This week I attended The Gathering in Glasgow for the first time.  It’s my first time attending this free event, known as the largest free third sector event in the UK which gathers together organisations to showcase their work in the marketplace and attend workshops over two days.  The event is run by SCVO who champion the third sector inScotland and are the national membership organisation for charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises.  I’ve captured some reflections below and listed some of the organisations and resources I found at this years event here.

‘The Gathering celebrates the diversity of the third sector in Scotland’ – Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland.

Day 1

Year of Young People

The day began with breakfast with the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who was joined on stage by Amy Lee Fraioli, Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament.  In 2018 Scotland is celebrating the Year of Young People.  Amy spoke inspiringly about the passion and ambition of young people in Scotland today to support communities and volunteer for social causes.  She highlighted how young people, and adults, are not always fully aware of their rights and this needs to change to enable individuals to uphold and exercise their rights fully.

The influence of Brexit on the aspirations of young people cannot be overlooked, Amy discussed how uncertainty around Brexit is leading young people to reconsider their career goals as they are not sure if opportunities to study and work abroad will be accessible in the future.

Hearing Amy took me back to my youth where I often heard the word ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘you probably won’t be able to’ when I was exploring my career opportunities.  I hope that we arecontinually making situations better for future generations when it comes to economic and social mobility, this is certainly something policy makers should be committing to in a post Brexit era.


The First Minister called for greater collaboration within the third sector, and between the third sector and government.  This sector, she stressed, influences all aspects of Scottish Government policy.  This theme echoed throughout the day in sessions I attended which focused on volunteering and funding charities for a digital future.

Voluntary Arts Scotland ran an insightful workshop, expertly facilitated by Kathryn Welch, on the challenges and opportunities for organisations managing volunteers.  In our group we discussed the importance of communication to keep volunteers informed, and to encourage them to keep you informed.  We talk about the importance of recognising the time and effort volunteers give to support initiatives and how sharing positive updates and news can maintain motivation and commitment.

We started on a very interesting discussion about how building the capacity and investing in training for volunteers can be quite challenging for organisations especially when retention and recruitment rates are difficult to maintain. Those around the table started to talk about the value of training and investing in volunteers for the wider sector, and for the long term sustainability of volunteering as a whole.  I think this would be a topic worth exploring further in the future.

David McNeil from SCVO led a workshop which was aimed at funders to third sector initiatives which focused on funding charities for a digital future.  It was brilliant to hear open and transparent learning from John Knights at the Big Lottery Fund who talked about how the organisation is adapting to manage grant making to projects which include a digital element.  He encouraged the sector not to focus on a tech solution but to really understand the problems they are trying to solve and seek funding to explore what types of technology solutions could be a good fit to respond to these problems.

Martha Young from Comic Relief described to our group how she is enlisting the support of her digital team in reviewing and assessing grant applications.  Comic Relief recently accepted video applications as part of their grant application process so it was interesting to hear how this is going.  Martha talked about the importance of securing buy in from senior members of staff within third sector organisations to embrace the risk which comes with technology projects.

This session felt like the start of important conversations which need to be had between the third sector, funders, technology experts and end users.  More importantly it feels like the time for action, for funders to lead by example and innovate their processes and funding mechanisms to support the third sector to be bold and pioneering.


SCVO launched the ‘I Love Charity‘ campaign which comes during a stormy time for the charity sector in the UK.  I fully support the aim of this campaign to inspire trust in charities by supporting good governance within organisations to ensure they are well run, open and transparent, and to encourage charities to work harder at promoting the positive impact of their work.  As many people said during the final debate of the day ‘Do charities deserve public trust?’ – trust should be earned and is an ongoing process, not a destination you reach.  After many years working within the charity sector a key frustration for me has been lack of efficiency and difficulty in ensuring proper use of public funds.  Focusing on good governance and transparency, truly creating a culture of this within the third sector, should encourage better management and increase impact.

This, however, comes at a price and the struggle charities face to invest in staff and Trustee capacity will continue.  In this environment collaboration is key, what The Gathering is demonstrating is that organisations and individuals are willing to collaborate and share knowledge which will make for a stronger, more resilient third sector.

Day 2

10 years from now

Sally Dyson from SCVO facilitated a session on digital inclusion.  This started with a reflection on what has changed over the past 10 years.  Thoughts in the room included the way we use mobile phones nowadays, our connection to people and information and ease of communication now compared to then.

We then got together in groups to write a postcard to an organisation, person or group to inspire where we’d like to be in 10 years time.  We wrote ours to any organisation working with young people – for example Young Scot – to encourage young people to harness their enthusiasm and skills in using digital devices to share their knowledge with those who are digital isolated, for example elderly people and vulnerable groups.  I found this session so inspiring and hope to write more at length after further pondering over the weekend!

Power of Kindness

I joined the ‘Building a kinder Scotland’ session which was led by the Carnegie Trust.  Julie Unwin set the scene for the session speaking frankly about the need for kindness from the grassroots level through to policy and decision making.  This, she cautioned, will take radical change where kindness transcends the social care and voluntary sectors to become a central feature of design from architecture, urban design and technology creation.  This really resonates with The Dot Project and our approach which places empathy and a human centered approach at the centre of technology choices.

Stephen Gallagher from the Scottish Government emphasised the need to strengthen the eco-system by connecting civil society to policy making and creating meaningful and effective partnerships.  This would require championing management and leadership approaches which prioritise co-creation, staff empowerment and putting trust in teams and individuals.

This session was the most thought-provoking of The Gathering and I would have liked it to continue for much longer!  Edel Harris gave a pertinent reminder of the meaning of ‘kindness’:

The quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate and acting without expectation of reciprocity or recognition

The power of connection

Over 2800 people attended The Gathering this year and over 100 organisations exhibited in the market place.  We’re all about connecting the dots so The Gathering has been a perfect opportunity to connect with organisations and individuals who are achieving critical and needed social change.  We hope these connections lead to positive collaboration, there is huge potential in the third sector to innovate and the focus must remain on the people we exist to support.  The value of getting so many people from the third sector together at The Gathering lies in the action we see to respond to many of the challenges raised, this includes actions from policy makers, funders, third sector organisations and individuals because in the end together is better.

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