Dear members and friends,
In the early 1970s, while attending Powderhall greyhound track, one of the ‘bookies’ asked me to help Sandy, an old guy sleeping rough in Edinburgh; that involvement was my introduction to Pilmar Smith who died on the 20th November, aged 87. Pilmar was a well-known Edinburgh bookmaker, but his passions – where he made his impact – were the Scottish Labour Party and Heart of Midlothian FC. I didn’t see enough of him to count myself as a close friend – but whenever we met I was again immediately attracted to his personal values of tolerance, generosity and justice. I think this attraction was true for everyone he met – millionaire or rough sleeper – because he had amazing contacts – equally among the powerful and powerless. Hundreds attended his funeral.
My cousin has a restaurant in North Berwick called Zittos; Pilmar had his own seat at the bar, where most days at 6pm, he ‘held court’ among many friends – that’s where we last chatted. He said, without drama, that his cancer had returned – that treatment had ended – that he wouldn’t live long. In spite of the grim news, I remember thinking that he looked really well – that with the elderly –‘who a person is’ can shine through the lined and gnarly face: “That must be what the great artists see and paint; why the tired, aged faces in Rembrandt’s portraits give us such delight; they show us beauty not skin-deep but life-deep”. In his unassuming way, Pilmar was one of the most ‘life-deep’ people I’ve known.
I watch Andrew Marr on Sundays – for weekly updates on Brexit chaos. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the company of Delia Smith (6-minute interview) who I’ve not seen since her candid, no nonsense cookery shows. She’s passionate about holding a new ‘citizens vote’ – a straight ‘leave or remain’ choice – now that we’ve all got more idea what’s at stake. She retains that common-sense honesty, absent in politicians. I also agree, this week, with Matthew d’Ancona’s call for more honest acknowledgment that the primary driver of Brexit has always been control of immigration – whether motivated by prudent consideration or plain bigotry. 100 years ago, my family were economic immigrants from rural Italy; I feel passionate about Scotland remaining in a Europe with open borders.
I hate the way our society is normalising a decline towards Victorian-style charity: I don’t leave food at the supermarket collection point for distribution to the poor; I rarely give money to street beggars; I think it’s disrespectful to pretend you’re homeless for one night – to ‘sleep in the park’. At the same time, I know that these are spontaneous acts of kindness by ordinary people – and my cold criticism makes me uncomfortable. Bruce Forbes, Director of Angus Housing Association (in a personal capacity) has written a critique of the ‘sleep out’ phenomenon expressing views similar to mine: that co-ordinated philanthropy distracts from the core problem of our society – the obscene gap between rich and poor.
It is unfortunate that the Scottish Govt’s draft Budget will be announced this Wednesday – the day after the big Commons Brexit vote. (Overview) Health/Social Care, Education, Local Govt services – are all deteriorating; I can’t remember ever being so aware of under-funding. Scotland’s front-line third sector is expressing mounting alarm about families in absolute poverty – without food and heat; the promise of a special fund – in 2022!! – is not good enough; there’s crisis out there right now. Good piece by Emma Congreve of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – outlining specific measures available to Derek Mackay if poverty is to be a priority of this Budget.
For many years, I’ve enjoyed the wisdom of the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. Since a severe brain haemorrhage in 2014, he has been unable to speak; now a press release informs that, aged 92, he has returned to his native land, Vietnam, to live his remaining days.
“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not
doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have
problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.”
The third SE Ref Sub-Group took place yesterday in Perth. The intention of this Group is to bring together membership-led organisations and front-line social enterprises to consider progress of the SE Action Plan – and provide feedback on areas that could/should be improved upon – and identify other gaps that exist. The Govt’s own Reference Group – for statutory agencies and support organisations – carried out a SWOT analysis of strengths/weaknesses etc. Our SE Ref Sub-Group carried out a similar exercise. Some of the key issues to emerge included – resources for local SENs as per the Govt’s commitments in the Action Plan; transparency issues re application and decision-making processes around what is funded and who delivers it – with a strong feeling that frontline SEs need to be at the heart of all actions; and that these ‘actions’ need to be better communicated to intended beneficiaries. Together, the findings of both SWOT analyses will be added to the Govt’s draft Highlight Report – with final version due for publication early in the new year.
Keep up to date with the latest jobs, events and funding opportunities in the social enterprise sector.
Since April 2017, Senscot has produced 12 Briefings. The intention of these Briefings has been to highlight the contribution locally-based social enterprises make – either in specific policy areas and/or within particular communities. The most recent Briefing gives an overview of the background and current activity of Local SENs. You can see all previous Briefings here.
Senscot, this week, attended a celebration event to mark the end of Glasgow Caley’s CommonHealth Programme – a five-year research project to develop ways of measuring the impact of SEs on the health and wellbeing of individuals and local communities. It has involved over 30 community-based social enterprises from across Scotland as well as five academic institutions. The Programme has been significant in providing important, evidence-based research highlighting the important health and wellbeing contributions of SEs both to Govt and policy makers – and, it is hoped, give them the confidence to support the further evolution and development of the SE sector in delivering these vital services. See CommonHealth Briefings.
NHS Health Scotland has produced a new Briefing on Food Poverty. The report is wide-ranging but key messages focus on: food poverty being preventable; the socio-economic and environmental context in which people live; the social impacts as well as negative health and economic outcomes; and that food bank usage is just one aspect of food poverty – and does not reflect the nature and scale of the problem. As with an increasing number of reports from Govt/statutory bodies, it highlights the contribution that social enterprise/third sector orgs are making in local communities across Scotland – that requires further investment.
This week’s bulletin profiles a Glasgow-based social enterprise that has set up a musical instrument and equipment library to serve communities across the city – with over 300 instruments available for hire. Music Broth believes that musical instruments and equipment should be accessible to anyone as and when needed – and that everyone has the right to learn to play an instrument. They are keen to provide opportunities for people to develop a life-long skill – which is more achievable if the resources are readily available within the community. In the coming years Music Broth plans to develop its own music-based programmes in association with partner organisations – to get more people engaged in music-based activities within the community.