Train I ride, sixteen coaches long…


I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the Developing Community Approaches to Tackling Poverty Conference in Newbiggin, Northumberland this week. It was great to take the train down that coast from Edinburgh to Morpeth – if you never have I would heartily recommend it.

I was kindly invited by my friend and ex-Renfrewshire resident Emma Richardson. Emma may be known to you as one half on the dynamic duo who worked at ‘STAR’ in Paisley alongside another good bud of mine, Sharon McAulay. Emma is now in the ‘North’ (but south to me) heading up the area’s poverty approach and doing a dang fine job. It was great to see Emma and get a chance to catch up.

The conference was really well attended and had a real sense of direction.  I spoke about our experiences in Renfrewshire – reminding myself as I was speaking that we’re all in partners in the tackling poverty agenda and we can be  ‘timorous or bold’ (thank you Seamus Heaney) in our approach. So why not be bold?

Emma gave a passionate address (no change there!) covering what can be done if we are all committed to partnership, work with each other and willing to adapt to new ways of working – including digitally which can offer many advantages.

One of the local speakers was from the Full Circle Food Project – a charity that educates people living in Northumberland about growing food to eat, healthy cooking on a budget and supporting people to lead healthier lifestyles. What came across was that the programme places community members at the heart of its service delivery and is manned by those who have been helped and have now gone on to help others. Another presentation was from the Newbiggin Learning Hive, a project which helps local community members get back in to work, gain new experiences and brush up on core skills such as ICT and literacy. The Learning Hive, again, was another very positive example of a person centred approach to support.

Those in attendance seemed interested in the work happening in Renfrewshire and were keen to question me over the detail. I was of course happy to oblige (talking is good eh?!). Anne Lyall, the Chief Executive Officer of Northumberland CVA, who organised the conference and made me feel very welcome has been daft enough to suggest that they’d be keen to have me back. So, there you go – I hopefully didn’t let Renfrewshire down.

It’s always great to get a chance to share what you’re up too in you’re working life but it’s also excellent to hear what others are doing. To be honest my take away from the event was that people and community organisations in Northumberland are passionate and energised by the potential to change things for the better – so, it was very much like home.

Enjoy the sun!



Woke up on a good day…And the world was wonderful…


I’ve always been very poor at keeping a diary. Occasionally I’ll start eagerly at the beginning of the year…and give up on the 3rd of January. I wish I was better at it as it’s a great way to reflect and try to make sense of some of the things that have happened as we rush through the year. So I thought I would do a ‘working week’ of entries. How hard can it be I thought? Turns out…not that hard at all – especially when you’re bumping into interesting people, attending great events and shouting about how good the partnership working in Renfrewshire is…

On Monday I was at the Johnstone Town Hall participating in the Renfrewshire Improving the Cancer Journey Board. The board has been established to advocate on behalf of the project and it’s great to see that project team and budget proposals coming together. When the service – ‘Improving the Cancer Journey’ – goes live, every person in Renfrewshire with a new cancer diagnosis will be offered the opportunity to engage with workers from the team.

On Tuesday morning I was along at my bairns’ school assembly – the older of the two now going to big school so there were a few tears…from the parents. Later that day I was looking at some of the evaluation questions we are looking to send out to the Third Sector network for our end of year reports. I was also getting some thank you letters out to Third Sector network members who supported the ‘Our Renfrewshire’ community survey. More than 4,000 people have taken part in the survey, telling Renfrewshire Council what matters to them and what they value. The work carried out by local organisations including ROAR , STAR & the Tannahill Centre on the community conversations sessions helped ensure that the survey reached as many people as possible, giving everyone who lives, works and studies in Renfrewshire an opportunity to take part and have their say.

On Wednesday I took the opportunity to look over Local Partnerships priorities that have been developed by local groups – you can find the details here: . This was in advance of the Local Partnership meetings I attended later in the day on Wednesday & Thursday – in Erskine & Bridge of Weir respectively. It’s great to see these meetings getting off the ground, and gathering momentum.

I got home on time on Wednesday to see the second half of Scotland versus Argentina…gutted for the team but an amazing journey. It was so clear that every player gave it their all and gave every Scotland fan plenty to cheer about – next time!

On Thursday morning I attended the FLAIR (the Federation of Local Associations in Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire) Conference at the Glynhill Hotel in Renfrew. FLAIR has been working together for many years and organisations participating are Barrhead HA, Bridgewater HA, Linstone HA, Paisley South HA and Williamsburgh HA. I was delighted to be invited along and took part in a great workshop from Sustrans Scotland on the ‘Places for Everyone’ programme – well worth a look if you’re interested in infrastructure that makes it easier for people to walk and cycle for everyday journeys . We also heard from Sabir Zazai, Chief Executive of the Scottish Refugee Council – a great input and as it was world refugee day on Thursday it was also very topical. For more info on the work of the Council please see here

On Thursday Engage also confirmed our arrangement with Fareshare who are looking to provide free sanitary products to organisations in Renfrewshire which support people with low incomes. We are looking to act as a central drop off for deliveries from Fareshare and individual organisations can then pick up free pads and tampons. If any organisation is interested in receiving free sanitary products could you please send your organisation’s name, address, contact details, & how many people your organisations would potentially support to

And today is the end of a long but interesting week. I might just try to keep up this diary thing as there is always something happening in Renfrewshire that is really worth recording – and it’s important to use any method you can to shine a bit of light on the ‘good stuff’ and reflect…

Today is also the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year. While in warmer countries, the Summer Solstice is sometimes thought of as midsummer, in Scotland it may be viewed as the first day of the summer. Will our weather gods believe that’s true?…So however you’re looking to use that extra light today, reflecting or otherwise, have a good Friday and a great weekend.

All the best.





Where did we lose the touch, That seemed to mean so much…

EDIT Cultural strategy workshop May2018I was at the launch of the new Centre for Culture, Sport and Events (CCSE) at the UWS Paisley Campus last month. The Centre is a partnership between UWS and Renfrewshire Council and aims to establish Paisley as a centre for excellence in cultural regeneration, creating a space for collaborative research which will shape policy decisions relating to the regeneration of Paisley and the wider area. It is anticipated that the research will directly inform Renfrewshire Council’s ongoing work and will be used to influence policy and practice in relation to culture and sport.

It is pretty exciting to have this type of approach at the heart of regeneration in Paisley & Renfrewshire and it’s wonderful to think how this methodology can continue to help change the fortunes of the town. Change is inspiring though regeneration approaches mean we sometimes need to let go of things – even if we can’t feasibly know all of the possible outcomes and impacts…

Back when I was a student I lived in a high-rise block which I sometimes pass on my way home – except I can’t that anymore as it’s been sadly demolished as part of regeneration works in the town in which I used to stay…and there was me thinking they would have installed a ‘blue’ plaque. As I passed it in my car last week, over a period of a few days I watched as cranes and wrecking balls slowly brought the building down. At one point you could see right into my old kitchen… It was a brilliant flat; 17 floors up with great views and all the rooms were big and bright.  Of course as a student, most of the furniture was pretty basic and some of the curtains and blinds that covered the windows were, for want of a better word, haun’knitted. This included my bedroom – in there I had temporarily hung a large Scottish saltire flag across the window and that was that…ah, student days…

One summer night on the way back from the pub (heh, I was a student!) I looked up at my flat and I could see my bedroom window, that I had left open, had spun round to sit horizontally from the building. The aforementioned flag was now protruding from the window, and whipping about like a tethered kite in a very strong breeze. I suddenly had visions of the flag escaping from its mooring and landing on some unsuspecting passer-by so I made a bolt for the lift inside the flats. Once up there I got in my front door and made a scramble for my bedroom, quickly spun the window round trapping the flag and slowly pulled the cloth in. Safe.

It was then that I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, in the gloom of the twilight… there, on top of the portable TV that was balanced on my bedside table, was a pigeon. Now, I’m no pigeon fancier (is that what folk who breed pigeons are called?) but once I had got over the initial shock of meeting my unexpected guest I assumed it was a racing pigeon that had just gotten lost so I slowly crept toward it, reached out and as calmly as I could lifted it up. I managed to use my elbows to unlock the window again, pushed it open and…released the bird. It was only at that moment that I thought “what if it’s injured?’ I looked out to see the pigeon – thankfully – not plummet…

For more information on the Centre for Culture, Sport and Events see here:

All the best


Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down…

I was confronted today by a question – ‘Aye you, McNiven! You’re always going on about how great it is to be a volunteer. Why is it so great to volunteer your time?! For free!!!! Eh?! Answer me?!

Well…I was put on the spot… and the only thing I could think to say was that it was through volunteering for stuff that I learned what I wanted to do for a career. I was lucky that I got to do lots of creative stuff on a voluntary basis in my youth – music, theatre and the like and that led me to studying in a creative industry and then on to doing arts in the community. So volunteering guided me.

Later on in life I was asked to volunteer as a non-executive director in a charity – a role that I never expected to be guided into at all – but I can honestly say taking up a non-executive director role helped me so much regards understanding the value of my own skills and also my ability to adapt & learn. As you may be aware UK charity law requires registered charities and community groups to have a Board of Trustees, to ensure that a charity, its staff, volunteers, service users and finances are safe and well managed – and no CPD plan that I’ve undertaken has ever been as challenging or rewarding as joining my first Board of Trustees.

Yes of course becoming a non-executive director is about you helping the organisation you join by bringing your skills to their board table, but what you get in return is a much better understanding of areas of business that you don’t normally operate in as well as an opportunity to widen your network.  And I say again – its challenging – but it’s an experience you wouldn’t want to miss.

And almost as if I planned it I would ask you to note, and tell others if you get a chance, that today Renfrewshire’s voluntary sector has launched a campaign to recruit new trustees to local charities and community groups. Engage Renfrewshire is working with Renfrewshire Chamber of Commerce, local schools and businesses to encourage people to develop their professional skills by becoming a trustee.

If you would like to hear more about becoming a trustee, and being matched to an organisation that suits your interests and availability, contact

All the best – speak soon.


Sitting in a corner in imperfect clothes, Trying not to pose…


Christmas is coming and like the piles of chocolates that my children are given during the festive period, 2018 appears to be vanishing rapidly. What can you do but look forward…I wonder what movies are on?…

‘What’s your favourite Christmas movie?’ A quick office poll of favourites reveals ‘Elf’ (which I’ve yet to see) in the top spot – although there were favourable mentions for ‘Home Alone’, ‘The Grinch’ and ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.   There were also shouts for ‘Love Actually’ and ‘Miracle on 34th Street’.  Folk get pretty passionate when asked this question – and the answers they give tend to be wrapped up in family traditions of when & where particular films are watched – normally a couch is mentioned.

You might have become aware of the online debate around ‘Die-Hard’ and its status of the ‘Schrödinger’s Cat’ of the Christmas genre – nobody is really sure whether it is or isn’t a Christmas film until you examine it… then you’re still not sure. I come down on the side of IT IS a Christmas film because I like it and I would be perfectly happy to watch it whilst curled up on the aforementioned couch eating ‘Quality Street’ – but I’m not sure that my review methodology solves the argument once and for all in a ‘Quod Erat Demonstrandum’ – QED – sort of way.

My personal favourite, and definitely a true, Christmas great – is probably the 1951 version of ‘Scrooge – A Christmas Carol’ with Alistair Sim. When I think of the character of ‘Scrooge’ it is always Alistair Sim that I imagine in my mind and the story in the film follows the Dicken’s novella pretty faithfully.  Everyone I’m sure knows the story, but in this version the darkness of the issues all around Scrooge are not brushed over and the sense of redemption that he seeks and finds is all the better for it. I’m sure that the film has remained popular because the tale that Dicken’s produced over 175 years ago contains messages that are still universally relevant today – messages around the importance of charity, helping others and caring for your community.

Simply, I suppose the film is a firm favourite with me because it’s a brilliant story – and it never fails to remind me that we can help each other through simple acts of kindness. Kindness is key – QED.

So, here’s to you and yours at this festive time of year – and here’s to more kindness this Christmas and in the year to come – Slainte!



Is it a T-Rex? Is it a King Kong?


Halloween has changed significantly since the days of my youth. ‘You can buy costumes now…’ – is what I say to my kids who have both insisted on making their own ensembles which resulted in me and my better half (mainly my better half to be fair) searching for material in craft shops, pound shops and B&Q over the weekend. My daughter looked the part at her school disco – an ‘artist’ with her messy smock, palette and French beret. My son’s costume is still to be finished. He’s dressing as a bush…something to do with some online thing game him and his friends play… no real point in asking… just go along with it, buy the camouflage trousers and cut some branches from the garden for sticking on to an outsized soap powder box…

When I was wee I didn’t really get a choice regards my desired role – having big sisters usually meant come Halloween I was dressed up by them in some concoction of headscarves , beads, hats, old coats –  and then they would tell me that I looked just like a doctor or a cowboy or a wee ‘grannie’ and I sort of believed them.  I believed them enough to go around chapping doors anyway, looking for nuts, apples and oranges – and at the posh houses the occasional chocolate something or other.  We had to do a ‘turn’ sometimes of course. My party piece was usually a song of some description…a wee Scottish tune or a pop hit – I was always keen. Anything for a tangerine…

I Remember It Well! Film and memory symposium, Thursday 1 Nov 2018, 10am – 2pm at Paisley Arts Centre

A very interesting event will take place this week at the Paisley Arts Centre – join researchers, practitioners and community groups to explore the expanding role of archive film. Hear and discuss ideas around the power of film to impact memory and wellbeing. To book your free place at the box office call 0300 300 1210 or book online via Eventbrite

This event will be hosted by Renfrewshire Leisure and National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive. You can follow on Twitter #filmmemory

Disability Confident

The Disability Confident scheme aims to help employers make the most of the opportunities provided by employing disabled people. It is voluntary and has been developed by employers and disabled people’s representatives.

The Disability Confident scheme has three levels that have been designed to support you on your Disability Confident journey. It is free and easy to sign up to. For more information about becoming Disability Confident and to read guidance and sign up visit

Enjoy your spooky treats – talk soon!


You used to fall in love with everyone, Any guitar and any bass drum…

nirpinkI like plonking about on my guitar at the weekends. I’m not exactly a proficient guitarist but I do enjoy it – have done since my teenage years. The rest of my family may disagree about the benefits of me strumming away and without going down the road a full blown ‘social return on investment’ investigation we’ll just agree to differ… Don’t get me wrong I know my chances of ‘rawk’ superstardom are way behind me but sometimes little reminders of my musical youth pop-up. One such reminder was a Saturday evening when my wife & I had the pleasure of attending a 40th Birthday celebration in fancy dress… 1980’s fancy dress…The 80’s – the decade that time forgot…

On the grounds of good taste I’ll keep to myself how we were dressed that evening but a friend of ours was ‘Dj-ing’ and in his cut-off shirt and Robert Smith of ‘The Cure’ fright wig he looked just like he had done 25 years earlier. People at our table included ‘shell suit’ couple and a generic ‘blues brother’ guy. Adam Ant and Cyndi Lauper were also floating around.

Our friend who was spinning the music decided at one point to play a song I wrote in the decade we were celebrating. Now, please don’t get excited, my music was never on general release (thankfully for all concerned) – this was just a ‘demo’ (as us musos call it) but it sounded pretty good at high volume and hearing it unexpectedly like that took me back to old rehearsal rooms and gigs in bars. Frankly, it was hugely enjoyable recollection.

The next morning l was speaking to my wife about hearing the song and my fond memories. ‘Yes’ she said ‘I heard it…why did he play it?’ ‘Well’ I say ‘perhaps he likes it and thought it would go down well’. ‘I suppose…’ she said not convinced… and then followed up with ‘Och I know why!…it was during the buffet!.’

Renfrewshire Affordable Credit Alliance

Renfrewshire Affordable Credit Alliance (RACA) is made up of a variety of organisations including credit unions, banks, Renfrewshire Council and more in order to help you access fair and affordable forms of credit. They have come together to champion fair and honest finance – and ensure everyone, no matter their income level, has better options that help reduce the risk of them falling into problem debt. For more information check out the website here:

Thanks for listening – till next time…