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A Journey through the Central Belt

Home | Funding | Case Studies | A Journey through the Central Belt

the central belt of scotland story

2023 The Essentia Foundation


The Essentia Foundation, in partnership with Foundation Scotland is embarking on a journey across Scotland through a series of exploratory reports and blog posts which will examine the regional issues that young people across Scotland are facing and the ways in which Essentia grants are tackling them.

The Central Belt: Edinburgh, Falkirk, Glasgow

The Central Belt is characterised by diverse landscapes, from the stunning hills and valleys of the Southern Uplands to the urban sprawl of Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is a relatively narrow strip of land that extends from the Firth of Clyde in the west to the Firth of Forth in the east, covering around 100 miles. This area is intersected by rivers, including the River Clyde and River Forth, which historically played crucial roles in the region’s industrial growth.

This region is the economic powerhouse of Scotland, driving various industries such as finance, technology, tourism, education, and manufacturing. Edinburgh serves as a financial centre, hosting numerous banks, financial institutions, and the headquarters of major companies. Glasgow, historically known for its shipbuilding and manufacturing, has diversified its economy into sectors like healthcare, creative arts, and higher education. Despite this, this region has some of the highest levels of deprivation and child poverty not only in Scotland but in the UK. In Falkirk, for example, 24.8% of the child population are deemed to be living in poverty. The causes of child poverty in the Central Belt are multifaceted and interconnected with broader societal issues. Factors contributing to this issue include income inequality, lack of well-paying job opportunities, limited access to affordable housing, and challenges in accessing adequate social support.

Culturally rich, the Central Belt showcases Scotland’s heritage through its museums, art galleries, festivals, and historic landmarks. Young people can engage in enjoyable and meaningful pursuits across the region and often enjoy greater and more frequent access to clubs and recreational activities when compared with their counterparts in the Borders or Highlands.

Despite the economic inequalities that many young people and families face in this region, growing up in the Central Belt can mean access to culture, higher education, career prospects and excellent transport links.

Grant making

The Essentia Foundation can demonstrate a long history of supporting key initiatives within this region with an interesting variety of youth projects. Based on the data, the Central Belt is subject to the highest number of grants from the Essentia Foundation. Let’s look at some key facts below:


Since 2020, the following organisations in the Central Belt have been supported by The Essentia Foundation:

The following sections will examine some of the regional priorities that The Essentia Foundation has supported through its grant making.

Access to Culture

Access to culture in the Central Belt of Scotland is relatively extensive and diverse, offering a wide range of opportunities for children and young people:

Museums and Art Galleries: The region boasts numerous museums and art galleries showcasing various exhibitions, historical artifacts, contemporary art, and cultural displays. Institutions like the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, and others provide access to art, history, science, and culture.

Festivals and Events: Throughout the year, the Central Belt hosts an array of festivals and cultural events. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh International Festival, Glasgow International Comedy Festival, Celtic Connections, and many more offer performances, music, arts, and entertainment, attracting artists and audiences from around the world.

Historical Landmarks: Rich in history, the Central Belt is home to iconic historical landmarks. Edinburgh Castle, Glasgow Cathedral, the Falkirk Wheel, the Antonine Wall, and various castles and historic sites offer insights into Scotland’s past and heritage.

While the Central Belt of Scotland offers rich cultural experiences, several barriers may hinder people from accessing these offerings. Cost can be a significant obstacle for many individuals, especially young people or families with limited disposable income. Entry fees to museums, galleries, theater performances, or festival tickets might be prohibitive, restricting access to those on a tight budget. Furthermore, disparities in educational opportunities and resources may impact access to cultural experiences. Students or individuals from schools with limited funding or fewer cultural programs might also miss out on enriching cultural activities. From 2020 on wards, the Essentia Foundation has actively injected funds into the Central Belt to mitigate cultural inequalities. These efforts aim to ensure that a broader spectrum of young people, regardless of socio-economic background, could benefit from and engage with the rich cultural offerings within the Central Belt.

One noteworthy example is Glasgow Zine Library which received a grant from the Essentia Foundation in 2023. Glasgow Zine Library (GZL) is a community zine library and archive in Govanhill, Glasgow. Established in 2018, the organisation is Registered Charity with a year-round community arts programme. The organisation has an international collection of 1000+ zines (self-published DIY magazines, often produced by marginalized communities, e.g. regarding LGBTQI+ healthcare during the 1980s AIDs crisis). Service provision is varied and includes online/offline programme includes workshops, talks, professional and artistic development opportunities, community meals, film screenings, reading groups, arts and crafts, social clubs, training, and Glasgow Zine Fest, an annual celebration of zine culture.

The initiative aims to support young individuals in their skill development, self-expression, and mental health improvement through arts and crafts. The after-school club, running from January to December 2023, focuses on addressing youth isolation and democratizing access to illustration and the arts. In the initial three months, GZL conducted arts and crafts workshops in various Govanhill schools, including Annette Street Primary, Holy Cross, and St. Bride’s Primary, to determine the age group that would benefit the most from the club.

Following this consultation phase, the charity selected a manageable group of no more than 15 children. They were invited to participate in weekly drop-in after-school club workshops held at the Glasgow Zine Library in Govanhill. The sessions aim to teach arts and crafts skills, encourage self-expression, improve mental health, facilitate socialization, enhance well-being, and combat loneliness. This initiative aims to build a creative sense of community outside the school context, catering to children from diverse backgrounds and varied life experiences. Pointedly, the project aims to bring culture into Govanhill and give children a chance to interact with new art forms.

Youth Unemployment

Despite the expanding higher education opportunities and the growth of emerging industries throughout the central belt, young individuals in certain areas of this region continue to encounter significant barriers when trying to access the labour market. Glasgow, historically known for its industrial background, has undergone substantial economic shifts. While the city has seen growth in sectors such as finance, technology, and hospitality, youth unemployment remains a challenge. Factors contributing to this issue include structural changes in industries, skill mismatches, limited access to quality education and training, socioeconomic inequalities, and the ongoing impact of economic fluctuations. According to the Office for National Statistics, Glasgow has the second highest rate of unemployment in Scotland, after Dundee City.

Supporting and motivating young individuals to enter the labour market poses a significant challenge. In response to this, the Essentia Foundation has supported various projects within Glasgow city. These initiatives are specifically designed to broaden the horizons of young people, focusing on enhancing the skills and abilities of children and teenagers in the region. In 2023, Sunny Govan Community Radio was awarded a multi year award to support the delivery of the ‘Amplifying Opportunities’ programme over three years using digital media skills to support young people’s employability. Founded in 2001 and operating as a registered Scottish Charity, Sunny Govan Community Radio operates within one of Scotland’s most deprived areas.

Their focus lies in cultivating a vibrant and inclusive community where individuals have a voice and the tools to confront challenges. Their mission centers on combating poverty, offering a secure environment, and fostering support for marginalized locals in greater Govan. They provide skill development, training, and opportunities, empowering individuals to recognize their potential and navigate structural inequalities. The organization aims to guide them towards positive destinations while nurturing confidence in their abilities and achievements.

This year’s project will deliver a series of up skilling sessions. The workshops organized by Sunny Govan will target disengaged young individuals aged 16 and above, specifically those who will have disengaged from education and lack support. They will not restrict attendance to this group, nor will they require young people to come from specifically the G51 area, but will use their relationships with the school and other local projects to reach the young people they think will benefit. Workshops will be delivered as 4-hour sessions once a week for eight weeks. They will cover elements such as Research Skills, Journalism, Radio Equipment & Its Use, Confidence Building, The 7 Ps of Professionalism, CV writing, and accessing the My World of Work website. The associated CV and work readiness elements of work will support young people to understand the skills they will have already built and consider employment opportunities in the short and long term. It is anticipated that 36 young people will directly benefit from project activities, enabling them to better navigate the challenges they face and access greater opportunities in their lives.

Economic Inequalities

The economic opportunities in the Central Belt can, of course, be plentiful. Nonetheless, economic inequalities persist. According to the Edinburgh Poverty Commission, City of Edinburgh Council models, estimate that 82,000 people in Edinburgh live in relative poverty, an estimated 16% of the total population of the city. These rates vary considerably between electoral wards across the city, from as low as 5% in some areas, to as high as 27% in others. Levels of poverty are particularly high among families with children.  In Edinburgh an estimated 23% of children grow up in relative poverty.  In some areas this rate rises to more than 1 in 3 of all children.  These areas rank among the highest levels of child poverty recorded anywhere in Scotland.

On the ground, this means that many young people have only the basics and often struggle to be on an equal footing with their peers. In 2020, The Essentia Foundation awarded Edinburgh based charity, People Know How a grant to deliver ‘The Reconnect Service’. People Know How (PKH) was founded in March 2013 on the principle of social innovation where people know how to identify their needs and the solutions that will fulfill their potential and address social issues. Delivering across Edinburgh and East Lothian, PKH work collaboratively to deliver projects and social change with projects reaching children, young people, vulnerable adults and the elderly.

This project aimed to target young people who did not have access to digital device due to economic constraints at home. Up cycled digital devices were distributed to 25 young people. To complement the distribution of digital devices, the charity established a befriending service. Referrals were matched with volunteers to engage in various activities, fostering social connections. This initiative aimed to combat loneliness and isolation. The provision of computer devices also broke down economic barriers. In an increasingly connected world, activities helped young people to feel included and helped to reduce economic barriers for participation.

The Essentia Foundation

If you are a Scottish Charity or Community Group with an annual income of below £250,000.00 and your charitable objectives includes improving the health and social welfare of young people, you can apply for the upcoming grant making programme, set to relaunch in 2024. Please find a link to the funding page here.

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