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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: Lynsay Allan

This feature is about 6 years old

​Lynsay Allan, executive director of the Scottish Cot Death Trust, answers TFN's chief encounters questions

What makes a good day at work?

When I hear that a family we have supported have had some good news and something lovely has happened to them, maybe they have had another baby or just had some good fortune. It always lifts my spirits. When we have delivered a safe sleep session in the community and health visitors or midwives have said they have learned something new that will change their practice - that is always rewarding to hear.

How many hours do you normally work in a week?

Honestly, too many. Probably an average week is up to 45 hours. The past couple of years have been awfully busy preparing a large international conference which the Scottish Cot Death Trust hosted. I am embarrassed to say how many additional hours that has taken each week - but it was absolutely worth it.

​What do you procrastinate over?

So many things. I always work to a deadline. Things on the to do list get done on time but sometimes it is the 11th hour. I think I am wired this way. I don't feel I am procrastinating but I suppose I must be. ​

What turns you into the office Victor Meldrew?

I think I am pretty laid back about most things apart from when people treat running a charity like charity for themselves. We run a tight ship. When we are spending money and resources that other people have donated every penny has to be accounted for. I have had quotes for work more than double what private sector are quoted for the same work. That infuriates me. I rant when people do not realise that everything we provide has come from donations, and treat it carelessly - be that our time or resources. I'm ranting...

Is the third sector a calling or an accident?

For many it is a calling but for me it was a happy accident. I worked clinically in the NHS for 20 years before leading a project on sudden unexpected death in infancy with the then NHS Quality Improvement Scotland. It was from that job that I moved to working with the Scottish Cot Death Trust. The subject matter called to me rather than the third sector. It was a leap of faith as I wasn't sure about moving to the third sector from the NHS, but I can honestly say I have never looked back!

Lynsay Allan
Lynsay Allan

What happens during your perfect weekend?

Oh, it would be a quiet one with the family. All walking the dog and having breakfast or lunch out somewhere in Fife where I live. We have some really stunning walks - the Fife coastal path, gorgeous beaches as well as some beautiful woodland walks and parks. If my sons are at their activities, then some time at a local coffee shop with my husband (and the dog) is a treat. My husband is the cook in our family. Anything he cooks is (usually) delicious, so family mealtimes at the weekend are our together time.

What’s your favourite album?

I'm going to go for a favourite album, and one that reminds me of my youth! The Stone Roses debut album. It was a firm favourite in my teenage years and a time when my then boyfriend (now husband) and I lazed around, listening to music, dreaming of times to come.

Would we all be better off if charities did more in our society?

Yes, of course, but it is only successful when everyone is charitable. Charities can and do provide services to assist the public and private sector and we are seeing more and more commissioned services provided by third sector organisations who specialise in certain fields. In turn the charities need more volunteers to allow them to increase capacity. Maybe less of a case of charities doing more and everyone being more charitable.

You’re home, fully fed with your feet up – which comes first Eastenders or Facebook?

Neither! Quite a lot of our contact from bereaved families we support comes through Facebook, so I really try not to engage with it for pleasure (much to the frustration of Facebook friends maybe). I like to try and keep work and home separate - although it isn't always easy. Using Facebook just makes me feel in work mode. I commute 120 miles each day to and from work so early evening TV isn't really an option. If the kids are all sorted for the next day and we have time to watch TV, I'd rather watch a film or comedy show.

Is this a step on the ladder or your final destination?

When I took the job of executive director with the Scottish Cot Death Trust my drive was to bring more research activity to Scotland. There is less happening globally than there used to be, as the numbers of babies dying suddenly and unexpectedly has reduced since the early 1990s and the successful back to sleep campaign. There are still 30-40 babies dying each year in Scotland and for around half of the families, they will never be given a reason for why their healthy baby died. We still don't have answers. We have just hosted a very successful conference where lead researchers across the world were among the delegates attending. I am hoping we have an opportunity to support some important research in the next couple of years as a result of raising the charity's profile at the conference. I have always wanted to study further, and if I were to do a PhD, this area would be one I would like to remain involved in to fulfil that. I am open to new challenges, so who knows what opportunities might come along.

What do you think is the main strengths of the Scottish charity sector?

It can, in some circumstances, be relatively easy to effect change and see an impact. You can link in with other charities quite frequently which is great for collaboration. Reaching communities even across the whole country with a small charity such as the Scottish Cot Death Trust, is possible. We recently secured funding through Big Lottery to work with a theatre company and create a play exploring social isolation and disconnectedness in families after the death of a child. The play is touring Scotland and the project allowed us to engage with the very communities we support, whilst reaching a much wider audience too. That would be really tough to replicate across a larger country.

What are the big challenges facing your charity over the coming year?

This won't surprise you - funding. In this financial year, we did receive a generous donation from the Scottish Government to help bereaved parents attend our conference, however, we have no funding in place for our day to day charitable activities from government. We apply for many charitable trusts and grants and rely on donations from fundraising activities which people take part in (many of whom have been affected by the sudden unexpected death of a baby or young child). It is always a challenge but we are a lean organisation and it is relatively easy for us to respond to changing income levels, both in ramping up projects if we receive funding but also in pairing back if we receive less than we hope for. It does become more difficult each year to reach our target income each year and this coming one will be tough.

What does your dream retirement look like?

I don't really think that far ahead but it would definitely be lovely to spend more time in warm weather. Whether that is more holidays or living somewhere warmer, I don't know. I am a sun worshiper. Having more time to spend with friends without it being limited by confines of work would be great. Working in the local community, chatting to people about their routine day to day things would be satisfying. I can't imagine not being busy, but it would be fabulous to pick and choose when those busy times were.

Which Brian Cox?

The scientist Brian Cox without a doubt. I like theatre, although don't profess to being an avid theatre goer. Brian Cox though, imagine having a mind as inquiring as his. Anyone with that level of intellect and understanding of far greater things has my vote. I do know some amazingly intelligent people around the world working hard to find the answer(s) to cot death. If he came round to my house for tea, what on Earth would I ask him? I'm not sure I'd understand the answer, mind you. Maybe he has some ideas on why babies die suddenly and unexpectedly with no answer....