It wasn’t so long ago I wrote about preparing for an interview and a new job. A little over two months, in fact. But here I am, ready to start again. I have been offered the most wonderful opportunity to make a big difference to communities in Dundee and I am really excited about taking it. I am going to work for Circle Scotland CIC, or more informally, The Circle.
The Circle is a social enterprise starting up in Dundee. With a supremely talented board led by CEO, Kirsty Thomson of Along Came Kirsty, The Circle has big plans to transform the way the city does business. The Circle will be a hub for charities, social enterprises and businesses. A supportive environment with a membership community, training and an events programme; this is where grass root ideas that will transform our city will come from. The Circle will become an incubator of social change and community-minded enterprise.
The Circle will be situated in Dewar House on Staffa Place. In the north of Dundee, this former engine of employability skills run by the Claverhouse Group has a few tenants using offices there. The remainder of the enormous building is vacant and Kirsty has a plan to transform it to a vibrant and busy haven of organisations making things happen in the city. Not to forget the past of the building as a place where people could find support and training in finding work, there is a focus on providing employability opportunities.
My own motivation in getting behind this project lies in uniting what I see as a city of two halves that do not come together enough. Half of the city is families under pressure to make ends meet. Families have many financial challenges but the rising cost of living, welfare reforms and unemployment in the city are high on the list of concerns. That’s before we consider the uncertainty that Brexit and parliamentary leadership battles brings to business and the economy. Holiday clubs are being run in the city because some parents of children receiving free school meals, including breakfast clubs and lunches, will struggle to find money to pay for the extra meals during school holidays. A weekly picnic in the east end of Dundee is provided for this very purpose.
Meanwhile, we are seeing a spectacular change to the city’s Waterfront, a V&A Museum is rising out of the river and we are celebrating achievements such as the UNESCO City of Design and the many accolades our universities receive. Dundee is a city going places and it has real potential to be a European star. I truly believe in Dundee.
My favourite thing about Dundee though, is its people. We are a city with a proud past of social reformers, such as Mary Lily Walker and Mary Slessor. We are a city built on the hard work of women (not to mention children, that wasn’t a great moment) powering jute mills. A city where women founded an academic institution and insisted they get a seat in the lecture theatre. We are a city that has a strong social conscience. All too often it is the people with the least that give the most. Ask any collection tin shaker which parts of the city they do best in. Dundee is a friendly city that cares. The phrase ‘they’d gie their last’ coins it brilliantly. Last week a city pensioner gave the Queen gifts for her great-grandchildren. Some people mocked that lady for the ‘bargain toys’ presented in a carrier bag but for me it sums the Dundee attitude up brilliantly. A person who saw the Royal visitor, not as a title, but with empathy as a grandmother and great-grandmother. To make her feel welcome. To be thoughtful.
Events like the Oor Wullie Bucket Trail are a brilliant start. Free. Accessible across the whole city. Promoting many artists based in Dundee. Celebrating our cartoon and cultural heritage. It’s raising money for charity but it is also putting a smile on everyone’s faces. It’s an example of what is possible with creativity, collaboration and community.
Also working collaboratively and creatively are service designers in the community. Using the city’s design skills as a way to improve clinical, education and social services with the people who use them at the heart of the approach, these designers can improve the way organisations work significantly.
Let’s do more of that. Let’s have more fun. Let’s make change happen in small meaningful ways until we have transformed a city, so that all our children can have lunch during the summer holidays and go on to join the line of people who have achieved great things for the city.