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Project visits in Scotland

5 June 2009

I spent Monday and Tuesday on a fascinating visit to BIG projects across Scotland.

We began in sun-drenched Aberdeen at the Aberdeen Foyer, hearing about how Lottery money has built the platform for an increasingly enterprising and influential service that not only provides supported accommodation but helps young people develop skills that help them secure work.

From the offset, the Foyer established a distinct trading arm which seems to have helped influence their ability to access different streams of money and forge productive partnerships with the council, the college and local businesses. Their dynamic Chief Executive, Ken Milroy, described a range of imaginative ventures, not always successful, as well as the challenges ahead, as the organisation grows from being a new kid on the block to a teenager with attitude.

From there, we visited the Community Foods Initiatives North East, to whom we awarded £517,000 in July 2007. CFINE will be working with over 100 local organisations to give deprived communities access to a supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. They are engaging volunteers and staff from difficult backgrounds to give them employment appointments that would not otherwise be available. We met one young man for whom the experience had already been life changing.

From Aberdeen, we headed for Forfar and the Angus Credit Union. In June 2007 BIG awarded around £250,000 to establish a source of savings and loans to local people. Evidence had shown debt to be a significant issue with many people vulnerable to doorstep lenders and credit at punishing payback rates. The Credit Union is helping develop the habit of saving and educating people about managing their money. Interestingly, some residents of Angus have withdrawn significant sums from major banks, preferring to invest them in a locally-rooted organisation in whom they have deeper trust.

Following a dinner with the Scotland Government’s Permanent Secretary, Sir John Elridge, Tuesday began with a presentation on the City of Edinburgh Council’s Growing Confidence project. The impressive and committed project leader, Pattie Santelices, was joined by a primary head teacher to describe their effort to increase confidence in understanding the importance of emotional health and well being.

Around £1 million of BIG money is being invested alongside cash from the Council and support from Standard Life to help develop activities and skills among children, parents, school staff and the wider community. These that mean more people are better able to understand and cope with loss, change, grief or the impact feeling can otherwise have on their ability to learn and enjoy life. It was an encouragingly integrated approach and left me wondering whether we might draw from the Edinburgh experience a diagnostic which other authorities might use to test how well they measure up against each dimension of support and understanding of mental health issues.

From Edinburgh it was off to Glasgow for a host of equally fascinating discussions with BIG staff, but that’s another story …

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