Pat’s Journey to an OBE

“I have a visit to the palace this week”. Not sure these are words I ever thought I would ever say. But here we are, hitting the wrong side of 50, over 30 years in the sector and getting an OBE.


Me, a wee lassie from Muirhouse. I grew up eldest child of a single mum of 3, in North Edinburgh, now called an area of deprivation.  I had no idea what that meant then.  We had food (jam sandwich thrown from 3rd floor really did happen – and spam and crisps was a healthy lunch), and shoes (which became sandals with the toes cut out in summer) – I was luckier than many. Teenage years were interesting, think Trainspotting on a bad day – sadly some of my school friends didn’t make it to adulthood and I know how lucky I am in the choices I made.


So, what have I done to deserve this?  I’m still not sure – but here’s a potted history:


I did well at school but didn’t know what university was. My step dad found me a job in a shop within a week of doing my ‘O’ levels. I did relatively well in my results and managed to get a job in a bank (I’d never been inside one before – who remembers provident cheques?). My mum was so proud. I was “set for life”!


I had to learn to speak and dress differently very quickly but was determined to do well. Maybe this was where I began to realise the world wasn’t particularly fair or equitable. I kept getting fobbed off if I mentioned banking exams (in the days that women left when they got married) and I remember standing in as head teller for a few months when the previous guy retired – until they found another older man to take the role. I was there 6 years until moving to Ferranti where I worked in the finance department for another 6 years – until family circumstances (1-year-old son and sick mum) meant it wasn’t flexible enough and I had to leave.


I worked from home juggling childminding, research analysis and machine knitting (under the stair cupboard while the kids slept) to pay the bills – maybe this was my start at prioritising and multi-tasking.


And then the third sector came into play.  I found out there was a community around me and lots of activity going on – and many had a crèche! I saw a job advertised setting up a healthcare library in a health project for 6 months, from there I worked with a women’s project helping women back into training, education and employment and was there for 10 years. Alongside a variety of roles, I was also doing a distance learning MBA (my daughter was born by then so juggling son, baby, MBA and full-time job). It was then I got interested in third sector leadership, seeing that money wasn’t always the answer to problems, and that good leadership was the only way to see that investments in communities were managed well and that optimum impact was achieved.


Fast forward working with long-term unemployed, managing a community centre, working with a housing trust, as an assessor with a funder, and with adult guidance networks. Then a consultant supporting sector organisations for a few years before finding my home at ACOSVO. I was the only member of staff, working 3 days a week in those first months.


ACOSVO became my baby and I have delighted in seeing it grow to a healthy teenager.  I often say I have the best job in the world – working with 500 amazing inspiring leaders across the country. The ACOSVO family has grown and developed and I’ve been privileged to be part of it. Everything we do is underpinned by peer support, good practice sharing, and leadership development and we make sure we always try to be there for whatever our members are going to need both now and in the future.


As well as working with third sector leaders, I’ve also been interested in developing governance across the sector. I helped found and continue to chair the third sector governance forum in Scotland, who lead on trustee week – a growing celebration of all things governance. I’ve also been doing what I can to promote diversity on boards (including diversity of thought and lived experiences – and across sectors). I’m on the board of OSCR, the charity regulator, and now, in my second term, have become vice chair. I also served my own time on boards and committees (eight years as Treasurer of a youth club, Scotland committee member, and briefly chair of RSA in Scotland, and Scotland committee of IOD in Scotland).


More recently, I have joined the board of EUCLID, the organisation to empower civil society and social enterprise across Europe – after being one of the founder members many years ago. An exchange with a third sector leader in Serbia, led to the setting up of our leadership exchange programme which now matches leaders across different sectors in Scotland. A chance to “walk in each other’s shoes” and hopefully to find a common language.


I’m exploring keeping my own leadership skills up to date and also looking at what active leadership means to us. This year’s adventures include a CSC leaders programme working with 80 leaders from across the commonwealth, with part two in Kuala Lumpar later this year. I’m also taking part in a fundraising cycle to Nepal with some of our members – 350K cycle over 6 days.


I realise how lucky I am to be doing a job I love, and I am surprised and delighted to get this award amongst so many amazing, inspiring leaders – and with a great team around me – It’s very much an honour shared.  The other thing I realise is that as well as an honour, it’s a huge responsibility – to do something with it and up my game.  To make sure I have the biggest impact I can, while I can, with as wide a reach as possible.


This blog started with me feeling a bit awkward about sharing my story, I’ve always liked to think I could “lead from behind”.  I’m much more comfortable talking about the work that I do – but that’s a good reminder of why I now need to challenge myself to be much more “out there”, proud of my background, and look to find ways of supporting and encouraging others to be whatever they want to be, including excellent third sector leaders in Scotland (I couldn’t help myself).


Finally, I remember finishing primary school and in those days we had autograph books for our last day.  My mum wrote “reach for the stars and you’ll get there” I’ve still got a long way to go – but thanks mum – maybe not the stars you were thinking off but I’m pretty pleased with the solar system I ended up in!!