Warm tributes to a true stalwart of Aberdeen education

We all I am sure have memories of particular teachers who have touched our lives and made a lasting impact.

In the case of Charlie Crow, that positive influence spanned generations.

The news of Charlie’s passing last week was met with great sadness throughout the city – but with wonderful warmth from those who remember not only an excellent teacher but a fantastic role model.

Charlie was honoured in 2017 by Aberdeen City Council for 50 years service to education in the city  and only retired this year from supply teaching. In that notable career he was a popular teacher at Powis Academy and, for 30 years, Harlaw Academy.

The wave of tributes were front page news last week and have poured in from all over the city and across the world.

David Innes, Head Teacher at Harlaw Academy, knew Charlie well and I know he and his staff have been deeply affected by the loss – but uplifted by the lovely memories that have been shared.

David passed on the following note, which paints a picture of the response:

On hearing the news the school posted a tweet saying “All at Harlaw Academy wish to express our deepest condolences to his family.  It will be a devastating loss, Charlie was a genuine and selfless character who enriched the lives of thousands of people in our community”.

Within minutes someone came back to say “He taught my dad at Powis, then my brother and myself at Harlaw.  His passion was unrivalled and his classes were entertaining and interesting”.  These sentiments will be echoed in many parts of Aberdeen by people who will have a real connection to Charlie. 

He had a genuine interest in people and a deep desire to help others.  Pupils and parents knew they could go to him, be listened to and get support.  He was held in very high regard both as a subject teacher and as a guidance teacher. 

He ran discos both in the school and for good causes in the local community and he got involved in other aspects of life beyond the classroom all to provide youngsters with enjoyment and opportunities they may not otherwise have had.

A colleague who worked with him said “Charlie always put people at the centre of what he did. Pupils knew he was doing things for them. He thrived in seeing the potential in young people and was excited about this future for them”.

He had an optimistic outlook on life and was optimistic for the people he worked with.  There will be many people who will feel they would not have got to where they are today had it not been for the confidence Charlie had shown in them and the support he was prepared to give to them.

We feel a very deep sense of loss but hope his family draw comfort from knowing the very real difference he made to so many people and the positive impact he has had in the community.

Those lovely words from David and those that have come from family, friends, former pupils and everyone who encountered Charlie go some way to expressing the legacy of a lifetime devoted to helping pupils fulfil their potential.

On behalf of Aberdeen City Council, my condolences go to Charlie’s family and to the many people who have been touched by the terribly sad news.

Aberdeen takes centre stage in awards season

You would be forgiven for thinking October is a quieter month with the school holidays bringing leave for many colleagues – but it has been one of the busiest periods I can remember when it comes to well-deserved recognition for staff and teams throughout the Council.

The most recent came at the weekend when Aberdeen was crowned best city in the RHS Britain in Bloom awards, having collected a Gold Medal and won the Growing Communities award for partnership work with schools and communities.

It’s fitting for Steven Shaw and his incredibly dedicated team, not to mention the volunteer groups they work so closely with all over Aberdeen to keep the city’s greenspaces and displays in pristine condition, that their efforts have once again been rewarded by judges. It’s a massive achievement for Aberdeen and one we can all take great pride in.

Karen Gellatly from Steven’s team was also a finalist in the horticulture apprentice of the year category at the APSE awards, which took place in Nottingham earlier in the month.

It was fantastic for Karen to reach the shortlist, with Aberdeen also represented by the facilities team in the Best Service Team in FM and Building Cleaning category. It’s the third consecutive year that Rose Turner and her team have been on the big stage, winning in 2016, and that’s a real feat given the number of organisations involved in the APSEs.

Closer to home, at Aberdeen’s Sports Awards there was more success to celebrate as the Food and Fun programme – providing free meals and activities for children in key areas during school holidays – was named Community Sports Project of the Year. Congratulations to the Council teams who have been driving this initiative and to the partners who have supported a great collaboration to make a real difference to the lives of young people.

The spotlight will continue to shine on the Council in November at the Tenant Participation Advisory Service awards, with Aberdeen shortlisted for three different awards: Tenant of the Year (Pearl Smart); Tenant Group of the Year (Powis Tenant and Resident Group); Best Practice in Reporting Performance Award.

There’s also the opportunity for a fourth award through our involvement in North East Tenants and Landlords Together, which is nominated in the Involving Customers in Services category. There has already been great recognition for the hard work being done by officers and tenants and this is another endorsement of the approach.

The annual Quality Improvement Awards also take place in November and we are finalists in two categories – Top Team and Excellence for QI in Early Years. Having been shortlisted last year, it’s another fantastic achievement for Sacha Will and the team.

Congratulations to all who have represented Aberdeen City Council so well and good luck to everyone involved in the forthcoming awards.

Building digital leadership throughout the Council

Following on from my recent post on the roll-out of Office 365, the latest step on the Council’s digital journey brought managers from across our functions together for a valuable event with a focus on digital leadership.

The session was designed to provide food for thought as we continue to build the Council of the future and complements work that’s being done by Chief Officers across every function and cluster to shine a light on opportunities to embrace the art of the possible.

My thanks go to the recently formed digital design team for their hard work and energy in hosting this event and others on the same theme in recent weeks.

With guests from the University of Aberdeen and input from other specialists from inside and outside the organisation, everything from Artificial Intelligence, big data and automation to smart technology that could help us tell when a particular street or stretch of pavement needs treated in winter weather was covered.

Digitalisation is already improving service for our customers and helping us to work more efficiently – but we’ve only just scratched the surface.

The roll-out of end to end online application forms, for example, is something we are able to get on and do now, but the really interesting and exciting applications of technology are several levels above that.

Most haven’t been invented yet. Some are incredibly complex. The best ideas are likely to be very simple.

If 20 years ago someone had said you would be able to carry your entire music collection around in your pocket or order supermarket shopping while sitting on a bus, you would have raised an eyebrow. Music streaming, online shopping and all the other advances smart technology has brought are just part of life now and we want to harness the local government equivalents of these complex but simple solutions to make life better for residents, businesses and staff.

All of us are on a very steep learning curve but I’ve been really encouraged by the positivity I’ve seen. The pace is already building and I’m keen to see that ramp up even further.

Our digital future will be shaped by the ideas and creativity of our workforce and the beauty is there are opportunities in every part of the business to contribute. If you haven’t been involved already, I’m sure you soon will be.

The taster session that took place for managers in recent weeks came with an ask that the knowledge and information that is building in the Council is shared, discussed and used as a catalyst for digital innovation.

Wherever you work and in whatever your role, give thought to how technology can make a difference to the customers you serve and to you and your colleagues as you go about your duties.

Organisational Development appointment completes leadership team

I’m delighted to confirm the appointment of Isla Newcombe to the role of Chief Officer for Organisational Development.

Isla, who will join the Council from her current position of Organisational Development Manager with Northumbria University in early November, brings a depth of knowledge and skills to this important post and I look forward to working with her.

The appointment brings to a close the successful recruitment process for the senior leadership team, with a talented and dedicated group of Directors and Chief Officers in place to drive the organisation forward with your support.

That support is very much appreciated and vital as we continue the transformation of the organisation in the weeks and months ahead.

Momentum builds with Office 365 roll-out

Over the summer I introduced the next phase of the Council’s digital journey and last month touched on the new HR and payroll.

There are many more digital projects in various stages of development and I’ll continue to post updates at regular intervals.

A key focus at present is the roll-out of Office 365, which will touch all areas of the organisation.

In short, Office 365 is Microsoft’s toolbox for the digital age – containing applications we all reach for on a daily basis with additions that will be new to many within Aberdeen City Council, myself included.

We use Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint as second nature. I’m confident OneNote, OneDrive, SharePoint and other applications will be used in just the same way throughout the Council very soon.

The tools are there to help us work more efficiently and already I’m seeing Office 365 being put to good use, which is really heartening.

With your support, what are pockets of good practice now will quickly expand.

Of course all new technology relies on knowledge and understanding to get the best out of it and demonstration sessions have been launched, with the first taking place next week. The take-up has been excellent, with the Marischal College dates already booked up. Please check back on the page for new dates as they’re added if you haven’t managed to secure a slot.

A dedicated Office 365 portal has been set up to support online learning – with lots of helpful guides and tuition videos to bring the information to life.

Learning more about the potential of Office 365 is important and we’re fortunate to have experts on hand to guide us – but just as we’ve all come to understand the capabilities of Word and Excel over the years, the key to becoming comfortable with the new applications is in using them day to day.

I’ve found OneDrive and OneNote particularly useful in my day to day work and the feedback has been great.

OneDrive, for example, will eventually replace the B Drive for Council users. As well as providing a cloud-based storage solution, which reduces hardware requirements, there are some brilliant features that make it invaluable.

Being able to work on a document at the same time as multiple users saves time (and frustration) and really encourages the collaborative approach that underpins everything we strive to be as an organisation.

The safety net of built-in version control is also fantastic in our environment, where governance is so crucial, and auto-save prevents that sinking feeling we’ve all had when time and energy spent working on a document is wasted by an untimely crash … or forgetting to save.

The features sound so simple – and they are. That’s the beauty of technology at its best.

I’m encouraging everyone to embrace Office 365 and to explore the opportunities it presents to help you in your role. If you’re already using it, please share your knowledge and experiences with team members. The ball’s rolling and we all have a part to play in building momentum.

Beautiful Aberdeen continues to shine

Congratulations to our own Council teams and the hard-working community groups who continue to put Aberdeen’s name up in lights through the Keep Scotland Beautiful Awards.

There were no fewer than eight prizes at last week’s national ceremony for local organisations and projects, with Powis winning a gold medal and the Residential Community Trophy. Aberdeen Inspired won a silver gilt medal as well as the David Welch Memorial Award while Culter, Bucksburn and Cove claimed silver gilt medals. Cove also won the Garden for Life Biodiversity Award to complete the honours.

There is  a huge amount of preparation and year-round work involved in keeping all of our public spaces at the award-winning levels we know and love, with partnerships between the Council and the community so important.

Well done to all involved and good luck to those driving our involvement in the Britain in Bloom awards – here’s hoping for continued success.

Staying on the theme of collaboration, it’s well worth highlighting a project Trading Standards officers in the city and Shire have been involved in over recent weeks. The campaign, under the #notafavour banner, was delivered with North East Scotland College to underline the important message that any adult buying tobacco for under-age youngsters is playing a harmful role.

A lot of effort went in to the joined-up approach, which brought not only the College and students on board but also retailers, and it was a great team effort.

We’re surrounded by colleagues determined to give young people the best possible start in life – and the sign-up rate for the appeal that went out for Council staff to become Career Ready mentors is a brilliant example of that.

I joined the list and I’m pleased to say that a total of 20 have registered. We have all committed to helping school leavers prepare for their next steps in the world of work and I look forward to bringing further updates on what’s a very valuable scheme.

On a final note, I’m keen to promote dates looming in the Council diary.

The health and wellbeing sessions taking place throughout September continue this week. Colleagues have organised a number of Pitstops and workshops across a broad range of topics, ranging from tomorrow’s mental health and wellbeing focus and Thursday’s spinal care event to regular Tai Chi and chair-based yoga sessions.

Later in the month, the CFINE pop-up stall that proved popular in August will return. It’s a great opportunity to shop for fresh fruit and vegetables whilst supporting the work done by a valued charity partner. CFINE will be back on the lower ground floor at Marischal College from 12-2pm on September 25, with pre-orders also being taken. I know your support is very much appreciated.

A note of congratulations and thanks

It was one of the biggest weekends on Aberdeen’s calendar and it’s safe to say the city passed the test with flying colours.

Celebrate Aberdeen weekend and the staging of the Simplyhealth Great Aberdeen Run are fantastic adverts for the area and on Saturday and Sunday brought thousands of people together from near and far.

As well as wonderful occasions, both events are also significant logistical challenges for the many and varied Council teams involved in the planning and delivery of them.

A huge well done and thanks to everyone who played a part – from the City Events team and roads colleagues to the environment team and all in between. It’s a great example of cross-function working and the organisers of both events I know are hugely impressed by Aberdeen City Council’s significant contribution.

Staying on the theme of congratulations, I’m delighted to report that we can now boast the Scottish School Crossing Patroller of the Year. Peggy Ferries was rewarded for her dedication to her role at the Assist FM Awards in Glasgow last week.

It’s the second time in recent years that one of Aberdeen’s patrollers has been recognised, with Pearl Rendall winning in 2015.

We had three other finalists at the same ceremony, with John Mackland nominated for the School Janitor of the Year, the Harlaw Academy cleaning team for the FM Team of the Year and Diane Clark, the cook in charge at Westpark School, on the shortlist for a special recognition award.  We are very proud of all of the finalists, in the face of competition from all 32 Scottish local authorities.

There was good news too for the People and Organisation cluster, with confirmation of Investors in People Gold status. A power of work went in to gaining the accreditation, which reflects on the Council’s commitment to being the best employer it can be. People are the most valuable asset we have and Investors in People recognition is a very valuable endorsement.

To round-off the good news stories, the Strategic Place Planning cluster can take a bow after all of their efforts came to fruition with the agreement last week of the content of the proposed Strategic Development Plan for the city region by the Strategic Development Planning Authority. This will now go forward for ratification at full Council.

It is an incredibly complex piece of work, in conjunction with Aberdeenshire Council colleagues, but in simple terms is vital to the long term vision for the region. It shapes the future of the area and will support us in realising our ambitions for a prosperous Aberdeen City Region. The progress is a great credit to all involved and you will be hearing much more about the SDP in the weeks and months ahead – with a positive impact on all areas of Council operations.

Recruitment update: Chief Education Officer appointed

I’m delighted to provide a further update on recruitment and confirm that Eleanor Sheppard has been appointed to the role of Chief Education Officer. Eleanor will take up her new role on 1 September 2018.

Together with Graeme Simpson, in his role as Chief Officer of Integrated Children’s and Family Services, this post will be key in delivering on behalf of Aberdeen’s young people. Eleanor has demonstrated the knowledge, skills and energy she will bring to the role.

Recruitment for the post of Chief Officer for Organisational Development is ongoing and I will provide an update at the earliest opportunity.

New term, new schools and new projects to embrace

The start of the new school year and the end of the Council’s summer recess always feels like the official end of the holiday period – and the start of the next wave of exciting projects.

As we all look forward to what’s ahead, a warm welcome back to those of you who are settling back in after leave and a huge thanks to the efforts of everyone over the past few months for maintaining our services over the summer. There’s never a quiet period in the life of a busy city council and summer is no exception.

It has been particularly hectic for staff in the Children’s and Integrated Services function as the final preparations for the opening of Lochside Academy and Stoneywood School were made.

Both schools showcase the very best in modern education and an enormous amount of commitment, innovation and sheer effort has gone in to realising the vision for these sites.

Of course, the head teachers and staff at both will be quick to point out that the hard work will keep on flowing as the buildings spring to life with the start of the new term.

Congratulations to all involved in the projects and the very best wishes to the pupils and staff as they embrace a new era.

In the Town House, the focus is on the next committee cycle and a packed diary of meetings for the weeks ahead is in place.

Another productive period is in store and I’ll continue to bring regular updates on projects, achievements and Council news through my blog.

Competitors flying the flag for the Council

It’s great to see the Council staff who have signed up for the Simplyhealth Great Aberdeen Run in the spotlight – can I pass on my thanks to all who will be lining up for the half marathon and 10k races.

Everyone’s motivation is different. I know we’ve got some serious athletes in our midst who will relish the competition, others are embracing the wellbeing benefits of getting active and many are taking on charity fundraising challenges. Hats off to all who are giving it a go.

The run showed last year that it brings together people from far and near, whether international visitors sampling Aberdeen for the first time or residents and staff alike who come together on what promises to once again be a great day out.

Good luck to our ACC runners and the thousands who will be testing themselves on the courses on August 26.

Staying with a sporting theme, congratulations to Bon Accord Bowling Association on reaching the final of the Andrew Hamilton Trophy in Ayr.

Andrew Hamilton became only the second Secretary of the Scottish Bowling Association, in 1895, and the trophy has become one of the most sought after in the game.

The team, already crowned the North Section winners, lost narrowly to West Lothian Bowling Association in a hard-fought match. The squad, which has strong representation from Aberdeen City Council, has had a fantastic season – well done to all involved.