I do not make any great claims to be particularly knowledgeable on, or the worlds biggest fan of the work of Rabbie Burns, however I do feel very strongly about the issue of civic pride in Kilmarnock.
It irks me that we are surrounded by so much heritage which is usually ignored and sometimes even regarded as an inconvenience. To squander our cultural inheritance whilst every other town and city seems to celebrate it seems indicative of an infuriatingly low self-esteem in my hometowns collective psyche.
It was this annoyance that led me to direct the short film 'The Barred Bard' in 2003, as a way of articulating my anger, and hopefully along the way, maybe get the issue a wider audience.
A couple of issues thwarted my envisaged approach to the issue:
- I had expected the Burns enthusiasts to welcome my film with open arms, their response was actually lukewarm. Like many, they were concerned at the state of the monument, but all praised the great work that the council do by supporting the World Burns Federation, an organisation that do more to keep the work of Burns alive through the many thousands of affiliated Burns club members across the globe.
- My allocated production slot was immediately prior to the local council elections of May 2003. The issue was more politically sensitive than at any other time, and civil servants were unable to comment.
More passionate were the likes of Jessie Bryce, merely a concerned user of the park, dismayed at the general neglect of the Kay Park, and in particular at that of the monument.
Jessie has written to the council on various occasions, even organising a petition amongst her fellow park users, pleading that something be done to improve the park and the monument.
It became clear that the issue was not really about Burns, more about the widespread neglect of the parks and an ongoing campaign in the Kilmarnock Standard verified this. The monument, once splendid, now derelict, served as the perfect metaphor. It was also clear that I was not alone in feeling angry about the condition of the park and the monument.
In the finished film I tried to remain fair to the council, I referenced a recent report which conceded that some action was being discussed, however, as with my pleas, and those of many others the council remained frustratingly quiet on the issue.
Since the destruction of the monument I have pledged to correct the flaws of the original film.
I wrote an angry letter to the Standard , and whilst I do not retract any of my comments, it's clear that the council have to be part of any discussion on the monument and what happens to it now.
As a friend of the Burns Monument, I hope that in the light of what's happened and the resultant criticism, that some form of dialogue can now take place which involves the council and the many friends of the monument throughout Kilmarnock and further afield.
In some ways the fire might actually be the salvation of the monument. EAC's Bill Stafford has finally spoken in response to his critics, and the people of Kilmarnock now seem to realise what they have almost lost.
Thanks to the dedication of people like Jim Gibson & Shirley Bell (of the World Burns Federation) that the Bards work will continue to live and inspire today, it's up to the friends of the Burns Monument to help match that commitment, to restore a bit of civic pride in our town and our heritage, starting with the Burns Monument.