Important lessons in lots of different ways during a whirlwind week

On behalf or the Council, can I pass on a huge thank you to everyone who took part in Sleep in the Park or who supported the cause with generous donations.

Thousands took part across Scotland and it was a really great experience to join the Aberdeen event at Duthie Park along with colleagues and elected members.

One night out in the elements can never replicate the harsh reality faced day in and day out by those affected by homelessness and sleeping rough – but everyone who took part has helped to raise the profile of the issue and, crucially, millions of pounds to support Social Bite’s work. As an organisation we’ll continue to work with partners, including the third sector, to help reduce homelessness.

Sleep in the Park in Aberdeen had a real community feel, with Derek McInnes making a special appearance for the bedtime story. It was a difficult week for all associated with the Dons, with the disappointment of the cup final defeat still raw, but that was put to one side as the club threw its weight behind the sleep out with genuine and heartfelt support from Derek. As he is the first to acknowledge, there are always issues that help put any personal or professional disappointment into perspective and homelessness is certainly one of those.

In the same week the club and players were out in force to support the Cash for Kids appeal and Mission Christmas, with Dons supporters adding to the donations being made across the city

That type of civic leadership from the club is a great example of the attitude that will help ensure a bright future for the city. The Council and public sector partners play a leading role in that but we’re very fortunate to have so many proactive and supportive organisations willing and able to join that collaborative approach.

Sleep in the Park was the culmination of a really positive and thought provoking week for me and colleagues from many different services.

I was delighted to join our tenant group’s Christmas party on Tuesday – there aren’t many Council meetings that end up with the room joining in the Grand Old Duke of York!

It was fantastic fun and a real joy to celebrate the work of a group which is doing so much to represent the views and needs of the Council’s tenants, winning national recognition year after year with too many awards to list. Staff and tenants share a real passion for making things better for all and as a Council we’re reaping the benefits of that enthusiasm.

From singing and dancing, the next stop was a cooking lesson courtesy of a looked after children’s board meeting. The underlying message was about our role as corporate parents and the importance of life skills for the young people under our wing. It’s so easy to take for granted, but for young people these lessons can have a real lasting impact in terms of a happy and healthy journey into adulthood.

On Friday I attended an event with a focus on the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, where we heard from three former care experienced young people. The emphasis was on the role we play in telling young people their life story and how we can improve in this area. There is so much we can learn and do better simply by listening to those who understand the subject best, it really is inspiring to have that direct input.

A week of contrast for me, but every experience was a positive one and the cause of great optimism for future.

A New Year resolution in support of courageous colleagues

As I wrote my Christmas message earlier in the week, I started thinking about the new year and what 2019 will bring us as a Council.

Of course, its impossible to know what’s around the corner for us either as an organisation or as an individual.

I’ve been reminded of that several times this year, by a range of colleagues within ACC, who have experienced the shock of a cancer diagnosis. Conversations with these colleagues leave you feeling incredibly in awe of their strength, bravery, resilience and optimism.

All of course stress the importance of the screening services and facilities that we all have access to – both men and women,  young and old.

So as I start to think about my New Year resolution, I’m definitely going to make a personal commitment to continue to access these screening services and I encourage you to do the same.

Let’s hope our colleagues continue to have the courage and bravery to cope with their treatment and as their “work family” lets give them all a commitment to be there for them when they need us most.

Christmas wishes and reflections

 

Can I take the opportunity to pass on my festive best wishes to all at Aberdeen City Council – here’s to a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

I’m always very conscious that although the holiday season is looming, for so many colleagues it will be business as usual throughout. My thanks go to everyone working over the public holidays and keeping vital services running, it is very much appreciated not only internally but by all those we serve in Aberdeen.  If you are able to get a break over the festive period, I hope you have a good one and return refreshed and ready for 2019.

A great deal has been achieved this year and it’s important to acknowledge the pace of the transformation that we’re undertaking as an organisation. I know there have been challenges for every area of our business as we change and adapt – thank you for your support and commitment. My appreciation also goes to colleagues who have moved on during the course of the year for all they contributed, many over lengthy and distinguished service.

Continuing on the note of thanks, special mention to designer Scott Cumming from the Communications team for his work on the Council’s digital Christmas card. It will be seen far and wide and is a great celebration of Christmas in the city.

Of course, Broad Street has a very festive feel at the moment with the Christmas Village in full swing. We’re getting a particularly close view from Marischal College – with one ride in particular flying past at regular intervals and keeping us all on our toes!

It has been fantastic to see so much positivity around the village and the Christmas in Aberdeen programme in general. The conversation on social media and around the city has been overwhelmingly positive and, together with Aberdeen Inspired, we can be very proud of the great spirit that’s being fostered. Locals and visitors alike have played their part in bringing that Christmas cheer.

It’s important to acknowledge that the  festive period can also be a difficult time for many.

In particular, my thoughts and wishes are with the family of young Liam Smith. Liam, who is just 16 and a pupil at Westhill Academy, has been missing since 17 November and I cannot begin to imagine what family and friends are going through at this time. I’d urge anyone who may have information that could assist the search to get in touch with Police Scotland. Further details can be found here.

The police will continue to work tirelessly as they search for Liam and always face the most testing of circumstances with professionalism and wholehearted commitment.

As our own Council teams play their part in the city’s winter readiness in terms of road and pedestrian safety, with the gritter teams mobilised this week, it’s important we remember that the freezing conditions pose an even greater danger across the city in respect of those who are without shelter.  For one person to be facing winter in those circumstances is simply not acceptable in a modern, caring society – unfortunately the numbers are stark in Aberdeen and throughout the country. This weekend I’ll be joining the Council contingent, officers and elected members, for Sleep in the Park at Duthie Park – aiming to raise funds and awareness in the ongoing efforts to tackle homelessness across Scotland. It is a small gesture in acknowledgement of a significant issue and part of four simultaneous events taking place in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Food poverty is another issue to be addressed and thank you to everyone who contributed to the recent food drive by CFINE across Council premises. Stock levels remain low and your support is valuable – to find out more about ways to contribute visit the CFINE website.

I know we all take time to think of those less fortunate than ourselves at this time of year and it is always uplifting to see across the year the many ways in which so many colleagues play their part in making a positive difference to individuals and communities across the city.

We’ll continue to strive to make a difference throughout the Christmas period and into 2019 and I look forward to working alongside you to do that.

In the meantime, the very best of wishes for the festive season to you and yours from the directors and I.

Thank you to all involved in Beachview Court response

The team ethic that underpins so much of the work we do as a Council came to the fore at the weekend as we dealt with an incident at Beachview Court.

A leak caused by a fractured pipe in the roof water tank affected the lifts and stairwells at the property, with water supplies to householders interrupted as repairs were carried out and other disruption in and around the building.

Although the initial incident happened on Friday, the response carried on through the weekend both in terms of housing staff ensuring residents were reassured and given the care and attention they needed as well as from building services colleagues who were put to work restoring services in the buildings.

Colin Low, Ian Cowling and Paul Tytler were amongst those who coordinated the effort, with Richard Sweetnam on duty in his role as Duty Emergency Response Coordinator, and many more also involved on the frontline.

Can I pass on a huge thanks to all those who were part of the cross-function team who made sure a testing situation was managed in a calm, professional and caring manner. I know residents of the building appreciated everything that was done for them.

Congratulations across the Council!

Another incredibly busy week for across the Council has brought some early festive cheer, with news of a succession of award wins for talented colleagues.

On Wednesday at the National Outdoor Events Association annual ceremony in Bath, Aberdeen City Council’s name was up in lights as winner in the NOEA Scotland Tribute Award in recognition of the City Growth events team’s promotion and running of the Tour Series cycling event.

Well done to Dawn Schultz and her colleagues for that recognition – although there’s no rest in that line of work, with attention quickly turning to last night’s Christmas tree lights switch-on and this Sunday’s Christmas lights parade.

Steven Shaw’s team from Operations are on a roll at the moment and have been toasting two more awards.

The Countryside Rangers were commended at the VIBES Awards in the Climate Adaptation Category – recognised for an entry based on the Tree for Every Citizen initiative and the work being done at East Tullos Burn and Seaton Wetland, which includes the use of the sites for outdoor learning.

Community involvement was noted by the judges as a cause for celebration, and that’s a great endorsement for the ethos we are so keen to embrace throughout the organisation. The second accolade came from ACVO, with a Volunteer Friendly Award marking the commitment to coordinating and developing volunteering opportunities with the Countryside Rangers.

It’s also important to acknowledge the wider relationship with community groups, which was a focus at the recent Keep Scotland Beautiful Your Neighbourhood seminar and awards. Aberdeen continues to lead the way – with 25 award winners and nine groups receiving certificates of distinction. No other local authority had the same level of success and it’s a brilliant example of communities and the Council, through Steven’s teams, working together with common goals.

Staying in Operations, Integrated Children’s and Family Services took centre stage at the national Quality Improvement Awards. Named the top team in Scotland, Sacha Will and her team were praised for the multi-agency approach which is improving family support services in Aberdeen. The praise for the success of the Council’s collaborative approach is a tremendous credit to the work that has been done.

Not to be outdone, Doug Gibb also has success to report to keep the Operations flag flying high. At the North East Scotland College Awards three awards and two runner-up spots in the 11 apprenticeship categories went to Aberdeen City Council’s talented crop. Brandon Russell collected two prizes – the First Year Carpentry and Joinery Apprentice of the Year and the Gordon Burns Award for best draughtperson – whilst Heidi Wards was winner of the David Murray Shield, the introduction to construction award. Lewis Burt was runner-up to Brandon in the first year category and Stewart McCombie runner-up in the Second Year Carpentry and Joinery Apprentice of the Year section. A huge congratulations to all of the apprentices and to Doug for his work in developing our workforce.

In Customer, Aberdeen was well represented as a runner-up in all four categories at the Tenant Participation and Advisory Service (TPAS) annual awards: Tenant of the Year (Pearl Smart); Tenant Group of the Year (Powis Tenant and Resident Group); Best Practice in Reporting Performance (Aberdeen City Council); Best Practice in Inovolving Customers (NETRALT project). My thanks go to Susan McLeod and to Carol Hannaford for the fantastic work being done with our tenants across the city.

To round off the good news, Commissioning colleagues were also in the spotlight at the National Procurement Awards – with Stuart Calderwood representing the Council as we were highly commended in the Social and Community Benefit Category for the Tillydrone Community Hub project. A real cross-Council effort from Craig Innes and the team, involving clusters across the Council and, even more importantly, the end users in the community.

Congratulations and thanks to all of those involved in the latest round of award wins and recognition – it’s a real boost for every one of your colleagues in every corner of the Council.

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, as well as Martin Murchie, Chief Officer for Business Intelligence and Performance Management, amongst the staff taking part.

We both have fundraising pages set up (click here for my page, here for Martin’s 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.

A team of teachers and youth workers at Hazlehead Academy have joined the list, with fundraising details here.

A huge thank you to everyone who has already donated, your support is very much appreciated.

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.