Wednesday 4 April 2012

Members Blog No 2 Jim Tough, Executive Director

It’s been a fascinating first month in the role. What is evident in doing the rounds is the degree of good will there is towards the Society, and more importantly the enthusiasm for a re-invigorated Society that can be an independent non-aligned advocate for all of our creative and cultural endeavours. There is of course much to be done to achieve that, but the legacy of past activity, the commitment and expertise of our membership, panels and partners, and the willingness to be part of process of change, is a good start.

Having now visited all of our branches I am delighted to report that the hospitality and welcome has been exceptional. I have been fed, watered and transported with good grace and generosity. I even met our New York Convener John Beatty, by the happy coincidence of his recent visit to Scotland. And I have learned a great deal about the range and variety of our constituency and activities. The experience of these visits has fed directly into the draft Business Plan which Council looked at this month and sets out our plans for the future. I thought you might be interested to see those proposals regarding membership at this draft stage, and they are added at the end of this letter. As ever any comments most welcome.
There is one sad note to record however, with the passing of Alison Cowey, the Convener of the Helensburgh Branch and a valued and respected member of the Society. I regret not having had the chance to meet Alison, but I know from talking to others how much she will be missed. A loss indeed.

As well as meeting members I have been out and about talking to others who may be interested in supporting our work. This has been a simple process of getting out and about to hear about how we are seen, to explore new and old partnerships and to raise our profile. Conversations have included meeting Andrew Dixon from Creative Scotland, Colin Mclean from Heritage Lottery Fund, Barclay Price from Arts and Business and Nick Barley from Edinburgh International Book Festival, to name but a few! I have also been in touch with a number of MSPs with a view to meeting. Lorimer Mackenzie and I met with the office bearers from the Edinburgh St. Andrew Society to discuss the recent merger of our two societies. For example we have discussed how in 2013 we might ensure we celebrate St Andrew’s day in a joint high quality event. One of the most exciting meetings was with our auditors. Now that is a sentence I never thought I would utter! But their enthusiasm for the idea of the creation of a Saltire Endowment Trust as a means of securing an independent and resilient financial future for the Society was encouraging. More of that in the coming months.

And more meetings! As part of the review of our awards and wider governance I have met with all of the panels and/or conveners for both awards and committee work. This is again feeding directly into our future thinking in the shape of our draft Business Plan.
One immediate opportunity to report has been prompted by the Arts and Crafts in Architecture panel. The idea of a graduate prize from amongst the art colleges has been proposed and the Arts Trust Scotland has agreed to award a travel bursary of £1000 to the winning student. Another bit of good news on the money front is the commitment from the Third Sector Internship Scheme for a new internship at Head Office. This will be an exciting opportunity for a young graduate to contribute to our work in policy research and development. It will be advertised on the 23rd April.

Another useful (and enjoyable) part of my role is attending events to promote our interest or contribute our point of view. In the last month this has included the Future Scotland Conference (I also contributed a small piece to their website), the Arts and Business Sponsors Reception at the Citizens Theatre, the Written World Poetry Launch at the BBC in Glasgow, The Times Debate on the Future of the Union and the reception for Professor Chris Harvie receiving the Order of Merit from the German Government. And of course our own Conference held in the Scottish Parliament on the theme of ‘The Scottish Diaspora - Who Cares About Scotland?’ was a sell-out event that received warm praise from those attending.
All of these meetings, blethers and visits are always I hope in pursuit of our overall interest, and in that vein some new ideas for the Society’s development are emerging. Two perhaps are worth noting at this stage.

Firstly we had a good meeting with a potential e-publishing specialist with a view to committing our catalogue to an electronic format, both to keep it in circulation and as part of the solution to our book storage problem. There is still an open invitation for branches to have some of the books in store for use in their own localities. Iain Rogers from Dumfries and Pat Harrow from Kirriemuir have been really helpful in this regard, seeing these books are available and accessible rather than gathering dust in a store in Cambuslang!
Secondly two or three areas have emerged in discussion about our awards including idea of a Scottish Publisher of the Year and the possibility of an award that addresses environmental themes in the arts. All of these will be considered in the development of the Business Plan.

Regarding our Awards, the 2012 Saltire Society Awards programme has now been launched and I would encourage you to put forward your suggestions for nominations. The 2012 Awards include: Civil Engineering, Housing Design, Book of the Year, First Book of the Year, History Book, Research Book, National Scottish Song Competition and the Composition Award for young people. If you would like more information on the Awards contact Sarah or Tara at Head Office.

Finally a wee note on staffing. The Executive Board have signed off on a series of proposals to formalise our new roles. Sarah’s post is re-named Project Manager in recognition of the scope and quality of what she actually does. But we are, I’m sorry to say, losing Tara who has decided to move on at the end of April. Tara has served the Society exceptionally well over the last two years. I know from speaking to committee and panel members how much her work has been appreciated. We wish her well on whatever she does next.

As ever always glad to hear from you with views and comments. I am off now to a fit together some new desks in the Head Office with Sarah and Tara. I fear the ‘swear box’ may be the beneficiary of that endeavour!

Aye Yours,
Jim Tough, Executive Director

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