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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Chief Encounters: Claire Stevens of Voluntary Health Scotland on delivering lasting social change

This feature is about 8 years old

Claire Stevens of Voluntary Health Scotland (VHS) talks the importance of boards, why mergers are right for some organisations and her aversion of all things Brian

What is your morning routine?
Shouting at the radio whilst in the shower, there’s usually something (or someone) on Good Morning Scotland to get me in a lather.

How did you end up in your job?
After a three year stint with the Scottish Government GIRFEC team I was looking for a new challenge back in the third sector and at a national level.

Why do you work in the third sector?
Because it’s the most creative, energising, collaborative and rewarding place to be making a difference.

What are you working on just now?
Our annual review, AGM and annual symposium on “Health, Wellbeing and Your Brain”, recruiting new people for our staff team, working with the board and staff to develop an exciting new look for VHS to go with our new three year strategy, thinking ahead to publishing and promoting both our research into the third sector contribution to tackling health inequalities and the outcomes of our Learning to Lead in Health and Digital Inclusion for Health projects.

VHS is able to punch above its weight in amplifying the voice of voluntary health organisations, because we focus on the areas where we know our voice adds value

What do you procrastinate over?
​The ironing and my Spanish homework.

Is this a step on the rung to success or your final destination?
I’m not a climber, more of a dancer on the shifting carpet.

Is it better to work for a big charity or a small charity?
Size is irrelevant, it’s what they do and how they do it that counts. I have over 25 years of experience within both large and small charities and they have different kinds of rewards and challenges. VHS is able to punch above its weight in amplifying the voice of voluntary health organisations, because we focus on the areas where we know our voice adds value, such as health inequalities, and because our approach is strongly collaborative, supporting our members to connect with new ideas, resources and potential partners across all sectors.

Are boards the strength of the third sector or a thorn in its side?
Boards play a pivotal part in both maximising the impact of an organisation and ensuring it is accountable, so striving for good governance is part and parcel of life in the third sector.

Should organisations working in similar fields merge together?
Our sector is characterised by an enormous diversity of approach and considerable reach across and into society. It is hard-wired to respond, adapt and innovate wherever new or distinctive needs are identified. Mergers will be the right response for some organisations at the right time and with the right partners.

Would we all be better off if charities did more in our society?
Charities, voluntary and community organisations and enterprises deliver positive and lasting social change, and should be recognised as essential levers to a thriving civil society as well as a caring one. Just take the challenges posed by our rapidly changing demographics, the ever-widening gap in inequalities in wealth and health, the public appetite for democratic renewal, and an all too slow shift towards preventative approaches to society’s biggest issues. Then assume we now have some consensus that individuals and communities need greater involvement in shaping public services and improving societal well-being, and there is a cast iron case for our sector stepping up to the plate to do (even) more. But we don’t have the monopoly of good works, and we will have the greatest impact finding solutions with and alongside colleagues across all sectors.

Have you got thoughts on what you will do when you retire?
I’m hoping the tiny pension I will have earned after a lifetime in the third sector will stretch to buying more pencils, paint and paper so I can unleash my full artistic potential on an unsuspecting world.

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
None, she’d be very unlikely to listen to it.

Brian Denis Cox or Brian Edward Cox?
If you had been forced to listen to the whole of ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ whilst trapped for several hours in a traffic jam on the A7 as I once was, you would share my pathological aversion to anything in the Brian department.



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