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Elliot awarded for outstanding role in public life

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​Scottish Public Service Award for former SCVO convener

The first female moderator of the Church of Scotland and a former convener of Scotland’s national third sector support body is to receive one of the country’s highest honours for public life.

Dr Alison Elliot OBE is already one of the most decorated people in Scotland and has now become the third person ever to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Scottish Public Service Awards

The church elder and academic made history when she became the first woman to serve as Church of Scotland moderator in 2004-5. She was also the first Church of Scotland elder to hold the post since 1567.

I know at the time it was inspirational for a lot of women because many of them told me so. That was a highlight of my life

Elliot has played a wide and varied role in public life, having also chaired the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Group and served as convenor of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) for six years from 2007 to 2013. During that time she sat on the influential Christie Commission into the future of public services.

The award was presented to Elliot in a ceremony held on Monday evening in the Scottish Parliament.

Created in 2014 through a partnership of the parliament, the Scottish Government and Holyrood magazine, the awards recognise excellence in our public life.

Elliot will be just the third person to receive the Lifetime Achievement award (following Sir Harry Burns and Sir Neil McIntosh, also a former SCVO convenor).

The Bathgate Academy graduate who became the first-ever woman Moderator – and the first Church of Scotland elder to hold the post since 1567 – says she feels lucky and grateful.

“I think the award itself will be one of the things I am most proud of because it is for public service,” she said.

“That is really the heart of what I’ve been trying to do for the last 30 years and I feel hugely privileged to have found myself in positions where I can exercise that.

“And I’ve been very lucky with the family and with my husband who has been fantastic all these years.

The award is also, she says cheerfully, “a bit premature, I hope”.

Elliot, 68, already has five honorary degrees and an OBE. As associate director at the Centre for Theology and Public Issues in Edinburgh University’s School of Divinity, she has been at the forefront of Scottish civic life.

The centre has been credited with bringing together people from higher education, government and the third sector to shape public policy through a theological lens.

Speaking of her time as moderator, Elliot said: “That year was one like no other most certainly,” she says. “I know at the time it was inspirational for a lot of women because many of them told me so. That was a highlight of my life.”

At the moment Elliot is enjoying a break from full-time work, having time to read novels and cook in the newly renovated kitchen of the Edinburgh home she shares with her husband Jo.

She often visits London where her son, Johnny, works for the Bank of England, and daughter, Christina, is a producer with a dance company.

“Our grandson Jamie, who is 15 months old, is the main person in my life. He’s just about walking so we’ll have to get our skates on to keep up with him,” she says.

Martin Sime, chief executive of SCVO, worked closely with Elliot throughout her time as convenor of the organisation.

He congratulated her on this latest award and said: "Alison is an inspirational figure to so many people and good causes in Scotland, always willing to listen and support.

"She helped put the third sector front and centre in the Christie Commission and has caused many of us to redefine what we mean by leadership".