Dundee as a centre for social reform
In its recent history, Dundee has seen a transformation of its waterfront, the opening of V&A Dundee, a renovation of its railway station, the attracting of major hotel chains and the award of UNESCO City of Design. The city is making big strides in building on its cultural reputation and bring visitors from across the world. The impact of that work is to be applauded.
While it gives many in the city a boost and we consider how to make the most of the opportunities this shift brings, we cannot ignore the other story playing out in a tale of two cities.
Dundee used to be known as the City of 3Js – Jute, Jam and Journalism – however things have moved on and we have so much work to do collectively to tackle what we see as Dundee’s 3 Ms – Misuse of drugs, Mental Health and Mass Poverty.
Dundee has always had a rich history of social reformers in the city. In a political landscape that traditionally told women to sit down and shut up women like Mary Ann Baxter, Mary Slessor and Mary Lily Walker were passionate in representing the welfare of women and children and pushing for progressive social change, so everyone’s wellbeing mattered.
We continue to see this spirit daily in the work we are doing at The Circle with charities, social enterprises and community activists. There are people working in our local communities tackling huge societal issues and creating their own solutions through things like food larders and clothing banks. They have a practical, tenacious and no-nonsense approach to innovative ideas that people get behind because they are taking action, they see the need in their own communities, they know that public services are shrinking and, simply, because it improves lives.
At The Circle, we are concerned with inspiring the next generation of social reformers. But not only that, we want to ensure they are supported. We want to make sure that they can earn a salary and consider their own wellbeing, we want to help them make their project sustainable, we want to help them get the right team around them, we want to make sure that their efforts are making the best possible impact in their communities and we want a ‘More Than Profit’ approach to change lives.
How are we doing that?
We offer a range of services – office spaces with one monthly fee, affordable meeting rooms, consultancy services for More Than Profit organisations and a training café for looked after young people and care leavers and our newest service, The Circle Academy.
The Circle Academy is a training programme for new and existing organisations who want to take a ‘More Than Profit’ approach, that is embed sustainability while making a social impact. An intensive and innovative 12-week programme of face-to-face teaching delivered by experienced entrepreneurs and a follow-up nine months of monthly board meetings, learning sessions and co-working. Unashamedly, we charge for this programme. We are a trading organisation that is not publicly funded and we have to be sustainable. We also understand that some of the best ideas for social businesses come from people in the community who are unable to afford the fees and we support them by securing sponsorship from businesses and charitable funding.
So, why Dundee?
We have been promoting The Circle Academy across Scotland and we have been asked why we are not launching this programme somewhere in the Central Belt. We have been advised that the programme is needed, but we won’t be supported in Dundee. In the true spirit, of the social reformers of the past, we say this, just watch! We have big problems to solve in Dundee. The benefits of the waterfront have not yet reached the area beyond the City Centre where we are based. Dundee NEEDS innovative and sustainable ideas to address drug misuse, mental health and mass poverty NOW. We have the expertise, we have momentum and we have driven candidates. Why Dundee? Why would we do it anywhere else?