Scots graphic novel helps to tackle sectarianism

A graphic novel aimed at educating young people about the consequences of sectarian behaviour has created a shift in the behaviour and thoughts of the people who read it, an independent study has claimed.

A scene from the book, by Gowan Calder and illustrated by Jill Calder

Written by Gowan Calder and illustrated by Jill Calder, 6,000 copies of the book were distributed last year to adult learning groups across Scotland as part of a £9m Scottish Government drive to tackle sectarianism.

Called Walk the Walk, the story follows two friends, Rab and Robbie, who live at opposite ends of the same street. On this street, The Walk, there is a split between the top end and the bottom end and it sometimes feels more like a war zone than a neighbourhood. As Rab’s cousin Kylie gets ready to marry Robbie’s brother Romeo, tempers are flaring and both families think the wedding is a betrayal of their roots.

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The academic analysis of the book’s effect on readers found that participating in the book’s development process in particular led to “deeper engagement” from the learners, helping them to develop empathy with the characters while exploring the issues and circumstances that surround sectarian behaviour.

Alette Willis, an academic from the School of Health in Social Science at the University of Edinburgh, who carried out the study, said: “The activities used in the development sessions enabled and supported learners to recognise that others have different perspectives and to reflect upon links between their own perspectives, experiences and opinions and those of other people in the group and of the characters in the story.

“Reading the book out loud and providing feedback on drafts of the book were particularly valued activities that seemed to have the greatest potential to impact positively on learners. Learners enjoyed reading the script together and enjoyed developing characters and being engaged in a creative process.”

She added: “These activities were associated with a deepening recognition of others’ perspectives. This was the case for tutors as much as for learners. In particular, some younger participants felt that working with this project gave them insight into the experiences of older generations.”

Written in script form with accompanying graphic novel style illustrations, the book was developed by Scottish Book Trust with input from literacy learners and support workers who have first-hand experience of sectarianism. It was funded by the Scottish Government as one of 44 projects aimed at tackling sectarianism.

In 2012, the government introduced The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act in a crack down on sectarianism and other football-related offences. However, earlier this week, opposition parties said they would look to scrap it, claiming it has unfairly targeted football supporters who have done nothing wrong.