Community Development, SE & Engage - #EngageIs10 Staff Insight
Community Development, SE & Engage - #EngageIs10 Staff Insight

Community Development, SE & Engage - #EngageIs10 Staff Insight

23/04/2021 (Anniversary Post )

This week’s anniversary blog comes from the organisation’s longest serving staff member, Iain Cunningham, our Third Sector Development Officer. Iain has been with Engage since it opened its doors in 2011, but served with previous incarnations as well under different guises. All in he has been supporting Renfrewshire’s third sector for 25 years.

Those members who have worked with Iain will know he is more than happy to share a story or two from over the years, so we have let him recount his memories in his own way!

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"Prior to TSI’s being introduced in 2011 each local authority area had councils for voluntary services and volunteer centres, development trusts and other regeneration partnerships, and anchor organisations that were delivering a wide range of support across the third sector. These were mainly funded by the Scottish government, along with other external funding sources and some operated as social enterprises.

The Scottish Government announced in 2008 that all agencies should come and work together and the newly formed Engage Renfrewshire launched in April 2011.

The early years also saw the establishment of the TSI umbrella company Voluntary Action Scotland (VAS) which was based in Edinburgh. This was a culture shock to most of us as we were now attending meetings in Edinburgh on a regular basis and becoming involved in national networks which brought us together with colleagues from all over Scotland.

Virtually overnight we went from supporting geographical areas within Renfrewshire to servicing the whole of Renfrewshire as well as attending national networking events.

From the beginning of Engage’s life we began developing processes to assist with supporting Social Enterprise start-up companies. This led me to work in partnership with university lecturers, Renfrewshire Council Education Department via Community Learning and Development (CLD), and external providers SKS Scotland to developing a Social Enterprise toolkit. We’ve tweaked and developed it over the years but we still use the toolkit today and the working relationships with those agencies have also grown.

One of the first social enterprise (SE) organisations I supported in their set up was Loud’n’Proud Rock School which still operates in the town today providing music tuition, band dynamics along with recording studios. Another early SE was the Ferguslie Park based Environmental Training Team, established to tackle the area’s high unemployment rates by offering work placements to local young people, and latterly Syrian refugees, in order to gain much need transferable employment skills. Sadly, they wound up just before the pandemic struck but had a huge impact over their lifetime.

Many projects have come and gone over the years but some of the most memorable developed from our strong partnership approach. Highlights for me include developing the community planning toolkit, which would link the Community Planning Partnership’s 2023 thematic vision plan with local groups who were best placed to identify and address local needs.

The Green Spaces Initiative was another. This initiative looked at providing funding to local groups to come up with ideas to do something positive with vacant and derelict land sites.  This was supposed to be a short life initiative that ended up running for three years and has now become part of an ongoing legacy to improve parks and green spaces within Renfrewshire.

A more recent highlights have been becoming involved in the Community Benefits process, and working with Renfrewshire Council’s Procurement Team to support the distribution of contracted community benefits to appropriate SEs. This ensures that financial benefits, along with business mentoring, training, and professional support is directed to those social enterprise organisations that will benefit most from this support.  

The establishment and relaunch of the Renfrewshire Social Enterprise Network (RenSEN) was another success. The network relaunched in 2019 with our first networking event hosted by the newly formed SE Scotland’s Bravest Manufacturing Company at Erskine Hospital. The event was a great success with over 25 Local SEs turning up to hear guest speakers from Senscot Legal and Glasgow SE Network. Since then, we have held over a dozen meetings, the majority of which have been delivered via Zoom as we went digital last year.

The network continues to attract good attendance and guest speakers, and is still regarded as a valued method for local SEs to catch up with each other and share knowledge."

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You can read more from Iain about SEs in his recent blog post - What are Social Enterprises? - or follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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