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…


This’s the kinda place where no one cares what you’re livin’ for…


I was on holiday last week with my family – in the Yorkshire Dales in the sunshine. We had a brill time touring around seeing some of the sights including the wonderful village of Haworth where the Bronte Museum is…I could feel myself going all Kate Bush as I wandered around… We also got along to see the legendary Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls at the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge. The support act – Inland Taipan (full on guitar with feedback and loops) – were excellent. They explained that as they had been asked at the last minute to do the gig they didn’t have traditional merchandising like t-shirts and CDs available – but they did have handmade pots…I had to buy one of course…

We were based in the market town of Todmorden where the brilliant ‘Incredible Edibles’ initiative began. Incredible Edible Todmorden is a Community Benefit Society – ‘passionate people working together for a world where we all share responsibility for the future wellbeing of our planet and ourselves’. So who’s it for? There is actually a difficult test to meet should you wish to be a member – ‘If you eat you’re in’. The group grow fruit, herbs and vegetables around Todmorden that are for everyone to share. They also run a wide range of events that help strengthen the local community. ‘Incredible Edibles’ has spread across the UK – a simple idea but with a great impact for local people.

As I say we were very lucky to see all of this countryside in wonderful sunshine – many local people reminded of us that it sometimes rains here too! – but the community fruit trees, berry bushes and herbs of Todmorden made for a great background for our walks back from the pub…  To learn more about Incredible Edibles see here:

There’s also a Ted talk from a few years ago that’s worth a watch:


AUGUST 09, 2018 AT 10AM – 2PM

Working together, Community Development Alliance Scotland, The Scottish Community Development Centre and the Poverty Alliance invite you to join them to discuss how you and your organisation can ensure that everyone we work for is heard, and has had an opportunity to share their ideas on how local democracy could change. Join them for the morning, chat to them over lunch and learn how you can help others have their voice and make a difference. Register for the event here:

Speak soon – keep on growing!


Up in your arms, Too late to beg you…


After receiving some amazing ‘haun’knitted’ cards, I spent father’s day at ‘Museum of the Moon’ a new touring artwork by UK artist Luke Jerram. My children took me along knowing that I’m a sucker for all things ‘space’. The giant inflatable moon with detailed imagery of the moon’s surface is spectacular – and the detail of the surface (developed from high resolution pictures courtesy of NASA) is a visual treat. The installation includes a sound composition, which at times is drowned out by folk staring up and saying ‘Oooh!!’. I heartily recommend it, and seeing as its being hosted in the Mackintosh Church in Glasgow you get two treats for the price of one. For more information see here:

The Macintosh church is wonderful – truly worth a visit even when there’s no giant moon hanging in it. It’s a magnificent example of the artist’s unique architectural style. Of course this weekend was overshadowed by the devastation caused by fire to the legendary Macintosh school of art & the iconic ABC music venue. I personally have fond memories of both these buildings. For a long time I was a regular at the Arts School’s degree shows; taking young people I worked with to visit the Art School was always a highlight of my year. And the ABC is simply a great gig – big – but still intimate. I hope in time I’ll get a chance to go back through the doors of both.

Glasgow School of Art has been an active partner in Renfrewshire, over the last twelve months or so. Working in collaboration with Renfrewshire Council to create Scotland’s first School of Creative Education, GSA is supporting a development which will see a local high school benefit from the use of creative teaching methods across the general curriculum to improve pupil prospects. When I was a school pupil – a time ago of course – there was always two classes that I looked forward too – Art and Music. I’m sure that’s still the same for many.

Mental Health First Aid

Engage is hosting the Scottish Mental Health First Aid programme over two days in August. This course is designed for everyone – Most people don’t know what to do in a mental health crisis. Take the course and you will be one of the few who knows what to do and is confident about putting that knowledge into action. For more information click the link:

Speak soon – all the best


You must see the movie, the sand in my eyes…


Just balancing some grapes…

Most people who know me are aware of my lifelong Star Wars addiction. My son and I are heading to watch ‘Solo – A Star Wars Story’ on Saturday and I have so far avoided all ‘spoilers’. He’s disappointed that we didn’t go first day but I’m sure that after the 3D experience he’ll get over it. Amazingly my boy’s commitment to Star Wars may even be greater than mine…in some areas of parenthood I’ve failed miserably…but in some I’ve been successful…

Volunteer Week starts tomorrow (1st June) – and if you work with volunteers this is the time to say thank you for the fantastic contribution volunteers make. In Renfrewshire we have a deeply committed, dynamic and well-networked voluntary sector – as well as long standing traditions of people helping each other and contributing to their communities in ways which they might not think of as ‘volunteering’.  I’ve always found it fascinating how many people see the volunteering work that they do as ‘just helping’. Without this commitment to ‘just helping’ many community services would struggle and communities would feel a lot less connected & supportive.  In terms of the volunteers themselves, research suggests that volunteering enhances social capital, improves personal wellbeing and can be a successful pathway to employment.

On a personal level, I would argue that it has been my volunteering experiences that have taught me the most. For sure, in the various roles of non-executive director on charitable boards that I have held over the years I have often found myself stretched and required to learn very quickly indeed. Non-executive directors are expected to focus on board matters and provide an independent view of the company that is removed from the day-to-day running; they are appointed to the board to bring independence, impartiality and sometimes special knowledge of a sector or situation. It can be a challenging role to take up, but seeing as we are heading into ‘Volunteer Week 2018’ could I suggest that if you haven’t ever tried it and you think you’ve got specialist knowledge to offer to the Third Sector please give it your consideration! There are lots of local groups and agencies out there looking for non-executive support – so why not improve your wellbeing – volunteer today!!

During Volunteer Week, hundreds of events and celebrations take place across the country, saying thank you to volunteers and recognising their invaluable and diverse contribution to the UK. Renfrewshire’s volunteering celebration event, organised by the Volunteer Managers Forum, takes place at the Lagoon Leisure centre next Friday.

If you want to come along please book your place here:

All the best – speak soon!