It is Wednesday 6 July 2005 and the eyes of the world are focused
on the small Scottish town of Auchterarder in Perthshire. Up until
now the only thing the town was famous for was that it boasts the
longest high street – it is over a mile – in Scotland. But the
international spotlight is now firmly on the town, with the G8
summit taking place at the nearby Gleneagles Hotel.
Auchterarder is also the starting point for a mass demonstration
organised by G8 Alternatives, a coalition of protestors. More than
5,000 demonstrators are expected to march through the town and
right up to the security fence surrounding Gleneagles.
Perth & Kinross Council, which covers Auchterarder, has created
an operating plan for its social work and homelessness services for
the three-day summit. The council has established two temporary
social work centres in Auchterarder and in Perth, about 40 miles
away, to deal with any emergencies that require social work
The opening day of the G8 summit dawns dull and drizzly. In the
area of the Broxden roundabout in Perth numerous police vans have
been driving around throughout the night. They are not, as I first
thought, protecting McDonald’s outlets from crowbar-wielding
anarchists but have been staying in the nearby Travel Lodge, as
Jim Dean is Perth & Kinross Council’s lead officer for adult
services and is leading its G8 work. Pulling into the Travel Lodge
car park to collect me he looks relaxed. This may be because the
council has spent the past 18 months preparing its G8 plans.
The council’s office is based in Perth’s Whitefriars Crescent, an
anonymous-looking road with a vet on one side and a Majestic Wine
warehouse on the other. When Dean was appointed to his post in
April he knew he had the specific task of managing the social work
response to G8. His boss David Burke, deputy director of housing
and community care, is responsible for ensuring that the
authority’s existing social work services continue to operate as
Dean explains why the emergency social work centres have been set
up: “There may be people in Auchterarder, both on the march and
locals, who’ll have a whole host of vulnerabilities. They could
have mental health problems and become distressed by the crowds,
people with children may be arrested and their children will need
caring for and some children may have run away from home to join in
It’s time for the first of a series of conference calls so that
Dean can update Perth & Kinross Council’s chief executive on
what is happening. But Dean can’t contact anybody, phone
connections are not working.
Dean explains the rationale behind the authority’s decision to have
emergency centres at different locations.
At the centre in St Margaret’s Community Hospital in Auchterarder,
social workers will work alongside nursing colleagues to assess
people’s needs and deal with any problems immediately. However, if
their cases are more complex, then the individual is to be referred
on to the second centre at Perth Grammar School. There a team of
social workers, mental health officers and social care officers is
working with helpers from the British Red Cross and the Women’s
Royal Voluntary Service. The centres will be open for 24 hours a
day for the next few days. All staff at both locations are working
on a voluntary basis.
Just before 9am technology prevails and Dean tells the council’s
chief executive that everything is under control. Earlier in the
week the local authority’s social work clients in Auchterarder were
all assessed for vulnerabilities and extra home care staff have
been drafted in. There are 12 meals-on-wheels due to be delivered
to Auchterarder residents today.
We leave the office to drive to Auchterarder. Normally the journey
on the A9 takes 20 minutes but the police have closed the motorway,
forcing vehicles to travel through the back villages. Around
Broxden roundabout traffic is at a virtual standstill as police
stop and search vans full of protestors.
Driving through the village of Crieff, Dean points out two men who
are probably US secret service agents. They are the size of barns
and wearing charcoal grey suits. However, one is making an effort
to blend in – he is holding a Morrison’s carrier bag.
Dean receives a call on his mobile from Joyce Clark, Perth &
Kinross’s lead officer for children’s services and criminal
justice. So far 20 G8 demonstrators have been arrested and are in
police cells and 16 are ready to appear in court. At the third
police road block Dean asks an officer where we are in relation to
Auchterarder. The policeman laughs, saying he doesn’t know and that
“we are all lost together”. The officer is English, like most of
those who have been drafted in for the G8 summit.
When we finally turn into Auchterarder high street it feels
familiar, recognisable because it has been on every news programme
for the last two days. There are some Scottish nationalists wearing
kilts and waving flags and an assortment of protestors dressed in a
variety of garish outfits. Watching people mingle around are the
locals – two women are hanging out of a flat window enjoying the
spectacle. “We’ve met some lovely people,” they tell me.
Perth & Kinross Council’s G8 helpline is based in
Auchterarder Community School, as is the police’s media
headquarters. The helpline is operated by Liz Colledge, a manager
for the council’s environment services helpline, Louise Watson, an
admin support worker, and Gavin Knightly, a helpline operator.
Colledge stayed with her in-laws in the town and it took Watson and
Knightly an hour and a half to get to work instead of the usual 20
minutes because of the police road blocks. So far the helpline has
taken 70 calls this morning, making a total of 235 inquiries since
it was launched last Saturday evening. Most queries are about what
roads are open as there are reports that protestors have blocked a
Tayside Police announce the march is cancelled because of the
disruption to the road network and serious public disorder
offences. The police negotiate with the G8 Alternatives group about
what to do. There are 1,500 protestors gathered in Auchterarder’s
park waiting for the march to set off as originally planned at noon
and thousands more are on their way to join them.
Dean receives a call from the council’s home care manager. A home
help was on her way to a client when some protestors from the
Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army “jeered” at her. She was
upset and ran back to her car and reported it to the home care
manager who in turn told Dean. He sets about establishing which
clients in the town and nearby areas need home care and if the
police think it is necessary to provide escorts for the staff.
“Things are hotting up,” he says taking off his jacket. At 1.45pm
he hears that six clients need home help.
So far no one has used the emergency centre at St Margaret’s
Community Hospital or Perth Grammar School. The health
professionals at the hospital have asked the social work staff to
move to another room in case they need additional space for dealing
with physical injuries.
The police reverse the decision and allow the march in Auchterarder
to go ahead, which is just as well as 35 bus loads of protestors
have arrived in the town.
The march itself looks like a carnival except for the large banners
condemning Tony Blair and George Bush. Many of the protestors are
from the Clown Army. One member, “General Chaos”, in full clown
garb, shivers in the light rain. She explains the clowns are there
to assist the police: “Those men that are in G8 are the ones that
need protecting. We are here to help the police do that and keep
them locked away.” Her colleague, Private Party, says they are
marching to change the way people live: “We want everyone to have a
good quality of life.” Next to her is Private Hope, who adds that
the Clown Army is “projecting love, play and creativity” in an
effort to achieve this goal. They all agree the people of
Auchterarder have been very welcoming.
Anne lives on the high street and is watching the crowd from her
living room window with a friend. She doesn’t think the protest
will achieve very much: “What happens when politicians have these
Further along the march is Robert Lawrence, a Royal Mail worker
from Edinburgh. He is standing with his arms outstretched on a box
in a black sheet and hood with wires attached to his fingers. He is
recreating the infamous torture scene at Abu Ghraib prison to
remind the G8 leaders of US outrages. When the demonstration
arrives at the security fence some protestors clash with police and
Chinook helicopters are called in.
For the social work teams the day has been quiet as no one has used
the centres. Would Dean have done anything differently? He says
that he is pleased at the degree of readiness but in future he
would start discussions with health partners earlier. “Initially it
was like we were working across tram lines and it’s only in the
last few weeks it has come together.”
At Perth Grammar School, Alison Irvine, service manager for
education and children’s services, has been overseeing her team of
volunteers. She began work in her normal job at 9am and arrived at
the centre at 4pm – she will be there until midnight. Is it really
necessary for the council to provide the centres when no one is
using them? “It is about providing a mixed response to people’s
needs,” she says. At 6.15pm David Burke arrives to check on the
centre’s progress. He is pleased with the response from his staff
and the fact that normal services have been maintained.
Just as Burke is leaving to go back to his office his mobile rings.
It is Dean saying that 100 protestors are stranded in Auchterarder
because their coaches had left when the violence started. The
council offers buses to take people to Stirling and the railway
station. The emergency centres will remain open for the next 24