Hornpipes or bagpipes

How Kyle found the right focus and motivation to make him pitch perfect!.

This is the story of Kyle, a young lad from Kilmarnock, who was part of the Connect programme at Centrestage. His journey on the Rite-to-Work programme took him over many waves until he found his own tune.

It’s far too easy to make assumptions about young people who stray from the accepted and expected path through education; the ones who disengage, vote with their feet, refuse to comply. We can effortlessly imagine such rogue individuals to be feral creatures devoid of purpose, destined to roam the streets causing havoc and contributing nothing to the society whose prescription for their formative years has been found wanting. But we’d be wrong. And often enough to warrant reflection and an altered perspective. Success can quietly burgeon in discreet offshoots, away from the central branch of the norm.

Consider Kyle, referred to the Rite to Work initiative in Kilmarnock from school where he had apparently ‘struggled to maintain focus and motivation’, and had emerged largely unencumbered by formal qualifications. Was he destined to shuffle inexorably towards a shiftless existence, or was there substance and talent within that could be nurtured, shaped and pointed in the direction of success?

Consider too, Dougie, the avuncular figure who presides over the project. His considerable experience in the sector allows him to facilitate proceedings with a ready ease and confidence. Open, amicable, and tenacious, he has the tools to inspire trust and create channels of communication, not just with the young people in his charge, but also with the wider circle of their families, their schools, and the potential business mentors who might engage them. Would he be the one to ferret out the potential in this young man and nudge him along a new path of their joint creation?

Dougie saw Kyle immediately as, ‘someone who would benefit from the programme’ and set to work figuring out who he was dealing with and how he might best support him. The school had indicated that he was a chap who relished a practical challenge and that an opportunity for him to develop his confidence and life skills was what he needed to better equip him for his future, so Dougie wasn’t looking at a totally blank page. Time to get to work on rewriting the script collaboratively to unlock his potential…

Of the three in his group, Kyle presented as the quietest, but nonetheless was quick to display some fine qualities. Dougie says, ‘he had a maturity about him that the others didn’t’. This manifested itself in multifarious ways, from functional issues of timekeeping and attendance to more character-revealing conduct: he elegantly manoeuvred himself away from any mischief making the others embarked on, he demonstrated excellent manners in simple acts such as holding doors open and, when released at lunchtime to forage for food, always asked if he could get anything for anyone else. In fact, having discovered a local shop which stocked Walker’s tomato ketchup crisps and presenting himself back in class with them, he was treated to such an envious salivating reaction from Dougie (‘you just can’t get them these days!’) he started bringing him a packet unsolicited, whenever he went to that shop. And refusing the money for them. For Dougie, this was way better than the more traditional apple.

The ease with which he communicated with adults was also impressive; he had an instinctive understanding of how cultivating positive relationships and contacts can be beneficial. This became clear to Dougie early on; he thinks that it’s down to Kyle’s enthusiasm for that great Scottish phenomenon – the bagpipes. He’s been playing for years and, within the context of a group, has interacted and co-operated with adults as a matter of course. In fact, his school organised work experience had been with McCallum’s, not just a local business but the world’s favourite Great Highland Bagpipe manufacturer. An excellent choice for him and a place where he spent a happy week, so much so that when Dougie suggested doing a bit more work experience with them, he said, ‘I would go down there and work without them paying me’.

This is an area of interest that fully demonstrates more of Kyle’s extremely positive and frankly courageous attributes. He plays his bagpipes at weddings, funerals or any other event where his skills would be appreciated, and in a solitary capacity. Having quickly understood that people are unsure about what to pay him, he takes the awkwardness out of the equation himself by asking for a donation instead – an impressively canny manoeuvre that furnishes him with around a hundred quid per gig.

Dougie speaks of Kyle’s obvious determination and single-mindedness, relating an incident where Kyle, wanting to enter a worldwide bagpipe competition online, had requested the use of Centrestage’s ample premises in Kilmarnock in which to make a recording. He arrived with an entourage comprising mum, brother and bagpipe tutor. Now you might expect that an exacting tutor or a proud and hopeful mum would be the ones to push for perfection, but it was Kyle whose high standards became apparent. It was he who persevered, adjusted and revisited his piece until he felt it was good enough to submit, requesting a change of room to achieve a better sound, disagreeing with his tutor’s assurances that he’d got it right and insisting on trying again. It was he alone who decided when he’d nailed it.

All this bagpipe related talent and enthusiasm, combined with an established connection to the perfect workplace, would seem to present a very clear direction to manoeuvre in but it’s not that simple. The youthful brain in development seeks novelty, wants to explore and experiment and that is as it should be.

Kyle’s dream, right from day one, was to be a deckhand. A neighbour who worked for Calmac had talked to him about working on a ferry and fanned the flames of a nascent passion within – a life on the ocean waves. This notion had lodged itself so robustly in Kyle, he now viewed it as his ideal job. Dougie understood that supporting Kyle’s decision and facilitating his choice was necessary, not attempting to dissuade or redirect him. Actual experience after all, is a powerful learning tool.

Back on the programme, Kyle seemed very clearly to have grasped that, with Rite to Work, he was exactly in the right place. It had taken a few weeks for this to sink in, but his determination and motivation were beginning to acquire strength and focus.
Never a fan of things academic, the training element of the group activities was a touch tricky to start with; the spectre of Kyle’s rejection of classroom learning was still loitering, but with Dougie’s ability to liven up and make accessible the sort of material they were covering, coupled with his own realisation that all of this would help springboard him into his career of choice, he began to apply himself. Tests were a necessary hurdle towards achievement, and these weighed rather heavily still, but Dougie made it clear, ‘I’ll not put you forward till you’re ready.’ So, the lad who had eschewed study in the past actually went home and voluntarily did some reading to support his learning and braved the trial of mock tests more and more fearlessly.

Meanwhile, things were chugging along nicely on the nautical front. Dougie had contacted Calmac, and whilst they hadn’t got any apprenticeships starting till the winter, they pointed him in the direction of a college-based pre-apprenticeship course, the perfect formative opportunity. The course was already three weeks in when Dougie made contact, but discussion revealed that a suitably ‘mature’ candidate with the right motivation and the wind in his sails could jump right in and catch up. A speedy online application was submitted, accepted, and Kyle was primed to start the following week. They sat back and paused to consider the logistics of the thing. Rather appropriately, all things nautical happened at the college campus on the river Clyde, a fabulous venue but one that would require our budding seaman to get himself back and forth to Glasgow. This was an issue of some concern both to Kyle, who wasn’t used to travelling on his own, and to his ever-attentive mum who was in the habit of running him around everywhere.

Dougie took the matter into his own hands; he drove Kyle to Glasgow, gave him a tour of Central Station, pointing out the platform that the Kilmarnock train came in at, and then walking with him to the college site to show him the route. All bases duly covered, they went into the college for a nose and a chat with the receptionist, learning that on the Monday Kyle was due to start, the course was happening online, so life as a student deckhand would kick off gently for Kyle in the comfort of his own home. Or so he thought…

Monday morning at 9am, perky and poised at his computer, Kyle set sail on his inaugural voyage towards his dream job. By midday, he was back on dry land, mildly bruised and disorientated and watching the remnants of his plans float away. ‘It was like they were speaking another language’, he said to Dougie. Intrinsic to this ‘language’ was maths, a discipline which Kyle had categorically rejected at school. He was solid in his stance, even when Dougie, reassuring and solution-focused, suggested ways in which he could be supported to surmount this obstacle. ‘No, I’ve decided’ he said, ‘It’s just not for me’.

Fortunately, the pipes were still playing his tune at McCallum’s. When the deckhand apprenticeship was all he could see and think about, Kyle had asked Dougie if he should sever contact with them. Thankfully, the voice of experience had prevailed, options kept open, and McCallum’s duly bubbled quietly on the back burner.

Fate conspired to swiftly reposition Kyle on a more suitable trajectory. In fact, the sound of the door slamming shut on his dreams of being a deckhand barely had time to resonate before he was catapulted into his next venture. Crash and burn at college on the Monday, interview with Rory at McCallum’s on the Friday.

Dougie relates the details of the interview in tones of awe and pride. A challenging and comprehensive hour and a half where content was not just theoretical. Kyle was put through a range of practical challenges on the spot with no preparation; doing for example, ‘tricky stuff with twine’, and learning to split a narrow cane with a chisel, a not inconsiderable feat given that the last lad to attempt it had taken seven weeks to master the process. Our boy acquitted himself with aplomb, demonstrating determination, attention to detail and a focused ability to carefully follow instructions. Rory was impressed. Dougie was impressed, ‘I wish I’d recorded it!’ he says, and with some feeling.

A gloriously successful placement has now solidified into a full-time job for Kyle and he’s positively erupting with the desire to talk about it, so much have the bits of the puzzle fallen into place for him. Not just the work bit but the off-duty interaction with colleagues too; relationships are at the very core when nurturing a young person’s potential and the potent power of a bit of banter is not to be dismissed…

Business mentor Rory speaks of his protégé’s honesty and conscientiousness, his disinclination to moan or get frustrated, and his ability to figure things out for himself. It’s apparent that the maturity previously observed has given him a significant advantage here: he’s curious and wants to learn, asking questions readily when he needs to and forging fruitful relations with the expert adults who can aid him in the furthering of his career. ‘The penny has dropped for him’, Dougie says, ‘He’s now at the stage where he knows what he wants in life’.

Dougie is still hovering in the background, collaborating with Rory to try and source a formal apprenticeship, and communicating with Kyle’s mum on more pastoral issues, encouraging the lad, now with a decent income, to get driving lessons so he can take control of getting himself back and forth to work and achieve a broader sense of independence as he progresses into adulthood.

This is a tale with a genuinely happy ending. Though the journey to the right destination may have taken a disappointing turn initially, it was a necessary experience in order to emerge with a clearer vision of the right route to steer down. Thanks to the guidance of those around him and to his own determination, single-mindedness and drive to succeed, Kyle is now marching purposefully forward, playing his own unique tune.

December 2021

Written by Catherine Campbell from information provided by Dougie Morrison.