Collaborative learning at the Fire Starter Festival 2018

02 February 2018

Cat Tabbner reflects on the launch of Fire Starter Festival 2018 and how it has set her up for the year ahead.

It all started with music. As I was handed a pair of headphones, a memory came into my head. A blast from the past that I had mostly forgotten. The last time I had headphones on in public was in a silent disco tent at a music festival. Memories of my younger self (more distant than I wish) dancing to the music in my own private soundscape came flooding back. Rather fitting given that 2018 is Scotland’s Year of Young People.

This was not how I expected my Monday morning to kick off. Especially not at a ‘work’ event. But that is one of the great things about the Fire Starter Festival – it opens you up to new possibilities. Colleagues across the country are sharing their discoveries and taking a leap of faith to explore them with you, right there and then.

That memory of my younger self stayed with me for the rest of the event, as I listened to the speakers tell me their experiences of transforming themselves and others to create a better and fairer Scotland. The headphones gave me back that spirit of exploration, of pushing boundaries – I like to think I still have this spirit, but there’s something about being young (at least for me anyway) that made that fire burn, well, brighter. Over the years I’ve learned how to stoke my inner fires, but every now again it’s good to be reminded how bright we can be.

And you know what? With a pair of headphones on and with the permission to walk freely around Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, our home for the morning, I listened more intently than I ever have. And I’m a good listener. I felt like I was walking through the exhibits with the speakers by my side.

Every speaker inspired me, and their stories will be added to my community engagement toolbox for the year – to be shared with researchers, communities and boardrooms across Glasgow. These stories are signs of hope and proof of possibilities! Memorable tips were Katie Slavin (Shining Stars Theatre School) telling me to “always, always stay humble” when working with (young) people or Fiona Duncan (The Corra Foundation and Chair of the Care Review) replacing “hard to reach” with the insight that “it’s the reachers who aren’t trying hard enough”. Liam Murray’s (MCR Pathways) story of becoming a Graduate Surveyor and Kate Polson’s (Rock Trust) goal to end youth homelessness in Scotland in ten years got me thinking on how my community engagement role can contribute to more ambitions like these from voices we really need to hear. That was the power of headphones – I really felt like the speakers were to talking to me, encouraging me to take action.

Headphones and papers at the Firestarter festival

It’s with this spirit of youth, exploration, boundary pushing and ambitions that I have been approaching the rest of the festival. And I’m listening more too. At ‘Unleashing courageous leadership at every age’ this week I particularly took Rachael McCully’s (Communic18 and Year of Young Person representative) tip away with me: “if you help a young person to be courageous, you’ll learn more from them than the other way round”. There was also the chance to try the fishbowl facilitation technique, but that’s another blog!

I’m already wondering what my next Fire Starter event (‘Facilitative leadership’) will bring. And I have already started a few work ‘fires’. 2018, here I come…


About the author

Cat Tabbner Community Engagement Manager


Cat’s role as community engagement and empowerment manager is to build on the Centre's practices to develop a forward-thinking programme of work.

She works across our organisation to help investigate, develop, support and evaluate the contribution of Community Engagement and Empowerment (CEE) policy and practice in multidisciplinary efforts to reduce health inequalities by Glasgow’s public, third sector and community bodies.

As part of the Centre’s role in providing new perspectives to support change over time, the post is called on, where appropriate, to help these multidisciplinary efforts achieve transformational outcomes and practices, informed by assets and expertise among Glasgow’s communities. 

Cat initially joined the Centre to develop a community engagement programme within the GoWell research and learning programme (which explored the impacts of regeneration in communities across Glasgow).  The community engagement programme sought to  facilitate a knowledge exchange, as well as capacity building and empowered learning within the researched communities. 

Cat has a Masters in Global Health at the University of Glasgow and a degree in Social Anthropology and French. Her creative and collaborative approaches to community engagement stems from a combination of her studies and practical experience in national public health projects and third sector community arts projects, including facilitating local communities and New Scots to explore experiences and heritage of living in high-rise flats in Glasgow.

Read all articles by Cat Tabbner