Three and a half years ago, I was lucky enough to find an opportunity to work for Cyrenians, a charity that I had heard of (I had bought their veg at a farmers market) but didn’t know much more than they worked with the homeless. Last night, I attended my last board meeting before I shortly return to live and work in Atlanta, GA, USA. At that board meeting the Cyrenians Trustees, who give up numerous hours every month, lend their broad business and life experience, and share their passion to make a difference, gave me an unexpected and absolutely perfect gift to thank me for my contribution to Cyrenians mission.
I was taken aback by the thoughtfulness and kindness from the trustees, but on reflection it spoke volumes for what I have seen at Cyrenians that is so different from my prior experience in the private and public sector – that alignment of values and commitment to the organisation’s vision from the trustees and on throughout the organisation. Cyrenians’ values of Compassion, Respect, Integrity, and Innovation are carved in the DNA of the organisation.
This year Cyrenians mark 50 years since the organisation was founded and in my 3½ years out of those 50, I have seen those values shine through every single week of my job:
A few months ago, I walked the City Centre with Nick, one of our Peer Navigators for the Outreach project. Nick’s job is to seek out rough sleepers, sit down with them, look them in the eye, chat, and listen. We sat down and chatted with four men that day, each with varying life stories that have led them to the astonishingly tough reality of living on the streets. Nick showed compassion, for one gentleman who he was very concerned about due to his pallor and noticeable recent health decline. I was moved by the display of humanity, and the connection that Nick made as a result. He showed respect, for each man as a person, an equal and talked with them in the same way as he had with me when we walked up to Princes Street. His job, and that of his colleagues in the Outreach team is about as tough as I could imagine. There are no quick fixes, no magic wand, just time to invest, and trust to build.
And Cyrenians have always been innovators, willing to take a calculated risk to make a difference. In 1999 they were a pioneer in surplus food redistribution with the Fareshare Social Enterprise, and launched a Social Enterprise Farm Community in the 70s, before the term ‘Social Enterprise’ was coined. This was a landmark year for our Food Education enterprise with Prue Leith opening our new Flavour and Haver Cook School in Leith, a project that I was hugely proud to see my Social Enterprise team deliver.
This year Cyrenians have embarked on one of their most ambitious social enterprise projects to date. The Arnotdale House development will see a much loved Falkirk landmark in Dollar Park, connected back to the local community with the introduction of a Conference/Meeting/Events facility with Café/Bistro, and toilets. In addition, Cyrenians will gain a central Scotland Office space, offering potential for expansion to the locally offered employment training and recovery activities. This project required those same trustees to scrutinise the business plan, spend time reviewing options, and poring over financial models, before committing to this sustainable, impactful new Social Enterprise.
So, I leave Cyrenians, proud to have been part of a truly values-led organisation, my outlook altered by the amazing work that I have seen our staff deliver, changing lives every day, and grateful to those trustees for the other gift they gave me – the chance to pursue innovative enterprise opportunities while increasing the reach and recognition for this unique, impactful and vital charity.
Head of Business Development and Management
11th May 2018