Bridges are important.

And Scots build ones that last.

Possibly the most famous bridge builder in Scottish history was Thomas Telford who in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century made it possible for people in large parts of Scotland to travel from one place to another with a degree of ease not previously known.

Following in his very considerable footsteps was Sir William Arrol. Born just 5 years after Telford’s death Arrol would become one of the great Scots of the Victorian era. My father worked most of his life in Dalmarnock, Glasgow for the firm built on the skill and enterprise of this engineering genius.

The-Clydesdale-Banks-plas-011Sir William Arrol & Co. (Bridgebuilders) was responsible for the ground breaking Tay and Forth Rail Bridges at the end of the nineteenth century. One of their last projects as an independent company was the Forth Road Bridge completed in 1964. Sadly the factory and the firm are no longer around to help with the third bridge currently being constructed over the river. However, Sir William’s portrait can thankfully still be seen on the new £5 plastic note issued by the Clydesdale Bank and a little bit of his remarkable life is commemorated in the People’s Palace in Glasgow.

For me there are significant lessons to learn from the bridges around us about the connecting of people and the potential to change lives and stories. Relational bridges have the potential to encourage and strengthen individuals and families through the bringing of opportunities and new beginnings.

As someone who wants to put my faith into action but far too often gets drawn into making less challenging life choices I was grateful for the timely reminder from Pope Francis when he spoke out during his recent visit to the U.S.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

In my experience building these kind of bridges calls for a number of important foundations to be in place.

  • It takes vision to see a bridge where none exists and so begin the adventure.
  • It takes courage to build something when others don’t or won’t see the need for making a difference.
  • It takes wisdom to walk in partnership with others so that best outcomes are achieved.
  • It takes faith to believe it can happen in spite of the risks, the costs and the criticism that will inevitably come your way.
  • And it takes an ongoing commitment to maintain the bridge once it is built so that it continues to fulfil its function bringing security, peace of mind and hope where there isn’t any present

So here’s the thing –
I will never be a Thomas Telford or a William Arrol but I figure I can still build bridges that matter. Indeed with an epidemic of loneliness and increasing financial and educational inequality in every community it may well be that some of the most important bridges in Scotland are yet to be built. Anyone want to help?

Ken Brown – Chair of Trustees