Aug 252017
 

With thanks to Clare Scott, Communications Consultant, CJS Communication & Marketing.

An Aberdeen-based family support charity has issued an urgent plea for new volunteers to help it achieve its target of recruiting 30 new volunteers within 30 weeks during its 30th anniversary year.

Home-Start Aberdeen has been supporting families who are vulnerable, or who may be at risk of isolation, for the past three decades.

This support is largely provided by volunteers, who are trained by the charity and matched with a family whom they visit on a weekly basis.

Home-Start Aberdeen now plans to run a further two volunteer induction courses in August before hitting its 30-week deadline in September.

The charity launched the 30 in 30 volunteer recruitment campaign in February this year in a bid to reduce its waiting list of families who are in need of support.

Georgette Cobban (pictured), scheme manager, Home-Start Aberdeen said:

“No formal qualifications are required to become a Home-Start Aberdeen volunteer, however we are looking for people who have a keen interest in the wellbeing of families or who have parenting experience themselves.

“Families who are referred to us may be struggling with a variety of issues such as post-natal depression, isolation, physical health problems or bereavement. We prepare our volunteers – and carefully match them with a family – so that their own life skills and experience can be of benefit to others.

“In addition to the initial preparation course, our volunteers receive ongoing support from their Home-Start Aberdeen co-ordinator, plus regular opportunities for further skills development. All we ask for in return is a commitment of 2-3 hours a week to provide a city-based family with emotional and practical support in their home surroundings.

“Although we are bigger than ever before – with around 100 volunteers – the need for our service continues to grow, as do our waiting lists. I would urge anyone who thinks they might be able to help to get in touch for a no-pressure chat.”

Over the past three decades Home-Start Aberdeen has grown to become one of the UK’s largest Home-Start schemes, providing over 220 families and 360 children with around 27,500 hours of support each year. Families are referred to the charity mainly by health visitors and social workers, however they can also self-refer. The support provided is completely free: families must have an address in the city and one child under five years old, otherwise there are no barriers to access.

Home-Start Aberdeen’s next volunteer induction courses commence on Wednesday, 30 August. Each course incorporates eight weekly sessions, with daytime and evening options to suit different schedules.

For further details, or to arrange an informal chat, email volunteering@homestartaberdeen.org.uk or call 01224 693545. Additional information is also available at www.homestartaberdeen.org.uk.

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Jul 062017
 

With thanks to Clare Scott, Communications Consultant, CJS Communication & Marketing.

A local family charity has received a two-year pledge of support from the Aberdeen branch of Rathbones, a leading investment management company.

Home-Start Aberdeen has recently benefited from a £5,000 donation towards its work with vulnerable families in 2017. This donation will be repeated in 2018 after the scheme was selected by the Rathbones Aberdeen as its nominated charity.

Employees from Rathbones also plan to augment the initial donation by getting involved with additional fundraising activities over the next 24 months.

Meera Dennis, investment director at Rathbones said:

“We are aware of the work that Home-Start Aberdeen does to support families in our local communities, who may be struggling as a result of various challenges and circumstances beyond their control.

“The cause resonated with many of our team members and we are looking forward to deepening our involvement with Home-Start Aberdeen – and our understanding of their various support services – over the coming period.”

The support from Rathbones comes at a pivotal point in Home-Start Aberdeen’s history; the charity is currently celebrating 30 years of support for families in the city, however it faces the challenge of a growing waiting list.

Georgette Cobban (pictured), Home-Start Aberdeen’s scheme manager said:

“This new pledge of two years of support from Rathbones is incredibly welcome and very much appreciated.

“Home-Start Aberdeen currently has over 100 volunteers, who are working with more families than ever before, but we still desperately need to recruit and train more. Our third volunteer preparation course of the year is set to take place in August. The amount donated by Rathbones will enable us to deliver this crucial training with a view to helping families on our waiting list as soon as possible.”

Home-Start Aberdeen supports around 220 families and 360 children each year and is one of the largest Home-Start schemes in the UK. Its trained volunteers work with referred families to help them access relevant health and welfare services, manage family budgets and nutrition, engage with their communities and enjoy family life again.

Further information is available at www.homestartaberdeen.org.uk.

 
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Jun 022017
 

With thanks to Clare Scott, Communications Consultant, CJS Communication & Marketing.

An Aberdeen-based family support charity is using Volunteers’ Week (1 – 7 June 2017) as a springboard to successfully conclude its 30th anniversary campaign to recruit 30 new volunteers within 30 weeks.

Home-Start Aberdeen has been supporting families who are vulnerable, or who may be at risk of isolation, for the past three decades.

This support is largely provided by volunteers, who are trained by the charity and matched with a family who they visit on a weekly basis.

Having started life as a small project operating from a box room within Mastrick Church, Home-Start Aberdeen is now one of the largest Home-Start schemes in the UK.

The charity provides over 220 families and 360 children with around 27,500 hours of support each year, however it continues to operate a growing list of those who are in need of help.

“We have had a tremendous response to our 30 in 30 campaign since launching it in February,” said Georgette Cobban, scheme manager (pictured).

“Our second new cohort of volunteers are currently undergoing training, which will bring our tally to 20 out of the 30 new volunteers we would like to recruit by September.

“We plan to run our next volunteer preparation course in August and we would urge anyone who thinks they might be interested to get in touch for an informal chat. Full training is provided by Home-Start Aberdeen – all we ask for is a time commitment of 2-3 hours per week to provide a local family with emotional and practical support in their home setting.”

For further information on volunteering opportunities with Home-Start Aberdeen, email volunteering@homestartaberdeen.org.uk or telephone 01224 693545.

Home-Start Aberdeen is a voluntary organisation, offering support and friendship to vulnerable families. Its small staff team trains and co-ordinates over 100 volunteers who provide families with emotional and practical support in their own homes. Those who are referred to the charity must live within the city and have at least one child under five years old, otherwise there are no barriers to access. To find out more, visit www.homestartaberdeen.org.uk.

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Mar 242017
 

With thanks to Clare Scott, Communications Consultant, CJS Communication & Marketing.

An Aberdeen-based family support charity is using Mother’s Day to highlight the important role that experienced parents can play in supporting new mums and dads.
Home-Start Aberdeen works with families in the city, with at least one child under five years old, who may be vulnerable or suffering from
isolation. 

It provides these families with weekly support, which is delivered in their own home by a trained home visiting volunteer.

The majority of Home-Start Aberdeen volunteers are parents themselves, who understand the challenges involved in bringing up a family.

Now one of the largest Home-Start schemes in the UK, Home-Start Aberdeen supports over 220 families and 360 children each year. Isolation remains one of the most common reasons for referrals and the charity has a waiting list of more than 30 families who are in need of help.

Georgette Cobban, scheme manager, Home-Start Aberdeen said:

“Many of today’s new parents don’t have immediate access to a solid support network.

“People move around a lot more, meaning that extended family are not always available to give a helping hand, or to provide new parents with a break.

“Our home visiting volunteers help to fill that role, by providing a regular presence along with advice and encouragement on how new parents can get involved with community life. As we approach Mothering Sunday, we hope that experienced parents might consider reaching out to others.

“The Home-Start model works very well as the relationship is equal. It is all about parents supporting other parents and we know that our volunteers, as well as our families, get a great deal from it.”

Now in its 30th anniversary year, Home-Start Aberdeen has launched a ’30 in 30’ campaign to recruit 30 new volunteers within 30 weeks. Volunteer induction courses are taking place throughout the year, with the next course starting on Wednesday, 3 May. For further information, go to www.homestartaberdeen.org.uk or email volunteering@homestartaberdeen.org.uk.

Home-Start Aberdeen has been working with communities in the city for 30 years. The charity provides vulnerable families with practical and emotional support in their own homes. Support is provided by trained volunteers, with supervision from a small team of coordinators. Families must have at least one child under five years old and live within the city, otherwise there are no barriers to access.

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Mar 102017
 

With thanks to Clare Scott, Communications Consultant, CJS Communication & Marketing.

An Aberdeen-based charity is marking thirty years of support for vulnerable and isolated local families by hosting a 1930s-themed afternoon tea fundraiser.

Organised by the Friends of Home-Start Aberdeen, the event takes place at The Marcliffe Hotel & Spa on Sunday, 21 May.

Those who attend can look forward to an afternoon of opulent nostalgia from the era, including Rat Pack-inspired music and dancing.

Guests will be greeted with a welcome drink on arrival, with the opportunity to browse a variety of stalls. Refreshments and entertainment will then follow in The Marcliffe’s ballroom. Well-known master of ceremonies Doug Duthie will preside over the afternoon’s activities, which include exclusive prize draws and a charity raffle.

“This year’s afternoon tea is set to be particularly special, as it coincides with Home-Start Aberdeen’s 30th year in the city,” says Ally Cartwright, chairperson, Friends of Home-Start Aberdeen.

“The 1930s theme is a wonderful one to work with and we hope that people really get into the spirit of it. While there is no obligation to dress according to the era, we’ll be delighted if guests choose to do so.

“Home-Start Aberdeen has experienced phenomenal growth over the past three decades, however a list of families awaiting support continues to exist. All funds raised by the event will go towards recruiting and training new volunteers so that we can reach these families more quickly.”

Tickets for the 1930s-themed anniversary tea cost £30 each, with tables arranged in groups of 12. Orders can be placed by emailing admin@homestartaberdeen.org.uk or by telephoning 01224 693545. Guests are also being encouraged to bring along a bag of unwanted clothing or accessories; these will be collected on-site for Home-Start Aberdeen’s George Street charity shop.

Home-Start Aberdeen has been working with families in the city for 30 years. The charity provides families who may be vulnerable or suffering from isolation with emotional and practical support. This support is provided by trained volunteers, who spend two to three hours per week with a family in their own home.

Those who need help, or want to help, can find out more at www.homestartaberdeen.org.uk.

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Feb 242017
 

With thanks to Clare Scott, Communications Consultant, CJS Communication & Marketing.

Georgette Cobban

A local family support charity has received a welcome 30th birthday gift in the form of a substantial donation from a major energy company.

Nexen Petroleum U.K. Limited has made a recent donation of £5,000 to Home-Start Aberdeen as the charity prepares to celebrate its thirtieth year of supporting families in the city.

Home-Start Aberdeen is a voluntary organisation that offers families who may be vulnerable, or suffering from isolation, with emotional and practical support in their own homes.

The charity has just launched a ’30 in 30’ volunteer recruitment drive to coincide with its 30th anniversary year.

It aims to attract and train 30 new home visiting volunteers in 30 weeks, to allow it to reduce the number of families that are currently waiting for support.

This latest donation from Nexen’s community investment fund follows a series of previous funding gifts. Home-Start Aberdeen has received £19,000 from the energy company since 2013; Nexen has also provided Home-Start in Hillingdon, which is located nearby its London headquarters, with funding support.

Ray Riddoch, Nexen’s managing director UK & senior VP Europe said:

“Nexen is committed to helping to strengthen the communities where we live and work. We focus on supporting initiatives that build inclusive, safe and thriving communities. Home Start provides opportunities and resources for families who need a step up, often helping them before they reach crisis point and in the safety of their own homes.

“Their mentoring programme delivers long term, positive effects for the families they help, resulting in stronger and more resilient communities across the areas where they work. We’re delighted to be able to continue to support Home Start in 2017.”

Georgette Cobban, scheme manager, Home-Start Aberdeen, said:

“Nexen’s generous support has made a genuine impact on our work in recent years. We have experienced a significant increase in demand from families during this period and Nexen’s funding has enabled us to grow to meet these demands. Home-Start Aberdeen takes a great pride in the quality of training that we offer our volunteers, as this training ensures that our families receive the best possible support.

“We currently have over 30 families on our waiting list. This latest donation will help us to run additional volunteer preparation courses so that we can reach these families more quickly.”

Home-Start Aberdeen’s 30th anniversary year commenced on Monday, 13 February 2017. The charity, which supports around 200 families and 300 children each year, works with referred families to help them access relevant health and welfare services, manage family budgets and nutrition, engage with their communities and enjoy family life again.

Further information is available at www.homestartaberdeen.org.uk.

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Jan 272017
 

By Wendy McEwan

Shelter Scotland is a charity that supports many people who are struggling with homelessness and bad housing.

We offer advice and support through our online services and face to face in our many advice centres.

We campaign to make homelessness a thing of the past.

If you would like to be part of this charity, we are looking for volunteers to help in our charity shops in Aberdeen.

No experience is needed as we will provide all necessary training until you are confident with the work involved. All that we ask is that you give us a few hours of your free time on a regular basis.

Although we are looking for general helpers, we are actually in great need of Volunteer Supervisors. People who will be willing to take on that little bit extra and be trained up on everything from opening the shop, all till procedures including refunds and voids, sorting donations, pricing stock, displays, cashing up at the end of the day and just general supervision of the shop.

As we are a charity who only employs a Manager, we count on our volunteers to keep the shop running smoothly and would never manage without them.

They are the heart of the shop and all contribute towards the charity with their gift of time.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer or would like to find out more information then please pop into our shop at 179 George Street, Aberdeen and speak to Wendy or email Abergeorgeshop@shelter.org.uk

Thank You, I look forward to meeting you.

Jan 272017
 

With thanks to Clare Scott, Communications Consultant, CJS Communication & Marketing.

Family support charity Home-Start Aberdeen has issued a plea for new volunteers as it prepares to celebrate its thirtieth year of support and friendship for vulnerable city families.

The Aberdeen scheme, which has grown to become one of the largest Home-Starts in the UK, is aiming to recruit 30 new volunteers in 30 weeks in order to drive down numbers on its waiting list.

Home-Start Aberdeen provides local families who may be vulnerable, or suffering from isolation, with emotional and practical support in their own homes.

This support is delivered by trained home visiting volunteers, who are carefully matched with a local family by their Home-Start Aberdeen co-ordinator. The charity’s small staff team currently supervises the efforts of over 100 volunteers who, in turn, provide around 200 families and 300 children with weekly home-based support.

“Home-Start Aberdeen has come a long way since its beginnings as a small project operating from a box room in the Mastrick area of the city,” says Georgette Cobban (pictured), scheme manager, Home-Start Aberdeen.

“Our formula of allocating families a home visiting volunteer, who normally has parenting experience themselves, is proven to be of genuine benefit to those who, through no fault of their own, may be struggling to cope with family life.

“We receive family referrals on an ongoing basis from health visitors and social workers, who see first-hand the positive difference that Home-Start Aberdeen can make. At present, we have a waiting list of over thirty families and we are desperate to give them the help they need as quickly as possible.

“No qualifications are required to become a Home-Start Aberdeen volunteer – we provide full training and ongoing co-ordinator support. All that is required in return is a willingness to help and a time commitment of 2-3 hours per week.”

Home-Start Aberdeen’s next preparation course for new volunteers starts on Thursday, 16 February 2017. Additional training courses will take place throughout the year to support the charity’s ‘30 in 30’ target. To find out more email volunteering@homestartaberdeen.org.uk or call 01224 693545.

Home-Start Aberdeen provides vulnerable local families with emotional and practical support in their own homes. The charity has been working with communities in the city for 30 years. Its team of trained home visiting volunteers work with referred families to help them access relevant health and welfare services, manage family budgets and nutrition, engage with their own communities and enjoy family life again. Further information is available at www.homestartaberdeen.org.uk.

Home-Start Aberdeen’s thirtieth anniversary year commences on Monday, 13 February 2017

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Sep 092016
 

Suzanne Kelly looks back at a variety of City issues involving Peter Leonard, Director of Housing Environment and Infrastruccture. She concludes, while he is on sick leave following vacation, that in her opinion, it’s time for him to go.

marischalpicMany people in Aberdeen tend to think the councillors are to blame for all the many, many mistakes, flawed plans, waste of money, and bad decisions that take place.

The truth is that they only get to vote on reports put before them by officers, and officers can and do drive agenda and stop plans they don’t like. Staff too are controlled by the officers.

They are vilified for complaining or resorting to whistle-blowing when complaints to managers fail.

Aberdeen Voice is aware of more than one case of staff being micro-managed and having their work time scrutinized to the last minute. There are many people who, while worried about being discovered, want to talk about negative experiences with officers, and that includes Pete Leonard.

Head of Housing & Environment Pete Leonard has been implicated in a catalogue of bad decisions.

Having just missed a chance to apologise to the public over the cremation scandal so he could holiday, he is now off sick. Reports suggest he will remain out of the office – until terms of his final severance package can be ironed out. Many find his continuing in his post is now untenable following the cremation report – and the public has not seen the report commissioned by the Chief Executive.

My long-running interaction with him over the destruction of the Tullos Hill is no secret. He insisted on deer slaughter: when established consultants offered free help, they were rejected.

The slaughter was called ‘abhorrent and absurd’ by the Scottish SPCA in the circumstances. The expensive, unsuccessful attempts to establish trees on the hill are his responsibility – he declared in formal reports the scheme would be cost neutral. (Tullos is a former waste dump with little topsoil; the government’s own departments have written that establishing trees there is unlikely. However, it’s made quite a bit of money for consultants, suppliers, and deer stalkers).

Leonard’s insistence to the Housing & Environment Committee that the Tree for Every Citizen Scheme would be ‘cost neutral’ has cost well into a five-figure sum (and caused more than 36 deer to be culled needlessly) and may result in further expense to taxpayers soon. A councillor’s proposal to keep the hill as a meadow with deer was quashed before it could be voted on: by  Pete Leonard.

One of many ponderous reports flogging the dubious benefits of the Muse development of Marischal Square bears Leonard’s name. On 2 March 2016 this report recommends against asking the public for any further input on Marischal Square because the public might experience ‘consultation fatigue’ and may result in a ‘negative customer experience’.

Heaven forbid. Customer experience didn’t attract the council’s attention when, despite 3,000 citizens and 3 community councils demanding the deer be spared were ignored.

The idea was to have a temporary place under the arches where people could buy coffee and snacks

As to consultation fatigue, I think more people would prefer the chance to have their say and risk ‘fatigue’ than winding up with the monstrous white elephant at Marischal – where the Press & Journal will now call HQ for one year free – courtesy of the taxpayer.

By the way, after suggesting ‘consultation fatigue’ was real, the report goes on to steamroll the reader with jargon about including citizens to ‘participate in the development, design, and decision making services [how does a citizen participate in a decision making service??] to promote civic pride, active citizenship and resilience.’

Leonard has, in effect, proposed not fatiguing us with consultations while wanting our participation. Sounds like quite a balancing act; no wonder ‘resilience’ is also suggested.

There are many Aberdeen Voice readers who have fought to get basic housing repairs, fought to have housing suitable to the needs of the elderly and disabled, or even to have safe, habitable places to live. Some suggest the head of Housing & Environment needed to have a more hands on approach.

Who scotched the Cafe 52 plan to have a self-sustaining cafe in Union Terrace Gardens?

The idea was to have a temporary place under the arches where people could buy coffee and snacks, the Bothwell family were going to pay all the set-up costs, and volunteers were going to run it, as I recall. I do recall that the profits were all going to be churned back into improving the gardens. The departed Maggie Bochel even recommended this go through, and several councillors as well as many members of the public supported the plan.

Is it possible that a city council officer stepped in to stop this simple plan, and if so why? This may be a small side issue, but hopefully by now the point has been made that directors and officers can, and do, guide how and what a councillor gets to vote on.

As such, we need directors who are competent, who are capable, who are without bias, and who are accountable.

Where does the city most fall down? In its management of communities, housing and (obviously) infrastructure.

Who has been the responsible Director for Communities, Housing & Infrastructure for years? Pete Leonard.

Pete Leonard chose not to attend the public meeting that took place last week

Leonard is on a salary adjacent to £112k per year, plus a generous pension contribution. If he is allowed to remain in post following the various reports (public facing and secret) into the scandal of Aberdeen’s crematorium operations, something is drastically wrong.

Bereaved parents were told for years there would be no ash following cremation of their deceased children. In fact, the crematorium, under Leonard’s remit, was mixing the remains of children with those of unrelated adults, and in effect lying to parents.  This went on for years.

Some of the parents impacted by this cruel deception are calling for those responsible to be let go. I join that call

Pete Leonard chose not to attend the public meeting that took place last week; he was on holiday. It was disappointing to the bereaved that he was not there; his non-attendance sent a strong message.

The report into the long-running contempt shown both to the deceased and bereaved and severe managerial failure can be found here. It makes damning reading. Here are some highlights:

A damning summary:

“There was no overall strategic management of the crematorium. Aberdeen City Council had significant challenges elsewhere. Pete Leonard, Director of Communities, Housing and Infrastructure since 2010, explained to the Investigation,

“…in terms of the focus of senior management attention, you focus on the things that you know need fixing and you focus on the things you know to improve and areas where you need to make savings and you’ve got to try and bring the public and elected members with you, that’s very much a focus.”

“It was clear during the Investigation that the current Environmental Manager, Steven Shaw and those above him [that would include Leonard – S Kelly] had remote and ad hoc involvement in the management of the crematorium or the staff. The Investigation was told by the current Crematorium Manager, Angus Beacom, that,

“…staff felt that, in their words, not mine, they had been somewhat neglected by senior management”

“Pete Leonard, Director of Communities Housing and Infrastructure told the Investigation,

“I guess I was fairly light touch in my management in terms of, I don’t think I had visited the site for some time.”

“Pete Leonard confirmed that the purchase of new cremators was an expensive capital project and that he “was more focused on keeping track of that“,

“I guess the crematorium for me was a case of things seem to be going ok so a light touch management was ok and I wasn’t really getting involved.

The crematorium, I guess, never really featured on my radar. I wish it had, but it never featured on my radar so it was kind of left alone.”

“The Head of Services, Mark Reilly, told the Investigation,

“…Now there was a gap between Steven (Shaw, Environmental Manager) and Derek Snow (Cremation Manager) that I didn’t particularly care for. I wanted to really look at the structure of Bereavement Services and crematoria and how that works and get one manager overseeing both.”

“The Investigation found that despite issues about infant cremation coming to public attention following the media coverage about Mortonhall Crematorium in December 2012, no changes in practice were instigated at Aberdeen until November 2013 and July 2014.

“Pete Leonard, Director of Communities Housing and Infrastructure, told this Investigation,

“And we had lots of conversations, so we’d be saying, well if some people are saying that they’re recovering ashes, how is that? Are they using different temperatures and all this? There’s a lot of speculation about ‘well, we’re not sure how they’re doing it, but they’re probably doing things like turning the ovens off at night and leaving the baby in to ‘slow cook‘ and do we really want to be doing that and what if the parents found out about that?‘ and there were issues being thrown in around emissions and if you turn the heating down then you might be breaking the emissions law. There didn’t seem to be any shared industry knowledge or best practice.”

“There was no evidence that any effort was made by anyone at Aberdeen City Council to clarify at exactly what age or stage ashes were available. The senior managers did not challenge what they were told despite the information emerging from Mortonhall Crematorium nor did they seek information from Seafield Crematorium, or even closer, Parkgrove Crematorium, to ascertain how these crematoria could have been obtaining ashes despite the Aberdeen position that none existed until the age of eighteen months to two years.

“Pete Leonard told the Investigation,

“Around about that time we received a letter from Sue Bruce (then Chief Executive of City of Edinburgh Council) with the scope of the inquiry that she had asked Dame Elish to perform and I had a conversation with Valerie Watts then Chief Executive of Aberdeen City Council. I said I’d been to see the crematorium team, they assure me everything is okay but I really think we need to get some objective people in to do an audit and investigation into some of the processes and ask them questions. That led PwC to do an investigation, which was very much process based. At the same time, myself and Mark Reilly went to visit the team, got more behind the scenes.

“I think not getting ashes had been for as long as they could remember. Certainly with the new cremators they didn’t. With the older ones I don’t think they did, but I think they said previously they may have done in the dim and distant past, there might have been something. I think they gave some examples there, but I can’t really recall.

I think it pretty much reflected what the guys said and looked at the records. On reflection I think we didn’t focus enough on behaviour. When subsequently things changed in terms of what people’s story was, my own reflection on myself was perhaps I could have been a bit more challenging around some behaviours.

I drew up the terms of reference for the report and cleared these with the Chief Executive but it was based on what Sue Bruce had sent through, it was very similar terms of reference.

I am asked if the auditors looked at records as opposed to wider processes. Yes, that was the case. I am asked if anyone was examining the actual operational processes of cremation itself. No there was not. I think the years picked for audit were aligned with the different types of cremators from what I can see. I think there were different changes to the record keeping and we kept records up to a certain date. I think somebody had written to say they’d had some issue around 2008 and that they received ashes so on the back of that, we said can you go further back and examine what the practice was then”

“Pete Leonard told the Investigation,

“Around about that time we received a letter from Sue Bruce (then Chief Executive of City of Edinburgh Council) with the scope of the inquiry that she had asked Dame Elish to perform and I had a conversation with Valerie Watts then Chief Executive of Aberdeen City Council. I said I’d been to see the crematorium team, they assure me everything is okay but I really think we need to get some objective people in to do an audit and investigation into some of the processes and ask them questions. That led PwC to do an investigation, which was very much process based. At the same time, myself and Mark Reilly went to visit the team, got more behind the scenes.

I think not getting ashes had been for as long as they could remember. Certainly with the new cremators they didn’t. With the older ones I don’t think they did, but I think they said previously they may have done in the dim and distant past, there might have been something. I think they gave some examples there, but I can’t really recall.

I think it pretty much reflected what the guys said and looked at the records. On reflection I think we didn’t focus enough on behaviour. When subsequently things changed in terms of what people’s story was, my own reflection on myself was perhaps I could have been a bit more challenging around some behaviours.

I drew up the terms of reference for the report and cleared these with the Chief Executive but it was based on what Sue Bruce had sent through, it was very similar terms of reference.

I am asked if the auditors looked at records as opposed to wider processes. Yes, that was the case. I am asked if anyone was examining the actual operational processes of cremation itself. No there was not. I think the years picked for audit were aligned with the different types of cremators from what I can see. I think there were different changes to the record keeping and we kept records up to a certain date. I think somebody had written to say they’d had some issue around 2008 and that they received ashes so on the back of that, we said can you go further back and examine what the practice was then”

“An audit by the company PwC LLP was duly commissioned and terms of reference agreed in March 2013. The auditors reported on 9 July 2013. This audit was limited in scope and did not look at the actual cremation operational processes but rather traced a sample of cremations to the supporting records and administrative process in respect of the cremation of stillborn babies and infants under the age of two.

“The audit report describes its work as to ‘undertake a data collection exercise and review the current procedures in operation to better inform the Council Officers’ understanding of arrangements and practices.’ The report was based on the documentation available but there is no indication of the Council seeking audit of the actual cremation working processes by a suitably qualified cremation industry expert or body such as the FBCA.

“Pete Leonard, Director, told the Investigation,

“There had been a conversation about use of trays and what have you and I was very nervous about health and safety and I guess I placed a lot of reliance on the internal audit which we scoped out in March and it reported in July 2013.”

“There was no evidence given to the Investigation that after the production of this audit report the Council challenged Derek Snow’s assertion that there were no ashes to be obtained from babies less than eighteen months old. At the very least the information provided by PwC should have alerted the Council to the inconsistency between their public position and what the audit disclosed from the past.

“There is no evidence of the contents of the report being probed or checked to ascertain the reason for the different outcomes in the sampled cases. This information should have been of particular interest given the Council’s public position that ashes did not exist for babies under eighteen months to two years.

“Derek Snow, the Crematorium Manager added,

“When I started in 1986 there was no written procedures or guidance for babies. As far as I know there’s still nothing like that at the moment.”

“Steven Shaw, the current Environmental Manager, said that it was clear to him that,

“we didn’t have written up simple guidelines. I pushed for them to write up the procedures.”

“Pete Leonard said,

“When we started speaking to the guys, it was very clear then that there were no practices which made me nervous. “

“Staff also had access to manufacturers’ manuals for the cremators they were using. Aberdeen City Council’s response noted in the 10 July 2013 PwC LLP internal audit report was that they would be formalising their written policy and would consider any findings that came from the Scottish Government’s review.

“However, when staff were interviewed by the Investigation in February 2015 there was still no formal written procedure, guidance, instruction or local training manual available to staff at Aberdeen Crematorium despite

  • the recommendations of Lord Bonomy in his report of May 2014,
  • the Mortonhall Investigation Report April 2014,
  • the PwC internal audit recommendation of July 2013,
  • interest expressed by the Scottish Parliament,
  • press and extensive media coverage of the issues surrounding the cremation of babies throughout the period 2012-2014.

“Neither did the receipt of an anonymous letter result in such action. This letter indicated that the reason baby ashes were not being returned to families at Aberdeen was because babies were being cremated alongside the coffins of unrelated adults. Members of staff were still working on drafting the crematorium’s first Operational Procedures Booklet in early 2015.

“It was put to Pete Leonard, Director, that Derek Snow had suggested that he was only really a manager when it suited his line managers to treat him as such, that he was given very little scope to manage and was not given the opportunity to attend training. Pete Leonard replied,

“I couldn’t really say. I am asked if he ever made a complaint to me about the way he was being managed. No not at all, he seemed to be happy in his work.”

“This is in stark contrast to what former Environmental Manager, Sandy Scott said about Derek Snow wanting to leave since 2006. Sandy Scott told the Investigation,

“Derek Snow did not want to be at the Council. He made it quite clear he wanted to leave and I did some investigating and spoke to my Head of Service but we felt we couldn’t let him go at that point. It was always a feature of our one to ones as he wanted to bring it up with me.”

“Pete Leonard, Director of Communities Housing and Infrastructure said,

“I guess I felt really let down and right from the word go, what we’d said to the guys was ‘we’re not going to judge you on what’s happened, when you’re in an industry and you follow historic practices, sometimes you might find yourself doing something that culture accepted before. Something which might look horrific but you’re caught up in the middle of that and you’re just doing what you’ve always been told.

“So this is about understanding what’s going on’. We had said, ‘if there’s anything, anything at all, now’s the time to get it out, you’ve got our full support’. We couldn’t have emphasised that more and so to then find out that the guys were lying and they’d been so convincing …I was bloody angry to be honest but really upset. Then I was really upset because of the impact on families.

“I’ve got young children myself and you can empathise. So then we had to move into trying to figure what happened and I wasn’t looking at punishing anybody, I just wanted to figure out what had been going on and we don’t really know. I mean, having gone through the experience of believing what they said before, to be honest, anything they said, I took with a pinch of salt.

“Could be true, it maybe isn’t true and there was no real way I got that mechanism to get to the truth. The investigation may have more success.”

“this was a section of the City Council working in almost complete isolation without any strategic direction, development or quality control of the service, so far as it related to babies, infants and non-viable foetuses. There was little knowledge by Senior Management of the service provided to the families of these babies.

“There was insufficient interest taken or leadership shown by management

“much of what was learned by Cremator Operators at Aberdeen was received wisdom from more experienced peers. The extraordinary belief that there would be no recovered ashes from babies up to the age of eighteen months or two years was contradicted by what was known to be recovered in many other crematoria as well as in Aberdeen itself in earlier years

“The cremation of babies along with unknown adults is an unethical and abhorrent practice which will offend the sensibilities of the wider community and cause great distress to those whose babies were cremated there. It will also cause profound concern to the next of kin of unrelated adults who may have collected and continue to retain ashes of loved ones cremated at Aberdeen which also contain the ashes of a baby or one or even several non-viable foetuses

“When obliged to consider this issue with the commencement of the Mortonhall Investigation and during the separate opportunity to explain their position to Lord Bonomy and his team the true picture at Aberdeen Crematorium was not disclosed. The Infant Cremation Commission was misled about the practices taking place.

“It was clear from the interviews of staff in early 2015 that despite the passage of time since the Mortonhall Report, the report of the Infant Cremation Commission and extensive media coverage of the circumstances at Mortonhall Crematorium that staff had not yet been properly briefed or briefed at all to allow them to have an accurate understanding of the physiology of the bones of foetuses, stillborn babies and infants.

8. The most senior level of management at Aberdeen must provide strong leadership and now take full responsibility for the effective management of the crematorium. It must also ensure that immediate and appropriate training takes place and that effective and ethical practices are maintained. This relates not only to a change of working practices but to an assurance that the culture of the organisation and the knowledge and understanding is such as to prevent any future abuse of the trust of those families who have placed the remains of their loved ones in their care.

10. As with other crematoria there was a total absence of any local written instruction or guidance. This remained the case even in 2015 after an audit report of 2013 which highlighted the lack of written procedure. This meant that the actual practices employed in the crematoria were not documented and available for inspection by normal quality assurance procedures. Had such written guidance been available it may have alerted Cremator Operators to the deviant nature of their practices.

11. By allowing the predicted outcome rather than the actual outcome to remain in the disposal column Aberdeen City Council created a situation where the inaccurate information was allowed to remain on the Register. Although the inaccuracy was identified no steps had been to correct the accuracy of the Register. This casual and careless approach to a statutory obligation is of considerable concern.”

My conclusions

There is contradiction about Leonard’s position in the Muse report (do we not consult people so as not to ‘fatigue’ them or do we involve them in the design, etc).

Leonard contradicts himself again in his testimony here.  At one stage we’re asked to think of him as being a father who’d be concerned about the families; and then we have the inexcusable on the appalling choice of words about ‘slow cooking babies’ and ‘what if the parents found out’. Either you are a caring, empathetic parent – or you use that kind of language and seek to keep your parent peers in the dark.

Claims that there was no way to find out about any industry best practice or operational standards are debunked within five minutes by anyone with internet access. A search would swiftly find  The Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities(FBCA). This organisation told me:

“The Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities(FBCA) represents all but two of the operational crematoria in Scotland and around 85% of crematoria in the whole of the UK.

The FBCA has existed since 1924 and represents the owners and operators of cemeteries and crematoria in the UK.

All members of the FBCA have to confirm that they operate in accordance with our Code of Cremation Practice on an annual basis.

The process of cremation is regulated by Sepa and there are parameters which have to be maintained throughout each and every cremation, whether adult or infant, however it is important that special measures are taken during the cremation of very young babies to ensure that the conditions within the cremator provide the best possible opportunity for the recovery of ashes at the completion of the process..

We provide the training and examination process used at the majority of crematoria in Scotland and we strive to ensure that Best Practice and the highest standards are met at all times. “
– email from R Powell of FBCA to S Kelly 5 September 2016

For someone with a director’s mandate covering the crematorium, ignorance of this easily-found knowledge is bad enough; it is compounded by the evident lack of interest in pro-actively seeking for it.

Changes were to have been made in documentation for procedures; this went un-remedied for years. Should the buck have stopped with Leonard?

The curtains are drawn:

It should be noted that there is a Customer Services Standards document – but it is being updated, and requests for a copy of the current one have gone unanswered.  Aberdeen Voice also made an appointment to view the Officers’ register of interests – and hours before the appointment the city cancelled on the grounds ‘personal data’ would be in the records.

The legal team decided that a Freedom of Information request would be needed, and that while councillors’ records are all electronically available, the records for officers and directors were off limits.

Let’s hope the wait to see the records won’t take too long (all FOI requests I have made to the city have been just to the deadline or have been late).

Enough:

I watched as the arrogance and assurances from Leonard led to the destruction of a herd of deer that had lived on Tullos for decades without needing any cull. I watched as he stubbornly refused free advice on non-lethal culling, refused to take on board the soil report saying that trees are unlikely to establish while approving hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultants, fencing, trees and deer hunters.

I watched as a friend whose stillborn child was told there would be no ashes to scatter after cremation some years ago. I worried as I helped arrange a cremation fairly recently as to what was going on.

I watched as the hated Muse project was foist upon a largely unwilling, certainly poorly consulted public – who will  now subsidise the Press & Journal with a year’s free rent.

I watched as parents were further disrespected by Leonard deciding not to face them at the crematorium public meeting as he chose to vacation instead.  I’ve listened to complaints of people with health issues in housing inadequate to their needs.

I’ve heard from people who waited months and months for simple housing repairs.  I’ve heard from people living in housing where anti social behaviour runs rampant because the city keeps no residential staff to ensure safety. I’ve heard from staff who have felt bullied under his regieme.

I now want to watch as Leonard leaves his post with as small a remuneration as legally possible, and leaves quickly.

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Aug 182016
 

With thanks to Esther Green, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR

quarriersHousehold essentials that help make a house a home are being provided to young homeless people in Scotland who are overcoming significant challenges and taking up their first tenancies.

Starter packs containing the basics like curtains, bedding, pots and pans, towels and cleaning items are being provided to young people who have experienced homelessness when they move into their first homes through an initiative by leading social care charity Quarriers.

Aberdeen Asset Management’s Charitable Foundation has given £2,000 to provide starter packs to help 40 young people kit out their new home, giving them a more comfortable start to life in their first secured tenancy.

Youth homelessness remains a real issue in Scotland and young people supported by Quarriers’ youth housing services have often travelled a harrowing road with exposure to neglect, violence, abuse, relationship breakdowns with family and friends, and substance misuse which has affected their health, emotional and psychological development, confidence and self-esteem.

A number of young people have also experienced the care system at some point in their lives.

Many have encountered difficulties at school which has hindered their progression and acquisition of basic literacy and numeracy skills.

Increasingly, Quarriers is also supporting young refugees and asylum seekers whose extreme experiences and negligible resources severely limit their ability to survive, let alone thrive, in their new country.

Young people speak of their feelings of despair, abandonment and isolation; many have turned to alcohol, drugs and high risk behaviours to try to escape their situations and feelings.

Quarriers last year supported over 300 young people to regain their confidence and get their lives back on track, providing them with the means and skills to live independently and successfully within their community. These youngsters, often referred by social work or related services, receive up to two years support from the charity, depending on their circumstances.

Moving into their own tenancy – be it in mainstream or supported accommodation – is a significant step forward full of challenges for young people with few belongings, let alone basic furniture.

Providing basic household items including bedding, curtains or blinds, towels, cutlery and dishes, a kettle, toaster and pots, cleaning goods and other items when possible and funding permits helps young people get settled in and feel like they are in their own home, rather than just a safe room with a roof.

Alice Harper, Quarriers Chief Executive, said:

“Quarriers is committed to providing high quality services to help young people experiencing homelessness. Practical support such as providing these starter packs makes a real difference and we would like to thank Aberdeen Asset Management wholeheartedly for their support.

“Together, we are helping the young people we support to develop essential life skills and work towards a brighter future.”

Dominic Kite of Aberdeen’s Charitable Foundation, added:

“Having a place to call your own is a milestone in any young person’s life but for anyone who has faced homelessness it must be all the more significant. Quarriers has recognised the difference it makes to provide an assortment of basic home items right at the start of a new tenancy and we’re pleased to be able to provide starter packs for 40 young people.”

Aberdeen Asset Charitable Foundation was established in 2012 to formalise and develop the Group’s charitable giving globally. It seeks partnerships with smaller charities around the world, where funds can be seen to have a meaningful and measurable impact and the firm encourages its employees to use their time and skills to support its charitable projects.

The main focus of the Foundation is around emerging markets and local communities, reflecting the desire to give back to those areas which are a key strategic focus of the business and to build on the historic pattern of giving to communities in which Aberdeen employees live and work.

For more information visit http://www.aberdeen-asset.co.uk/aam.nsf/foundation/home

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