Sleep in the Park puts homelessness in focus

As a Council we deal with incredibly tough and challenging issues every hour of every day. Homelessness is one that looms large on that list.

The most basic of human needs – to have shelter and all that brings – is something we all tend to take for granted.

The reality for so many in our city and throughout Britain is very different. For an organisation which exists to protect the people and place from harm, continuing our work to prevent and reduce homelessness is imperative.

As with so many of the problems we face, the Council cannot act alone. We are forging strong partnerships with agencies and organisations locally and nationally as we work towards common aims, with the third sector playing a major role.

Social Bite is one of the charities doing a power of work and we’re delighted to be supporting the Sleep in the Park initiative, which will bring thousands of people and four cities together on December 8.

In Aberdeen we’ll gather in Duthie Park for the north-east event, running from early evening through to the following morning.

Sleep in the Park

The sleep out will raise awareness and crucially funds to support Social Bite’s work, with a £4million target across Scotland this year.

A number of councillors have signed-up, with myself and Derek McGowan, Chief Officer for Early Intervention and Community Empowerment, amongst the staff taking part.

We both have fundraising pages set up (click here for my page and this link for Derek’s) for anyone who wishes to support. If you’re registered and would be keen to promote your fundraising page through my blog please send a link to ChiefExec@aberdeencity.gov.uk and we will get those added. If you’re interested in taking part, all the information can be found at the Sleep in the Park website.

One night out in the open for those of us taking part doesn’t begin to give an insight into the very real crisis faced by the individuals and families we serve who are affected by homelessness, but in a small way offers the opportunity to help draw attention to the issue and contribute to the efforts to provide lasting solutions. Thank you in advance to all those supporting Social Bite’s initiative.

 

Remembrance: 100 years

Throughout the city, throughout Britain and throughout the world the centenary of Armistice Day has served as a poignant reminder and commemoration of the sacrifices made by so many.

In Aberdeen yesterday, veterans came together with Council representatives led by the Lord Provost, public sector colleagues including the Police pipe band, community groups and members of the public at the War Memorial  for a short ceremony and to observe the two-minute silence before moving the Kirk of St Nicholas Uniting for the traditional church service.

It was a very well attended and impeccably observed commemoration which demonstrated Aberdeen’s debt of gratitude.

On behalf of the Council my thanks go to all those who attended and to the many colleagues who were involved in the weeks of planning for the event as well as for ensuring its smooth running on the day.

In communities throughout the city there were many other events both on Remembrance Day and in the weeks leading up to the 100th anniversary.

Schools have been educating the next generation about the heroes of previous generations and there have been some wonderful stories locally and nationally that have helped us all to remember the tragedy of conflict and the amazing, uplifting courage of those who served.

Lest we forget.

Reflections on a busy week in the life of the Council

Council business is always incredibly varied and our City Growth colleagues have demonstrated that in the past week, ably supported by teams from across the functions and clusters.

On Monday, thousands were treated to a spectacular fireworks display over the city thanks to the hard work and months of planning put in by Dawn Schultz and the City Events team in partnership with many others across the organisation who play a key role, not least those tasked with the roads and traffic logistics.

It is always a fantastic gathering, bringing people together from all corners of Aberdeen and far beyond.

The Council’s events programme is incredibly diverse and in the midst of preparing for the fun and festivities of Christmas the team also had the State of the Cities Conference to pull together.

Based on the first annual report from the Economic Policy Panel, the conference on Friday brought together experts from a variety of fields as keynote speakers as well as delegates from across the region with a keen interest in the economic performance and strategy for the future. No fireworks in terms of the very informed and healthy panel discussions on the day!

Dawn and Paula Fullerton, from City Events, and Shevonne Bruce, from the Communications cluster, did a wonderful job working with Richard Sweetnam to pull together the programme and ensure a successful inaugural conference.

I must also thank Richard, Jamie Coventry and Gregor Docherty for their work over the past year in establishing the Economic Policy Panel and supporting members as they worked towards the first report, with City Growth colleague Angela Taylor and designer Laura McAra, from the Communications cluster, doing sterling work in bringing the report document to life.

The conference and the report underlined the spirit of optimism around Aberdeen’s economic prospects, not shying away from the challenges that we as a Council and our partners in the city have to tackle. It was a very positive event and lays the foundations for the months and years ahead.

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.

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.

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.

Summer wishes to all at the Council

With the school holidays now in full swing, there’s no mistaking the feelgood factor the summer brings to the city.

On behalf of the leadership team, can I take the opportunity to wish all staff a good break if you have time booked off and to pass on my thanks to those working through the summer to cater for all those we serve.

We’re into peak season for so many of our teams, not least the grounds and parks staff who are catering for growing visitor numbers, and the events team which has had a flurry of activity with the success of the BP Big Screens evening at Duthie Park, the popular Armed Forces Day parade and now the build-up to the Great Aberdeen Run.

Of course, our services run 365 days a year and there’s never a lull in demand or activity, so July and August will continue to be hectic across the Council.

Best wishes to you for the summer, whatever the weeks ahead may bring.

Growing together – in lots of different ways!

There’s a growing theme to this week’s blog post, so it’s only right to start with a mention for our very own Council Gardener.

The video blog series is now in its third month and Daniel Shand is already attracting quite a following. If you haven’t caught up on June instalment yet, there are two parts available to view now.

Daniel’s doing a great job of showcasing the knowledge and skill we have within the Council, with apprentice James Graham sharing some tips in the latest video, and it’s a fantastic way of engaging with viewers and passing on expert advice.

We often talk about the need to grow the sense of civic pride in the city and the Council Gardener is just one of the many ways we’re doing that.

On Thursday the annual Glitter Pick showed that spirit in action – with 24 clean-ups in 24 locations over the course of 24-hours in Aberdeen.

Thanks to Steven Shaw and his team for coordinating such a massive operation as well as to all of those who volunteered to take part. There were more than 30 groups involved and it’s brilliant to see everyone working together as part of the wider aims of the Clean Up Aberdeen initiative.

As a Council we spend more than £4million a year on clearing litter alone – that is money that could be put to use in other areas if we can keep working in partnership to change habits and keep our streets and open spaces clear.

We’re fortunate in Aberdeen that our young people are driving that change, something that has been recognised nationally.

Earlier in the month pupils and teachers from Hanover Street School travelled to London to be crowned UK champions of the Better Energy School Awards. It’s a huge honour for all those involved and my congratulations go to head teacher Alan Markey and teacher Elizabeth Elrick as well as all of the pupils in the group, who I know are very proud of the achievement.

The project went under the banner HSS Flying Eco Pigs Change the World! – and not surprisingly captured the imagination of judges.

Pupils learned about a range of environmental issues, from single use plastics to problems posed by discarded chewing gum on the streets of Aberdeen, and set about tackling them.

They created papier-mache pigs with eco messages on their wings that were awarded to local shopkeepers, cafe and bar owners who agreed to stop providing plastic single use items.

I’m told the Eco Pigs went far and wide – even reaching Sir David Attenborough, who sent a personal letter of thanks for the work Hanover Street is doing to protect the environment.

Young people are growing up with a better understanding of the issues the world is facing and a real passion to make positive changes – it’s fantastic that is being rewarded.