at as I think when you see other people loving your town, that’s when you get really proud of it. So, hopefully we’ll be able to use our culture and history to get some in.
“For me, culture is the way you live, your morals and your ethos.”
When asked about how much of her world outlook has been shaped by the Paisley culture that she grew up in, Lorraine doesn’t hesitate to assign credit to the area and a certain air of magic that was instilled in her from a young age.
“Probably all of it. My grandfather had a lot to do with our knowledge of Paisley’s history, while my grandmother was from the east end of Glasgow, so we had a good view of other cultures too. Although my grandfather grew up in a tenement in George Street, it somehow seemed as though he had this posh life in comparison. We used to hear stories about their background and that helped us to really appreciate what we had here. Of course, your parents are always striving for better for you than what they had as well, but my grandfather really did what he could to make Paisley and its history exciting. We were lucky as he’d take us all over the place, across to the abbey and everywhere else.
“He’d always make up wee stories to go along with it, there’s things that I thought I knew that I really didn’t as he’d made it all up (laughs). He’d tell us some tale about the witches and say ‘oh aye, I actually knew the granddaughter’ and things like that. We’d be enthralled. So, I think we need to try and engender that same sense of love and belonging for your town. When you’re told to appreciate it, you really think ‘ok, there must be something in this.’ When people learn from their culture and history, we move forward,” Lorraine detailed. “Even though people go on day trips or go on holiday, I don’t know if enough people take their kids around Paisley and point out all of the interesting things that we’ve got here. It’s not just the buildings though, it’s the people in the town.
“I think what I’d like to see more of is us including people such as our African communities that live in Renfrewshire. We have so much to learn from them and so much we can offer in return. They’ve been absolutely wonderful at integrating into the area and making new friends, but there’s still more scope for us to do more in sharing our histories and cultures with one another.
“You always hear the naysayers and you end up focusing on that,” she declared, “but the positivity is really starting to shine through.”
Boasting more than two decades of service to the community as a councillor, the lustre of the provost role has by no means worn off for the Glenburn native. As for her, it’s the culmination of that civic pride that has been so entrenched into her from a young age.
“To me, because I’m passionate about Renfrewshire, it was a big honour to be elected. I felt as though I’d been given a million pounds and I know that my family felt the same. I’ve never had any inclination of going anywhere else. I’ve been doing this for 22 years now and I’ve loved every single minute of it.
“Paisley’s still great and that’s what we have to emphasise,” the provost asserted. “We might’ve lost some of the retail aspect, but we’ve got lots more to offer. It’s good harking back to the past as that’s what makes us who we are, but there’s no reason why we can’t get back to that again. They’re only memories and what matters is trying to capture that again, just look at how Alan McEwan and Tommy McGrory have cleverly brought back The Bungalow. There’s nothing stopping us and I certainly don’t like the word no, I much prefer yes. We’re becoming great again and I know that for a fact. It’s a place that’s full of talented people and with things such as the new PACE building, it’s only going to put us further on the map.
“Places like that have already produced so much amazing talent, within the town and elsewhere. That’s great as we want to promote diversity in the town and encourage our young people in whatever they want to do. That’s the real message that we need to get across as a community. If they want to pursue a dream, there’s people here that will help them. We think enough of our young ones that we will support them, the facilities are there. If the council can’t help them, then we’ll always find someone else who can. Paisley is wide open,” she said with a genuine smile. “Come out and find yourself. This is your town.”
Keep up with Provost Lorraine Cameron and everything she’s up to by following her on Twitter @ProvostCameron