What legacy will BAS9 leave the people of Aberdeen?

British Art Show 9 (BAS9) finished its run at Aberdeen Art Gallery this weekend. And so, gallery staff will carefully pack up the show for now. Then soon, organisers with ship the show to Wolverhampton for its next leg. It has faced challenges over the past few months, opening during a global pandemic doesn't help. The themes of healing, care and reparative history have maybe not always been obvious to a public with Brexit and Covid-19 weighing heavily on their mind. However, the work was bold and undeniable.

We wanted to speak to a few people about BAS9. Have a think about what legacy we hope that the show will leave our city. It costs us a lot of money to put on grand shows like this in Aberdeen. I think it's reasonable for us to expect a lasting legacy. Artists, fans, local venues and the city's communities should feel we have all gained something permanent from our experience.



What legacy should BAS9 leave?

Artists and fans should feel a greater connection with Aberdeen Arts Gallery. Smaller galleries should see a surge in interest from a public keen to see more modern art, particularly from local artists. Communities should feel seen and included by the gallery. A gallery that in earlier years may have not found the need to reach out.

One of the things that we've enjoyed is being part of is the community of ambassadors for BAS9. Not everyone loved everything about the show. We loved the video and documentary work, but it's been brilliant to talk to talk to other ambassadors about their views. We've all had very different experiences of the show, and that divergence has been fascinating. It feels like the beginnings of something very exciting in the city. A group of people confident enough to say what they like about art. But perhaps more interestingly, to enjoy hearing others speak about their experience. This should not be wasted.

Reema Shoaib

First of our contributors is Reema Shoaib. Reema runs ChaiTime a Facebook community which she created to build inclusivity in arts and the creative industry between Britain and Pakistan. It was amazing to hear her experience. She was able to use the work of artists from minority communities from the show to engage with some of Aberdeen's communities.


The British Art Show 9 exhibition commenced just when Aberdeen was waking up from the hibernation of the Covid-19 pandemic. BAS9 is perhaps the biggest thing to happen in the city, since the lockdown. Aberdeen is the only Scottish location, and also the host city selected to launch the tour. The prestige of the exhibition along with the theme of contemporary art exhibits, something never before seen at this scale in Aberdeen, all garnered interest and curiosity from locals. I am truly honoured to play my part part in the Ambassador’s group. It was wonderful that Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum’s City Coordinator recruited me for the show.

ChaiTime founder and BAS9 ambassador Reema Shoaib

My list of tasks included creating a collaboration and understanding for the show within the ethnic communities and foreign nationals living in Aberdeen. A city that houses the highest number of ethnic minority communities than any other city in Scotland. I view this task as a nod to the council’s Cultural Strategy 2018-2028 of creating engagement in arts and culture that truly reflects the cultural diversity of Aberdeen.

My job was made easier by the sheer magnitude of the exhibition. Couple this with the fact that I was promoting something backed by the City Council and the Art Gallery. Furthermore, it had names attached to it like Hayward Gallery Touring. Finally the honour that we were the first city to host the exhibition. This all joined together to make a compelling case to take to Aberdeen's communities.

Sharing with all Aberdeen's communities

There were 33 artists in the show at Aberdeen, presenting a mix of film, photography, painting, sculpture and live performances. Another significant factor of BAS9 was the healthy inclusion of international work as well as artists from minority communities living in the UK. The knowledge that people can view art work from their own region or community upped the interest of our local communities. It definitely encouraged them to come and enjoy the exhibition.

The knowledge that people can view art work from their own region or community upped the interest of our local communities
Reema Shoaib

The fact that the exhibition was free to view was an essential difference. BAS9 had no tickets attached, except to check-in with the QR Code as per the safety guidelines. I feel that also helped motivate people to easily come and check it out.

BAS9 has indeed proven to be a source of inspiration for most of the city’s arts and cultural activities, now and moving forward. Already we can see the offshoot in the form of the splendid LookAgain series Beyond BAS9. This is a series of events, workshops, exhibitions, talks and tours all taking the art scene forward.

The legacy of BAS9 will and should converge into more such activities and people. Additionally, Aberdeen Art Gallery should keep in touch with the communities jolted by the show. There should be more reaching out to them through such engagements. Contemporary art shows are definitely something new to the city. However, in my opinion, the people of Aberdeen have graciously accepted this opportunity. The gallery should develop this interest further.

Rita Kermack

Next up we hear from Rita Kermack. Rita is an artist, graduate of Gray's School of Art and a member of the Aberdeen Artists Society. She thinks that the last three months have proven that Aberdeen is well able to host massive shows like the British Art Show.


One of the successes, in my opinion, was the network of support and associated events that were organised on the local level. The fact that this was possible shows that Aberdeen’s art and culture scene is alive and active. Despite this, the city is often referred to as a cultural desert by those who are not directly involved in the various initiatives. There is a lack of visibility. A lack of presence on a day-to-day basis, compared to what’s going on in Dundee for example. The engagement with BAS9 has brought the various agencies into the foreground. It has made them more visible to the general public. Hopefully, BAS9 is a catalyst for further growth in that direction.

Artist and BAS9 ambassador Rita Kermack

In terms of visibility, BAS9 has encouraged us all to come together to collaborate, support and debate. Some of that had been going on already in the background but having this common focus, maybe, added strength. A stronger network and mutual support amongst AAGM, collectives, agencies and individuals as well as Gray’s School of Art and NESCOL has been built. This could advance the creative industries in the city and shire to a level that attracts not only visitors but also sponsors.

Hosting prestigious exhibitions on a frequent basis can create a fertile environment for art education in the city and shire
Rita Kermack

Hosting prestigious exhibitions on a frequent basis can create a fertile environment for the art education in the city and shire. Collaborations with Gray’s School of Art, NESCOL and schools will help raise the profile and recognition of art and design as a valuable career path within the Northeast. This is necessary to grow the creative industries here. To provide jobs to encourage new graduates, emerging and early career artists to stay in the city.

The ambassador program

The ambassador program created many varied opportunities for community members and local artists. I was able to be involved and get to know the people behind AAGM. This experience gave me a great boost, having just graduated from Gray’s. Also, the work experiences I gained are invaluable.

Reaching out to communities in such a personal, tangible way will break barriers. It will promote the gallery as an interactive place for learning and exploring. A place for everyone.


We're adding more to this article soon

We'll be adding thoughts from more people over the next few days. Follow our social media channels for updates. If you would like to read more about British Art Show 9 and where it's going next, you could check out the exhibition website.


About POST

Kevin Mitchell and Chris Sansbury founded POST from a desire to cut through the noise to share the great things that happen in Aberdeen. They therefore focus on community, culture and the interesting people of the city. The local artists, businesses and charities; photographers, musicians and entertainers; the people at a local level that make a positive impact on our city each and every day. So they use video, audio, writing and social media to amplify the voices in our community, and to ultimately give a platform to Aberdeen folk to engage and tell their own stories.

Recent work includes interviews with We Are Here Scotland founder Ica Headlam; Paralympic gold medalist, Neil FachieChef, an Aberdeen rapper who is pushing for success; an article by film director Mark Stirton about the state of high-rise buildings in the city; coverage of Nuart Aberdeen and TEDx Aberdeen, as well as coverage of British Art Show 9.

So visit postabdn.com now to read a great selection of interviews and articles.


We Are Here Scotland in the spotlight

Back in late 2020, we interviewed Aberdeen creative and podcaster Ica Headlam. He had just established We Are Here Scotland, a creative fund designed to practically support creative people of colour (POC) throughout Scotland.

Nearly a year later, having achieved funding through a successful GoFundMe campaign, We Are Here Scotland are just about to close applications for their first round of funding of creatives. We wanted to chat to Ica further about We Are Here Scotland. We wanted to know the background behind the fund, some of the challenges he has faced, and what he can offer creative people of colour. As always, Ica was keen to share his experience.



What is We Are Here Scotland?

Tell us a little about We Are Here Scotland. How did the idea came about and develop into a real life fund?

The idea for We Are Here Scotland came from my experiences of presenting Creative Me Podcast. And also, of course, being a person of colour here in the north east of Scotland.

Being born in the early 1980's I've always recognised the importance of representation. However I didn't see much of that in Scotland across the artistic and creative industries. I wanted to create something that not only allowed for there to be recognition of black and POC artists and creatives, but also as a means of supporting the community in practical ways too. This is where the Creator's Fund comes into play.

I had numerous private conversations and a number of Instagram Live events. After that it became very clear to me that many people in the community needed help. Both in terms of funding and practical support. However, getting this from larger organisations always seemed like such a daunting and monumental task.

Bearing that in mind, I felt that there should be a fund that not only made it easier for people to apply for, but also provided some follow through in terms of practical support via mentoring and guidance from industry professionals to help those who are awarded funding.

What are some of the challenges you've faced in launching the fund?
Well we launched the fund in mid-November last year whilst still in the pandemic. Given the climate it was a slow burn, however we eventually reached our target of £6000 in June this year. Recently that amount has grown to £7,490. This has allowed us to support more black and POC artists and creatives across Scotland.

What advice would you give to creatives of colour starting out just now? In particular, advice about raising funding and dealing with the challenges that their industry may throw their way?

With regards to funding, I think it's important to explore all the viable options available to you as a creative. It's about finding out what opportunities are happening in your local community as well. For example, does your local authority have funding opportunities for creatives? Is your local art space/gallery looking to commission artists etc?

In terms of the challenges you may encounter? For me I always find that it's important to have a good support network around you. This industry isn't easy to navigate. Over the past year I've heard from people in my community who have had horrible experiences within Scotland. So, I would say it's also important to hold people accountable. We can't minimise problematic attitudes and behaviours in the hope that it'll all be forgotten about. Especially in the current climate.

Systemic misrepresentation in the arts

Do you think there's a genuine willingness within Scotland's creative industries to actually stamp out their systemic representation problems once and for all?

Well I'd like to think so. But the past year has shown me that within Scotland's creative industries the conversation of representation and systematic change can easily turn into a tick box exercise. It's becoming on trend now for some predominantly white led businesses and organisations to be seen to be amplifying black and POC voices. The thinking is in doing this, organisations show evidence to potential funders that they are actively engaged with supporting the community.

In all honesty I do think that some people prefer the status quo of things. Some people don't want to be challenged. They don't want to reflect on certain issues that requires them to actively engage in meaningful conversations or progressive thought.

Is there anything people working in creative industries can do to pressure their organisation to be better?

I think people need to be more vocal about the systemic issues within the creative industries. However, it shouldn't just be black and POC doing this all the time.

I think we have gotten into this mindset in society that if it doesn't personally impact on you or your mental health then do you really need to say anything. Yes ,you absolutely do need to challenge and hold people accountable especially in this industry. People need to ask important questions within their organisations. Ask about meaningful representation and what that can look like for marginalised groups.

Who in benefiting?

Who are some of the creatives that you have helped? Tell us a little about them and the work they do.

When I first started We Are Here Scotland. I used to do a lot of Instagram story shout outs. We've given this a little more structure with a spotlight feature on our website. This feature will introduce people to a number of talented artists and creatives across Scotland. The first artist in our spotlight is the acclaimed Scottish-Caribbean poet and performer Courtney Stoddart. You can check out her interview here.

What are your future plans for WAHS?

We have a number of projects that I'm really excited about beyond the Creator's Fund. Hopefully we'll be in a position to secure funding to develop these projects. We ant to provide more opportunities for black and POC artists and creatives in Scotland.

The Creator's Fund is still live until Sunday 31st October at 11:59pm you can apply for the fund here: https://www.weareherescotland.com/creators-fund


Thank you so much to Ica for again taking time to talk to us. He has a special ability to focus on his project and achieve his lofty goals. That has always been an inspiration to us here at POST, so it's great to catch up with him again.

We Are Here Scotland | Find Out More

You can fine We Are Here Scotland at a number of places around the web. Please go follow them to stay up-to-date on their progress.

We Are Here Scotland | website | Twitter | Instagram

We also very much enjoyed this episode of Just a Chat With...Ica Headlam

https://youtu.be/7sI4vD0oO5Q

Ian Watt from Code the City on Open Data

You may have read about Open Data while browsing the internet, or reading the news. However, to many of us it remains subject that seems important but we'll get to it one day. Well, postpone no more. We reached out to Ian Watt, cofounder and trustee of Aberdeen charity Code the City. We asked him to tell us about the fantastic civic benefits of open data. He also takes a look at whether our local and national governments are performing well on delivering both the benefits and the data. Grab a cuppa and enjoy.



Over to Ian...

When we started Code the City in Aberdeen 2013 we were driven by the idea that everyone should understand data and should know a little bit about code (the stuff that makes computers, smart phones, gaming devices and even TVs work). We subscribed to the notions that data should be free and open, and that “coding gives you superpowers” as Michael Kennedy puts it: no matter what your job (journalist, doctor, historian, office admin assistant, photographer, astronomer, musician …) being able to code will boost what you can do. 

Code the City | Photo supplied by Ian Watt

We’ve continued to run events for the last seven years, mostly in Aberdeen and across Scotland. People can join in with others to share and learn, and to work on real world problems while they do so. We’ve also run kids coding classes, created a monthly data meetup, initiated a regular user group for those who code in Python, run workshops and research projects, and started the annual Scottish Open Data Unconference. Many of these activities are designed to increase data literacy of participants in a way that is relevant to their role or interests. We see data literacy as a key skill for these times. 

In the remainder of this article I am going to concentrate on the importance of open data to what we do - and also to Aberdeen in particular. 

What is open data?

Open Data is data which is freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. This data can come from any source but is mostly associated with the public sector. 

Why do we need it? What are the benefits?

If you have used the City Mapper app on your phone - or GPS or Google Maps to move around - then you are a user and beneficiary of open data. If you’ve looked at newspapers’ dashboards on the spread of Covid or Vaccine rollouts then you’ve benefited from open data. 

Publishing open data is proven to stimulate innovation, foster trust and transparency. Furthermore it would deliver economic, educational, social, environmental and other benefits. 

Code the City | Photo supplied by Ian Watt

The February 2020 report by the  European Data Portal – The Economic Impact of Open Data –  sets out a clear economic case for open data. From that we can see that if Open Data was being provided robustly and at scale in Scotland as it is in mainland Europe then the value to the Scots economy would of the order of £2.027bn to £2.266bn per annum.  Sadly that is not happening in Scotland - despite some of our efforts over the last decade. Our estimate is that it is currently worth about 0.01% of that! 

What data do we need?

In a perfect world you would have access to data such as 

  • The air quality in your area
  • How much your education authority spends on books in your kids’ school compared to others
  • Where are the potholes in your locale? When were they reported? When were they fixed?
  • Planning applications in your neighbourhood
  • How clean a local loch is to swim in, and its current water temperature
  • Where the electrical vehicle charging points are on your route south
  • Food hygiene inspections of all city restaurants which can be linked to online ordering 
  • Adult literacy rates in each council ward
  • etc.

If you are data literate then the raw data might be interesting and of use to you.  Otherwise people with entrepreneurial skills such as those taught at RGU could build new products or services using this data just as City Mapper and other apps help us make sense of raw data. That activity would attract investment, create jobs, and stimulate demand for skills - and business space - in the city. 

Currently Aberdeen City Council publishes 16 data sets as open data. Leaving aside the observation that these are static and not currently maintained, as a comparison here are some EU cities: 

Historical context and the current situation

The UK Government signed the G8 Open Data Charter in 2013 committing itself to publish data openly. As a result, the UK as a whole was for a while the leader in Open Data worldwide. 

The Scottish Government published its Open Data Strategy in 2015 committing that data in Scotland would be open by default. Sadly there has been little to show for that commitment and we’ve largely wasted the six intervening years. 

Code the City | Photo supplied by Ian Watt

The Scottish Cities Alliance, which represents all seven Scottish Cities, have tried to push forward the open data agenda as part of their Smart Cities programme. However the results to date have been at best inconsistent. Early leaders Glasgow faded but are now starting to do some good work again. Edinburgh similarly were great to start with, then appeared to give up. They have now committed to a Data Driven Innovation programme linked to their Smart Cities approach. Dundee, Perth and Stirling have been most consistently committed and are putting real effort into open data publication.

Who isn't doing so well?

The lame horses, sadly, are Inverness and Aberdeen who have dropped out of the programme. The latter case is especially sad when we consider that Aberdeen was the trailblazer in open data in Scotland. It published not only the first open data by any Scottish local authority in 2010 but what is considered to be the first open data of any public body in Scotland. [Full disclosure - I was responsible for that publication when I worked there.] 

Sadly the current state of open data in Scotland is extremely poor. What happens at a governmental level is mostly done grudgingly and without enthusiasm. It is underfunded and has no long-term approach or sustainability. At a city level it’s worse. The publication of open data is seen as a burden or overhead - and not an opportunity to deliver the economic, social, environmental or educational benefits that we know that it will deliver. It misses the opportunity to foster trust through transparency. And it starves the educational process at all levels of raw material that could drive engagement in STEM and enliven the curriculum in a particularly meaningful way.

None of this should detract from the dozen or so committed civil servants and local government officers across Scotland who do their very best to advance open data - either with indifference from above or, in many cases, despite a complete lack of political or managerial support. 

What needs to change? 

As we’ve seen the current situation is poor - locally and at a Scotish level. The Scottish Government strategy has no teeth. There are no consequences to a government department or council failing to publish data openly. The actions in the strategy go no further than 2017. This  has provided the perfect conditions for complacency and non-delivery. 

Funding for open data projects where it exists tends to be short term. There can be no confidence that data publication platforms will be there in a year or two’s time. Inverness switched theirs off after a year, having spent £10,000s of funding on it.

Code the City | Photo supplied by Ian Watt

We need to view the publication of open data as part of a commitment to the economic success of a country or region. It should be funded just as we fund other infrastructure, with a view to it underpinning long term development. We don’t create roads, bridges, railways, electricity grids or water supplies on the basis that they might disappear next month. They will exist for decades or centuries - and people know that they can rely on their being there - and build on them: locating factories, offices, homes along the infrastructure which has been created. 

We should take the European view - and not only invest in the publication of open data but in education in its use, and provide stimulus funding to startups to create new products and services.

Summary

Open data promises to deliver so many benefits to Aberdeen and Scotland as a whole if only it were done well. But it’s not: strategies to deliver open data are ignored - and doing so has no real consequence to those who ignore them; funding, if it exists, is short term; and there is no recognition of the need to treat data as infrastructure. Consequently potential benefits - particularly economic - are not delivered. At one time Aberdeen was at the forefront of open data in Scotland. Thanks to Nesta funding it had the opportunity engage on the European stage with the leading cities there. 

We should be clear - this is about a failure of leadership nationally and locally. The council is depriving the city of potential income, job creation, and the retention of graduates. Schools - which need to get young people engaged in STEM education - are deprived of the very raw material which would make that possible and attractive. 

At Code the City we continue to work with citizens and support the sharing of skills and knowledge. We work with local charities and various public sector organisations to help them better understand and use technology and data. We encourage the creation of open data, and help make that happen. 

But we need to start holding our political leaders to account, nationally and locally. Each is letting down youngsters, stifling innovation and depriving the economy of much needed stimulus. How much longer can we allow this to go on? 

Code the City | Photo supplied by Ian Watt

About Ian Watt

Ian is a co-founder and trustee of Code The City, an Aberdeen-based  charity which uses tech and data for civic good. He is a non-exec director of Democracy Club, a UK community interest company which uses crowd-sourced open data to better engage citizens in the democratic process. He is on the steering group of Data Commons Scotland, a Stirling University programme which is looking at how we can better use open data across the whole waste management cycle in Scotland. Furthermore, he's an Ambassador for both Open UK and Data Lab Scotland. Until May 2021 he was the civic society lead for open data in the Open Government Plan development for Scotland. He writes regularly about open data in Scotland.

If you'd like to keep up to date with Code the City, you can sign up to the newsletter here.

Further reading

A huge thanks to Ian from Code the City for taking the time to write this article. If you enjoyed this article, you may enjoy an article by Neil Innes from Ride the North about whether Aberdeen is delivering on its commitment to become a cycling city. If you would like to write an article for POST, check out our Share Your Content page. Stay up to date with what we're up to, sign up to our monthly newsletter.


Temp Check: Stuart McPhee from Siberia Bar & Hotel

Aberdeen’s hospitality sector has been hit extremely hard by Covid-19. Business has been massively curtailed and the staff that are still working are on the frontline of an industry that has always had to tread a think line between safety and fun. One of the many venues in the city that has worked positively within the Scottish Government restrictions is Siberia Bar & Hotel.

We thought it was time to catch up with their director, Stuart McPhee. We talk about his active role in standing up for the hospitality industry.


Hi Stuart, this seems like a simple question, but how are you doing right now?

I’m doing well personally…my wife is due our third child in December and excitement building in the house for Christmas. Professionally, it feels consistently like one step forward two steps back a lot of the time, but we’re remaining resilient.

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m originally from Kirkcaldy, went to University in Dundee and moved to the Granite City about 8 years ago. I’ve worked in the hospitality sector for over a decade and worked my way from being a glass collector in a nightclub to where I am now at Siberia Bar. I’m happily married with 2.9 kids residing in a wonderful little village in Aberdeenshire called Methlick…and I enjoy when I can put the boots on for the local football team there.

We were relieved to understand what was needed from us and we knew that there would be help coming in terms of support at the time. We also thought that it would be short-term and nobody would have considered impacts going on this far down the line.

What does a typical day for you look like?

I don’t have a typical day. Every day presents it’s own unique challenges. My wife will testify to me working 24/7…even when I’m home I’m not off. I’m generally in the bar for 8am and home for 7pm (kids bedtime) and whatever happens in between we solve the problems and we get through the day.

The initial lockdown was a blow to everyone, but especially those in hospitality. Do you remember how you felt at that time?

I remember welcoming the initial lockdown at the time as there had been so many unknown quantities. We were operating as we normally would have been at the time and when you compare that to all the mitigations we now have in place…it’s crazy to think about! We were relieved to understand what was needed from us and we knew that there would be help coming in terms of support at the time. We also thought that it would be short-term and nobody would have considered impacts going on this far down the line.

Siberia Bar's beer garden is popular in Aberdeen

What have some of those longer term impacts looked like?

The biggest long term challenge is having the vision to see what they are. It’s my view that the only way to get out of this is by growing and diversifying our business. I’ve been looking to invest time and effort in advancing our food offering and faculties. That’s my own business view. However, for the sector as a whole I think that the landscape post vaccine will be completely different. We will respect and value for the freedoms that will return to us. I hope it’ll be a time where we can look back on our present position and be thankful for the lessons learned.

Did lockdown mean you had more time away from Siberia Bar? How did you spend that extra time?

I did have extra time away from the venue, I spent it at home with my kids. My wife is a nurse in a GP practice and she worked right through the initial lockdown, so I was on Daddy Day Care most of the time. That time was so valuable. I would never have gained that time before, and will never get again. Between that and doing work around the house. Painting, decorating, organising, moving furniture around to see if you like one room one way or one room another!

Siberia Bar seem to have a very strong community of staff and customers, how have they supported you through 2020?

You know I think we have all just muddled through really. There was no real sense of needing to support anyone. It was very much continuing the sense of community we have always had. We just had to find other ways of connecting. For example Zoom quizzes was one of our favourite ways to catch up.

One of our chefs, Micky, created something called Sibeira Wrestling. This was a championship of recorded simulations of matches between people from the bar. We also broadcasted them for our community to watch. We all had our unique ways of getting through it. A couple of shandies here and there, but mainly making sure we checked on with everyone as often as possible.

What has been some of your biggest frustrations?

Communication and information sharing. In the first lockdown there was such a lack of communication. How we would be moving forward. What is the exit plan. More than anything, how do we get this all under control and get back to normal. No one seems to have a clear vision and thrust for this. And I felt a lot of time I was finding out things too slowly.

Has the pandemic made a difference to your personal priorities?

It has for sure! I have very much gone into survival mode. I would never have considered myself as someone who is confident doing interviews or television etc. Now I’ll do anything I can to make sure that those in power hear our voice in a constructive and considered fashion. Both as a business and as a city. It has very much heightened a lot of the priorities we ran with before. All I want to do is be able to look after the people around me. That's whether that’s my immediate or extended work family.

Customers enjoy food at Aberdeen's Siberia Bar.

Tell us a little about the support you have been lending to the wider hospitality sector?

The sector as a whole is really not being listened to or connected to properly by governments in any country. There’s a lack of understanding as to how these businesses operate and their ecosystem. What happens to footfall when these businesses are not operational and other sectors like retail are.

Out of the depths of despair in the Aberdeen lockdown there was a need for businesses to come together. To forge our way out of it collectively. Therefore we formed an information sharing organisation called Aberdeen Hospitality Together. This brought together 141 venues on the city. As a result of that the local authority has brought me into conversations to discuss issues weekly. I also have a national platform. I have joined newly formed groups. The Scottish Hospitality Group and the NTIA Scotland Commission.

I’ve also been campaigning for positive trade representation and a joined up approach to communication. On a local level I help businesses that have questions I share information. On a national level I help inform messaging. I participate in meetings and do the best I can to coney that hospitality is a wonderful sector to be a part of. Both now and into the future.

If you could give advice to the March 2020 version of yourself, what would it be?

Don’t change a thing. Do exactly everything you think is right and every point you think you have to do it. Stick to what you think and know is the right thing to do and it will serve you well.


It's been great to catch up with Stuart. It was fantastic to hear his frank views on the challenges he has been facing through 2020. You can follow him on Twitter. You can also find the latest on Siberia Bar and Hotel by checking out their Facebook page. In addition, the Scottish Hospitality Group have set up a petition calling on the Scottish Government for better protection. Both of the sector and its employees.

Read more: Our chat with Louise Grant from Fierce Beer.


Temp Check : Colin Farquhar from Belmont Filmhouse

We've now faced restrictions to our lives in Aberdeen for the past 8 months. While Covid-19 has meant that we all have to share the burden of stopping the spread of the virus, there’s a cost to our mental health. We decided to check in with Aberdeen folk to see how they are coping at this point. As a result we hopefully learn a little bit more about them along the way.

First up we check in with Colin Farquhar, Head of Cinema at the Belmont Filmhouse, Aberdeen’s last independent cinema. They have been forced to close again recently because film distribution in the UK has ground to a halt.


Hey Colin. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about how you are currently dealing with life in pandemic Aberdeen. We’ll start off with a simple one…how are you doing right now?

Good…I think. It’s a strange time for everyone and that includes me. I’ve been part-time furloughed since Saturday (7th November 2020) and that will be an adjustment as I hadn’t been before. Quite often we go on holiday at this time of year. I have a feeling of absence about that, as we obviously can’t travel. Generally good, though. I’ve held up fairly well this year. I’m proud of as, like most folk, I can be fragile as well.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I grew up in Whitehills which is a wee fishing village of about a thousand people. It's on the Banffshire coast. Beautiful place, not much to do, but I’m very grateful for the prettiness and people when I go back. I moved to Aberdeen to do Media and Communications at Aberdeen College in 2003 when I was 18. Then after a bit of course juggling did English Lit. at Aberdeen Uni, graduating in 2009. I got a part-time job at the Belmont at the end of 2007.

My folks are mostly fishing and farming stock. Dad worked on boats until he decided it was too hard a life (I can’t disagree). My Mum was a nurse at Ladysbridge, which is a now mostly closed mental health hospital just outside the village. My direct family and much of my extended family, work in social care now.

What made you fall in love with movies?

I guess the first thing that comes to mind is a cupboard in my Mum’s house. It was full of recorded VHSs from my early teens. Stuff that I was still much too young to watch. I’d write the name of the film on the side of the black box in marker pen. It was an attempt to make it more readable — Taxi Driver, One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, Deer Hunter. So there was dozens of these tapes at home that I’d watch a lot. Those late night Channel 4 films.

Prior to that I have a lot of fond memories of going to Elgin and Aberdeen to the cinema as a kid to watch films. Big day was the first time we watched two films in the cinema on one day. My wee brother wanted to watch MiB and I was keen on Jurassic Park: The Lost World. I think that Jurassic Park, and I’ll refer to that original film rather than the entire franchise. It had a huge impact on me in terms of what cinema can achieve. I was the right age, it got me into dinosaurs. It’s still the first film I think of when someone talks about the spectacle of cinema or the cinema. It remains one of my favourite films.

What is your favourite part of your working day?

I guess all jobs have their routine to them. Whenever I get to step away from the admin and talk to customers is a bright spot. You end up talking about films and that’s nice. I feel I’ve been able to do that a lot more recently. One upside of COVID on cinema is that we’ve been able to brush away a lot of the cobwebs. We've been able to focus on the real core stuff like my team and the punters. I’ve enjoyed that immensely.

Working in a cinema is also just full of the occasional pinches that you work in a cinema. So when you do something in a projection room when a film is playing and even a wee glance at the light through the window reminds you of the magic…that romantic stuff. We’re lucky enough that you manage to experience that at least once a week.

Without having to deal with the public quite so much, did you have time to develop any new skills…or catch up on some great movies?

I spent a lot of time reading Scot Gov COVID regulation. I’m unsure if that’s a new skill…Usually I’d try and apply downtime to reading but I’ve found concentrating on that more difficult than usual this year.

I did watch quite a lot of films. MUBI had a great run of Bergman stuff through the summer so I saw Cries and Whispers and The Silence and Autumn Sonata and a few others for the first time. I also watched Le Cercle Rouge which I hadn’t seen before. It’s probably the best film I’ve watched all year. It was also great ton catch up on a lot of films. That was until we reopened but work has been pretty full on since then.

I also walked around the city a lot, particularly in early lockdown. In November I moved flat, so did a lot of trekking around the West End and out to Cults and around Hazelhead. I was mostly back in the office from mid-June. From that point on it was pretty much full bore in terms of reopening planning. So it limits what you can apply yourself to. My headspace was always focused on the mechanics of how Belmont would run, operationally anyway.

How has your community helped both you and The Belmont through lockdown?

The response from the community for our fundraising was amazing. I never expected to raise that amount. It was quite overwhelming. I’ve really felt like people rallied round us and that’s from the hardcore membership and audience to folk who used to come but moved away and then the friends and family of the staff. It helped keep me going. I was still working on my own at that point and reading the letters in particular that came in with the donations (lots of people still send cheques instead of donating online) was lovely.

Photo: Chris Sansbury

The latest closure of the Belmont must have felt like a real blow. Tell us about that decision.

It was hard — I think this year has been quite an acute demonstration of how much we mean to people and that makes these decisions really tough. You know how much people will miss you if you close. The reality was every film we had booked for November dropped off the slate. The audience also petered away a little after the PM announced harder restrictions down south so we felt it became the common sense decision to shut.

But, it’s not March. March was, in all honesty, frightening. On this occasion we felt we were making a controlled choice and although finances will remain a worry for some time we know what we have. Thanks to support grants from Screen Scotland and the extension of the furlough scheme we’re in a better place. All being well we’ll reopen early December and then get into the Xmas stuff.

I take it you have a date in your head for the reopening of the cinema, which I’m sure you don’t want to commit to just yet, but what will influence that final decision to open?

Ideally we’re looking at 4th December but I wouldn’t want anyone to take that as verbatim. If lockdown extends down south then that sets as back, as would a lockdown in Scotland. I’m also expecting the UK and Scottish Governments to relax household rules for Xmas. That might yet have a trade off with other restrictions. If there’s one thing we’ve learned this year it’s that everything is subject to change, so you’ve got to be realistic, flexible and patient.

I think this year has been quite an acute demonstration of how much we mean to people and that makes these decisions really tough. You know how much people will miss you if you close.

Who has inspired you recently?

I think everyone to an extent. Seeing people having the will to get on with things and go to work in a year like this has been quite astonishing. I see that in my team, colleagues in Edinburgh and my friends.

My Dad, specifically. I hope he wouldn’t mind me mentioning this but my Dad lost his wife in early in the pandemic to cancer. It was all very quick and sudden. He was due to go back to work when the pandemic was at its peak in mid-April and I told him no one would judge him if he took another week or two off work. He told me that that may be considered selfish and back to work he went. I’ve definitely carried that in my head since. He’s been a star. My brother has also had a kid among all these so that’s been a wee celebration amongst everything. It keeps you going.

Also, with the realisation that it can come across as contrived to point to politicians, particularly current ones, I have a lot of admiration for how Nicola Sturgeon has handled the pandemic. That’s not to say the Scottish Government have done everything perfectly, but being able to get up in front of the country every day for six months and talk them through it is quite a feat. It’s a good example. As someone who manages people it helps a lot.

Do you think you have been changed by the pandemic?

This will be a long answer — I’m not sure. I am someone who is perennially asking myself what I’m good at or what my nature is and this pandemic breeds more of that, so you lose perspective on yourself the same as any other time.

It has made me value more what is close to me; but at the same time I miss travelling. It does teach you can get by on simple pleasures and routine; but the weeks where I just stuck to work and cooking were the weeks I really needed to do something different at the weekend. Ultimately I think we’ve all found out a lot about balance, but we all knew that already really.

One thing definitely — I’ve found I’m far more resilient than I ever thought and for someone who struggled with anxiety through their 20s that has been reassuring. I’m proud of that. Perhaps that’s learning to give up control a little in a situation you can’t possibly. If I carry that out the other side of the pandemic and can apply it to the micro stuff to I think that’s a positive change.

I’ve found I’m far more resilient than I ever thought and for someone who struggled with anxiety through their 20s that has been reassuring. I’m proud of that.

Another realisation is — and I’m unsure this is a change — is just how time passes. It’s just as subjective as everything else and it just siphons away like an elastic blob down a drain if you let it. Books or hill-walks or films or pints in the pub with your pals are the checkpoints that slow it down a little. So, I hope I’ll learn to do stuff I enjoy more and that I’ll remember. Those experiences are wee pauses that slow down time and I think, strangely, lengthen it, at least in memory. If that realization leads me to taking life less seriously, or working less, or procrastinating less then that’ll be a positive change too.


Thank you so much to Colin for his time and frankness. You can follow both him and the Belmont Filmhouse on Twitter. If you would like to support Aberdeen’s local independent cinema on a regular basis, consider getting an annual subscription…it gets you some great benefits too.

We’ll be publishing regular temp checks over the next few weeks…keep in touch on Twitter and Facebook. If you haven't already, check out our interview with Stuart McPhee, manager of Siberia Bar and Hotel.