Anonymous, People’s Health Movement


This Edinburgh resident has been a core activist in a campaign by the People’s Health Movement (PHM) to improve the quality of care provision.

PHM logo


After completing my Masters, I wanted to specialise in PR and, as there were no opportunities to study in my country, I moved to Edinburgh in 2007. It was challenging because English wasn’t my first language. Towards the end of my studies I lost my part time job, through my own fault, and started working full-time in the care sector in order to complete my degree. However working full time in the care sector had an impact on my studies. In the end I finished with postgraduate diploma instead of Master Degree. I realized that it was almost impossible to combine this kind of work with studies, but I also realized that many people in the care sector are suffering because of the workload, antisocial hours and low pay. Coincidentally, the People’s Health Assembly was held at my university – Queen Margaret’s – and I got an invitation to attend. I participated in discussions and raised issues about people in care suffering silently and care workers deserving a standard of life, that is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. This was the first step and then I got to know Anuj – our core group co-ordinator at People’s Health Movement – as well as academics and others that were steering the discussions. I was the one, however, bringing real stories and I think that was quite important.


Throughout my work in care I have met a lot of people, not just those I care for but colleagues as well, and we talk a lot about the things that matter to us and the difficulties we experience. I just thought, these things need to be said loudly and the People’s Health Assembly was a very good opportunity to do it. From the Assembly in 2014, our core PHM group was formed. We meet at least once a month (person or via skype), and also we are in communication weekly, by email, about events we should be going to and what we are preparing for. I have come to realise how important this dialogue, and encouraging people to take part in it, is. Talking to politicians, academics and others from the health sector is crucial but what is also needed is talking with my colleagues about what they think needs to be changed, how they feel about their work and how this work is perceived.

The PHM managed to create a people’s health manifesto, which is now used to lobby political parties, and we have indirectly contributed to some small changes to the sector. Linking with other NGO and supporting cause for living wage brought first fruit. In October, for example, we are going to get paid the Living Wage of £8.25 an hour.

These improvements also bring new challenges as companies are fighting back. For example, at my work, after Living Wage was introduced we all received a letter saying our sickness hours have been cut. It’s a constant battle; you achieve something small and they will take it from the other side. Their argument will always be money; our argument will always be quality. The health sector is not about profit and you can’t look at it like it will be profitable, because it’s about people. Cathy MacCormack is an inspirational lady who had a presentation at the People’s Health Assembly and she says we are like David against Goliath; there are people very high up who you cannot reach and are sometimes not really interested. It’s a battle but it’s an important battle to be a part of.

When I started with the company, we got uniforms and our manager went to people’s houses to check on things and give us weekly feedback. Slowly all these things started disappearing, it was like a degradation of the whole job with no one really caring what is done or how it works. I was lucky to have a full-time contract but others were getting 16 hour+, which means at the end of the month you get £500, £600 for working 50 hours per weeks. It was cheating people. Many people got sick and I saw some young people who have mental health issues because they can’t cope with the level of stress. The minimum wage didn’t cover their expenses, such as nutritious food, which you need to work 7am to 10pm, constantly serving someone and giving medication. When people realise they can’t do their job properly they feel like they have to leave, otherwise they might make mistakes, which they have to take full responsibility for. People working for banks are seen as important, they’re dealing with money, it has a high status. But those who are taking care of other people – looking after the most vulnerable in society – they don’t have the same recognition.

The People’s Health Movement is a very important resource, a global network of grassroots health activists, NGO and academics around the world, because it’s a way of uniting people. We are all fighting for the same thing – health for all – in our own countries. When I was in Belgium, attending special education program called IPHU – through PHM, there were people from many countries there, all saying that the health sector is changing into a big profit company. TTIP is a huge threat to PHM’s aims because it allows the state to sell everything. The state should be the owner of health care and it should be for everyone so that no one is afraid that if they get sick or something goes wrong they won’t be cared for. At PHM global we are all experiencing the same thing in different countries and it unites us.

Three women I used to care for have been inspirational to me – Christina, Elizabeth and Mary. Having lived through the Second World War they were in their late eighties and nighties and still very strong women with good values. Seeing how hard our job was, they were very supportive to their carers, for example Christina was always offering cups of hot drink and running to hang up your coat if it was wet. They had hard lives all of their lives and the end it wasn’t smooth for them either so, to me, they were women overcoming barriers, staying strong in spite of difficulties; they were not broken. Christina especially, when she was becoming weak the care wasn’t a high standard and deserved something better. Although I make small contributions, I think about these women and feel that future generations have to say things loudly if they’re not as they should be.

I’m still learning a lot but I realise how important this dialogue is – it’s challenging but it is worth it. I know there are always people who look like they are three times smarter than you but you have to say what you have to say, that’s the most important thing. A future task for PHM is lobbing for equality in health care, transparency, state ownership of healthcare, which will require us to be united and speak up against the way things are now.


Morna Simpson, founder, Girl Geek Scotland


Morna founded Girl Geek Scotland, a community and support network for women in technology, enterprise and creative industries.

I founded Girl Geek Scotland in the Autumn of 2008 and our first event took place in 2009. It was the result of me, as a lecturer, looking at the drop off in female uptake to our course – an Interactive Media Design BSc – and scratching my head wondering what the problem was. Also, for some time I had been working in a culture, not just at university but in digital media in general, that was very masculine and I missed having women to talk to. I had people that understood what I did, who were all guys, and I had friends who were women, who understood all the other sides of me, but I wanted to see if I could find women who were really interested in the same things as me and understood the issues of being a woman in this environment.

A big push for me was when I heard about Girl Geek Dinner, an organisation in London, founded by Sarah Lamb. Being the sort of pushy person I am, I emailed her to ask why she wasn’t doing that sort of thing in Scotland with the usual ‘I’m offended that money’s being spent down there but not up here’. She replied that actually she had done it all off her own back, it wasn’t publically funded and asked if I wanted it to happen in Scotland, why didn’t I do it myself? It’s one of those times when you have to think ‘fair cop. Blush’. So I did – I reached out to as many women that I knew of in technology and got in touch with various people, local government and other organisations to ask them if they knew of others who could help.

We had the first Girl Geek Scotland dinner at the DCA in Dundee. We got small amounts of sponsorship from local organisations and using that we had a group of about 30 women talking about their projects and interests over dinner, which is a much more social situation. Being a woman in technology I didn’t need to ask what the differences between the way men and women network are; that was something I knew intuitively, so setting up a dinner party seemed, to me, to be a very sensible option.

From that first dinner we developed a relationship with Informatics Ventures Edinburgh and raised a substantial amount of money that enabled us to hold workshops to support women in enterprise, in 2010. The workshops were 3-day retreats which attracted people that were at a sweet point of creativity, computing and enterprise but felt weaknesses in their computing skills. It’s a cultural thing – not choosing computing or sciences at an early enough age, meaning that they have to find another way in. For us, it was a really good way of meeting interesting women with exciting projects, that were being entrepreneurial about how they went about making them work.

Over the years there’s been quite a change in the community; it’s become more mature as members have developed their careers. Leah Hutcheon, for example, was working as a journalist/editor when she first got involved with Girl Geek Scotland then she left and started her own business. She just raised £500,000 for her company Appointedd. There’s also always new people coming along and we’re just developing a mentoring scheme that pairs up new people with members that have more experience. We started off with everybody just beginning but now we’ve got a mature, core community alongside newcomers.

The biggest challenge has been my health. I had an accident in 2009 which resulted in me leaving my job and having lots of surgeries in the years following. That was quite difficult but it’s worth saying that if I’d left to have kids or something like that, I’d probably be in the same situation. In technology, people want you to have the exact right experience for the last 2-5 years in a row and coming back from a gap like that, you obviously can’t offer that.  I had no money, no income and I didn’t have a partner. I struggled to get by and kept having to go back into hospital, it was just a really difficult time of lots of stopping and starting.

Recently there’s been a new surge of interest in Girl Geek Scotland which has added rocket fuel to what would otherwise have been quite difficult to build up again as now I have a team of fantastic people supporting different aspects. I had intended on closing it down, and was doing a few interviews with people from our community for LinkedIn but people started approaching me and asking if we could get Girl Geek Scotland going again. We got it going this year with a big launch in February with the First Minister at Napier University. Now i’m really trying to delegate various activities to people whose careers benefit from taking control of aspects of the organisation. I’ve learnt a lot from leading Girl Geek so I know how to do things but I’ve also realised that I can be much more strategic this way.

Working in this area it can be difficult to think of female role models because there are so few women doing what you do. I would like to say, however, that the people I’ve made contact with at Silicon Valley are hugely inspiring to me. Women such as Heidi Roizen, Karen White, Wendy Lee and Ann Winblad have come to speak at our events and are particularly inspirational because they don’t shy away from talking about their whole lives. It’s interesting that it’s these people, who are at that stage where they have very successful business, who maybe feel that they can share their lives more easily but also understand that younger people at earlier career stages, trying to make it in a man’s world, can’t do that. Heidi Roizen, for instance, has spoken quite openly about her child going through gender reassignment and it’s that kind of openness that makes people accessible. It’s difficult to be inspired by somebody that you can’t relate to at all.

Our mentoring programme is an important part of Girl Geek Scotland’s future. We also have a significant amount of funding which we’re looking to unlock with matched funding.We’ll be holding events in Autumn and Spring next year and I want to encourage anyone interested in becoming part of our community to get in touch.

Find out more and get in touch:

Gill McArthur, co-founder and co-ordinator, Re-Act

Gill McArthur co-founded Re-Act, a charity in Edinburgh that provides practical support for refugees and other vulnerable groups.  Founded in 2015, the organisation has already distributed approximately 500 tonnes of donations and raised over £70,000 for good causes. Other branches have been established in Aberdeen, East Lothian, Falkirk, Linlithgow, Badenoch and Lochaber.

I found it really inspiring and fascinating to reading about others amazing achievements and resilience at times. On a personal level, my Grandfather inspired me but now after reading Breaking The Mould many of the women from Edinburgh do too – such amazing achievements.

React logoRe-Act started after a friend of a friend planned to send a van of donations to Calais last year. She made a Facebook event asking people to bring donations, but when they over-spilled her flat, I offered the nightclub I run – Studio 24  – as a storage space and stuff just started turning up. It got to the point that the venue was so full of donations that we wouldn’t have been open up on the Friday night! I had to quickly call everyone I knew with a garage, warehouse, shop, basement and van to get everything moved. We had about six van loads in one week. The person who had sent the call out for donations didn’t really expect to get such a big response, and there was no plan for storing and distributing the donations but fortunately myself, my parents and friends had vans so we organised for them to go to Calais as soon as possible. Donations, however, were jumbled up and I heard that some things arriving in Calais weren’t needed so I thought this stuff needs sorted, organised more volunteers to help and that’s how we got started.

When we established ourselves we called our organisation Re-Act because I am passionate about a lot of issues in Edinburgh, like fracking and the lack of arts provision in schools. I thought if I was going to get involved in something helping the refugee crisis, I also wanted to be able to involve myself in other things throughout Edinburgh, to help at home too. I didn’t want to just help people in Calais and Greece when there are homeless people here that are cold at night. We are reacting to things that are unfair, that’s what we want to do and the refugee crisis is definitely the most unfair thing that has happened in my lifetime. Then, hopefully, things will improve and we can carry on and do good work for other people.

At this point, we’ve probably sent about five hundred tonnes of aid, all hand sorted and laundered at my folks’ house. Also, over £70,000 has been raised from friends doing cake stalls, people donating cash, comedy nights and gigs, just through many, many people with different skills organising different events. Thank goodness they did, it’s made such a massive difference – it has literally fed starving people and made their lives better. A lot of money has been sent out, we’ve set up wee initiatives in Greece, Calais and in Edinburgh and been able to support them financially, with advice and with volunteers.

When the refugees arrive at the boat with the smugglers one of them is shown how to operate the boat and then they have to guide it across the sea. So they have no idea where they will end up and if the boat will make it. It really depends on the wind and conditions at sea on which island they will arrive at. As samos is mainly cliffs a team of life guards and divers are on patrol to help when its needed. Sometimes they are too late.

On our first trip to Samos in Greece we discovered chaos. There were five of us volunteers and about four to six thousand refugees all sleeping outside with no aid, no food, no bottles for their babies. People say ‘they’ve got money, they’ve got iPhones’ but refugees have just been thrown on a boat; they’ve got whatever they can fit in their pockets. We also found out that many of them had been told that the money for their boat ride would also get them clothes, food and help when they arrived. This isn’t the case. They get dropped off somewhere at night – at a beach or a cliff – and there is no-one there to help them.

Being able to help the people here is lovely, as well as doing what you can abroad, but it’s like sticking a little plaster on a massive gaping wound and one of the most difficult things is having to choose where to help. How do you know you’re making the right decisions and helping the right people? We knew we couldn’t help everyone, everywhere so, in Greece for instance, we picked one island. I’m used to running events, switching off from the world around me and just organising things, which helped when I went to Greece but sometimes I let what’s happening in. When blankets have run out and there’s none for a cold, shivering baby, you give them your coat and sit with their mum who’s breaking down, it’s really, really tough. I channelled that into pleading for more donations, because I’m always one to solve a problem and never think I can’t. Instead of letting it get to me, we react to do what we can to help.

We also run a jumble sale/free shop with unsuitable items. We raise money with this but more importantly we give cards to all refugees and homeless shelters which entitles people with the card to have any items for free.

Re-Act has also just appointed a health advocate for refugees in Edinburgh. Several stories made us realise the need for this; for instance, one of our lovely volunteers has a little baby girl who wasn’t well. The baby had had blood tests done but her parents had no idea what was wrong with her or what the results of the tests were. There’s a massive problem with health services for refugees here and my mum – who used to work in paediatrics – is going to recommend that staff give refugees – be they parents or patients – a printed copy of diagnoses or notes from their doctor. If they have an explanation on paper, families can take it away and get it translated. It’s a really simple change in process that will save people from being scared and not understanding health issues affecting their families.

Re-Act is not my organisation, it is every single person’s that has come down and sorted out clothes, driven donations around and shared Facebook posts. If people didn’t do all that, Re-Act wouldn’t be here. Everybody’s had their turn of exhausting weeks, packing bags, lifting sacks, breaking their backs and driving vans so, I see it as all the volunteers’ project. I’ve facilitated the operation with a group of people that have helped from the very start.

Facebook has been phenomenal for connecting people with this whole thing. At the moment we’re trying to encourage more people to volunteer because the crisis is dropping out of the public eye and people aren’t as aware that the situation is still going on and is as bad as it has always been. However, I don’t want to flood Facebook with negativity and I’m trying not to make Re-Act a page about the awfulness of the situation, but more about the positive effects that we’re having because I know my feed is constantly full of war and destruction which is hard, day in, day out and isn’t good for you.

My biggest inspiration is my grandad; he was never one to take no for an answer. He was a lawyer and after his training he worked at a tea plantation in India changing the lives of people there, putting in schools and healthcare, giving workers their rights. You weren’t allowed to say ‘I’m bored’ or ‘can’t’ in front of him. I’ve got a daughter and since she was a little girl I have said you can do whatever you want to do, because that’s what my grandad taught me.

Re-Act definitely took over my life completely for six months. My partner, who had just taken paternity leave to look after our wee boy and was about to go back to work, ended up working forty hours a week, driving to Croatia and helping with donations. I’ve got so many ideas but I wasn’t able to do them which was really frustrating, and families were still arriving in Edinburgh without basic living essentials, so I realised we needed to have a better balance and help on a better level. That’s why we changed the donation days to once a month, allowing us to focus on lots of small projects as well.

There are lots of projects that I want to start in Edinburgh, as well as continuing to send aid to wherever it’s needed. I would definitely like to go back to Greece soon and help out there by also my partner is a gardener and ‘grow your own’ is his obsession so we want to work with the council to put allotments in council property gardens. We’ll be continuing to hold after school workshops with kids here, that have been really successful, and women’s conversation classes. Also, we’re really keen to set up a sort of men’s club as well, to help them integrate and learn about our culture. As always though, it can’t just be for refugees, migrants and Syrian people; it’s got to be for everybody.

Fatou Baldeh, FGM survivor and DARF campaigner

Fatou bbcGambian-born Fatou Baldeh experienced female genital mutilation (FGM) at the age of 7. She became involved in the campaign to end FGM while studying at Queen Margaret University. Now working in a voluntary capacity with DARF, she has used her story to raise public awareness, train frontline public sector staff and engage with communities which practice FGM. Her campaigning activities include a groundbreaking presentation at The Scottish Parliament and participating in interviews with the BBC, the Guardian and the Herald.

Breaking the Mould is an important publication because you never know who could read a story that will inspire them to think ‘I can do this too’. Sometimes other people’s stories are the only place to get momentum. At university, I had a lecture on FGM and I remember wondering what they were talking about, because FGM is called cutting or circumcision within practising communities and is rarely discussed. By the end of the lecture, I realised they were talking about what had happened to me. I started reading about it but even when I decided that FGM would be my dissertation topic, I said I wouldn’t use the term mutilation because I didn’t feel mutilated. However, the more I researched, the more I thought ‘this is wrong’.

My dissertation research was very emotional as the first interview I performed was my first time speaking about FGM to someone else who had been through it. She talked a lot about things I was experiencing as well but didn’t know it had anything to do with FGM. It was a big, reflective learning curve for me and motivated me to campaign even more.

Whilst I was at university I got involved with DARF through volunteering and the help they gave me during my dissertation. DARF was founded by Dr Monica Magoke-Mhoja, after writing her PHD dissertation on early marriage and FGM. She set up DARF to support women and provide training on these issues for frontline officers around Scotland. I am still a volunteer campaigning against FGM, raising awareness, lobbying the government to change the laws surrounding FGM and early marriage and providing funding for projects that support women across Scotland and in Africa as well.

Presently, we’re doing a research project called ‘My Voice, in which we teach young people from practising communities how to do research so that they can speak to other members of their communities about FGM. They find out for themselves about people’s opinions and beliefs and report back to us. We want to continue working with young people because we feel that it’s the way forward – if we can change the mind of all the young people then we hope that in a generation we can abolish FGM.

When I started campaigning, if I said ‘FGM’ people wouldn’t know what it meant but four years later I hardly ever need to define it. Through my campaign, the work of a lot of other activists and media exposure we’ve increased awareness in Scotland, which is a huge step because people cannot protect others from something that they don’t know is happening, or understand.

We’ve trained hundreds of police, healthcare, social workers, lawyers and other frontline workers, on how to talk about FGM and the issues around it. With the NHS, for example, there were a lot of issues with women feeling uncomfortable speaking about FGM, due to fear that their culture would be seen as barbaric or uncivilised, and problems with the way questions were worded, which meant cases of FGM were missed. Although there is still more to be done to protect girls, greater awareness and understanding has been a big achievement.

Collective efforts from activists across the UK have removed legal loopholes from the ban on FGM to protect all women who reside here. Before, women who lived in the UK on visas or with children born here were excluded from the ban but now all residents are included. Performing FGM on children here, or taking them outside the UK for it, has been banned as well due to our lobbying. Midwives in Scotland are also starting to ask pregnant women from FGM-practising communities if they have experienced it and are recording these cases. We are also campaigning for the government to include FGM in sexual health lessons in schools to increase awareness.

I am so passionate about seeing an end to FGM that I’m happy to do whatever I can even if I don’t get paid for it, but I also have to live and the sustainability of the project and my work is a concern. We’re hoping to get more funding soon but finding money to do everything we want is a huge challenge in supporting women across Scotland. In London, there are specialised clinics to treat those affected by FGM but we don’t have that space here. Women don’t want to be examined and need someone to speak to them first, give them emotional support and encouragement before they can face such a big issue. Counselling and mental health support is limited here and even when it’s available there can be a long wait. It would be great to have the money to change this and be paid myself but I will volunteer to do whatever I can to see that girls are protected and affected women get the services they need.

When I first got involved, the most difficult part was acknowledging what I had been through, acknowledging that we may call it culture but it’s still child abuse. Growing up, everyone around me had experienced FGM but we were taught not to talk about it, to bury it and get on with things. So, it was tough to talk about, especially with my family as, at the beginning, they were not very happy with the work I was doing and felt it was wrong to speak up against my culture. I’ve also had a lot of nasty emails and social media messages, that at one point were so bad I de-activated all my accounts. People’s negative reactions have been a challenge; it feels good when someone says ‘well done you, you’re doing a great job and making a difference’ but it hurts when it turns the other way.

People like Kara Brown have been a great support and got me through times when I have almost given up. When pressures from my family and others to stop campaigning have got to me, Kara has always been there to encourage me and say ‘look, don’t worry about that, you’re doing a great job’. She’s been my rock; she’s always pushing me and motivating me. Another important person is Oonagh O’Brien, one of my lecturers at Queen Margaret University. She has been so supportive in my campaign and is the lead researcher on the My Voice Project. Every time I get upset I turn to them.  People at DARF have also been really supportive whenever issues arise.

My personal experience, although bringing many challenges, has also been a resource for training and accessing women affected by FGM. There’s a lot of information around FGM but when I do a presentation, the feedback I get from people is that they’ve read a lot of things and been to the training but the personal experience that I bring in makes a huge difference of their whole understanding and perspective towards female genital mutilation. It also facilitated discussions during my dissertation, as most of the women that I interviewed told me ‘I’m only speaking to you because I know that you know what I’m talking about. If it was anyone else, then I wouldn’t’.

There are women that I look up to because they started the wave for people like me. During my research I read a lot about Comfort Momoh and Efua Dorkenoo, both researchers and campaigners against FGM. Efua sadly died almost two years ago, but they are brilliant women, pioneers against female genital mutilation and, alongside Kara, have been like a rock to me. Another woman who has supported me is Alimatu Dimonekene. She runs a charity in London and because she has experienced FGM, I have a lot in common with her. When I feel down I phone her because she always gives me good advice and can encourage me by saying ‘I’ve been there as well’. She’s been amazing.

One of the main things on my list for the future is working with communities and young people because just working with professionals is not going to make any difference. At the end of the day, communities need to understand that FGM is wrong, they need to understand the implications of FGM and we cannot achieve that if we do not work with them. Part of the ‘My Voice’ project is also to work with men, because I believe that we cannot bring about this change without men’s involvement, as the ultimate reason for FGM practices is to please them. In a lot of communities, men won’t marry a woman who hasn’t had FGM, which is a big driving force for women cutting their daughters, despite knowing how it has affected them. If your daughter’s future depends on having a good husband, you do whatever possible to get them that, so we need men to accept marriages to women without FGM and we need fathers to say ‘I don’t want my daughter cut’. At DARF we are starting to work at these grassroots levels, and provided we find the funding, this is something we would love to continue.

Tanya Castell, CEO, Changing The Chemistry

Tanya CastellTanya founded Changing The Chemistry, a national charity working to improve diversity of thought within boards across the public, private and third sectors in Scotland and beyond. She currently holds a portfolio of non-executive director positions, following a highly successful career in risk management with senior management roles at multi-national institutions including UBS and Lloyds.

It’s very interesting to think about Breaking the Mould in the context of boardrooms, where we’re told that women [with the right skills] aren’t there and then you read this publication. There are some amazing women, doing amazing things and people just aren’t aware of, and don’t necessarily value, those skills. These skills can be very valuable in a boardroom but the people haven’t necessarily been CEOs or Finance Directors as they decided to spend their lives doing something different. Or they didn’t aspire to those roles, didn’t know the options were there, didn’t have any access or, for some, weren’t allowed to work when they were married. There’s all sorts of issues, it’s incredible. Some of the stories go back a long way so, in terms of timeframe, it’s better now but not good enough.

My non-executive career started in earnest in 2011 and, when I realised that I needed to network with lots of people, I went to an event in Edinburgh called ‘Inspiring Women Leaders…Dare We?’.  Towards the end of the day, we gathered in groups based on what actions we wanted to take (I was focused on the boardroom) and the collective feedback was to be sent out to the participants afterwards. When I hadn’t heard anything, I thought I would do something about it, so I contacted the women from the event in my group and a few others, invited them together for lunch and we started discussing what we wanted to achieve in relation to boards. Somebody suggested that we focus on quotas for women on boards but we didn’t think that was what we cared about. We agreed it wasn’t about quotas, but what we wanted, post financial crisis, was for boards to make better decisions and therefore it’s not really even about gender diversity; what it is about is diversity of thought, we want people to make better decisions. And that’s what we decided we wanted to achieve.

Changing the Chemistry began to work towards developing our members, supporting our members, helping them go for the roles and encouraging them, because it has never occurred to lots of people to go for a board role. At the start of 2012, when there were just 20 of us with 8 wanting board roles, we set a target to fill 8 board roles by the middle of 2013, giving ourselves 18 months because we were all new to the process. We worked with people to help prepare their non-exec CVs and we started running mock interview panels. Also, people came to talk about their experiences of being on boards. By the middle of 2013 we’d actually filled 12 roles, 50% more than we had targeted. At this point we realised that what we had was a peer support network.

Our statistics are a bit rough and ready because we rely on people to tell us but we know that our members have secured about 70 positions in a range of roles in small charities, big charities, public sector boards and companies, up to FTSE 250. In the work we did with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), when they were looking to diversify their board, we ran an event in May last year to encourage women to consider board roles. We had 55 people attend and another 15 participated online and we had great feedback. HIE have since appointed four new board members, three of whom are female and members of Changing the Chemistry. For Visit Scotland, an event designed to attract diverse candidates was run at very short notice and in two and a half weeks we had 80 people sign up. We also ran workshops to help people with the application form. Applications by women went from 28% of the total at the previous round to 63%. It was another public sector success and, of the five people VisitScotland appointed, four were women and three of them had engaged with Changing the Chemistry in some way.

Women aren’t very good at selling themselves – I’m generalising massively – but we become uncomfortable, we’re taught that it’s boastful. A number of our members have a real discomfort when it comes to turning their CV around for non-exec work. I showed my CV to a head hunter once, which included ‘School Governor’ from a time when I was brought in to help a struggling school in East Hackney. I had naturally just put ‘school’ but he told me to elaborate because it was actually a ‘turnaround situation’. It’s much more personal when you’re doing non-exec roles because it’s not about what you’ve done, but what you have learnt from your experiences and what personal skills you can bring to the boardroom, be it corporate governance, persuasion, risk management or any other capabilities. Saying ‘this is what I’m really good at’ is different to ‘this is what I’ve done’.

Losing my right peripheral vision recently was annoying but I think having depression affected me more and ultimately made me much more resilient. Recently, I have been wondering if the reason I care so much about changing the workplace is because of what happened to me. I only realised that I had depression in 2010 but when I look back and having done more research, I identified that it was actually triggered back in 2005 with the 7/7 bombings. On the day it happened, I was in charge of the safety of all the staff in Risk. Our office was next to Liverpool Street Station and we were evacuated. When I got home I watched the footage on TV because during the day, whilst managing the incident, we had been shut off from pictures which made it rather surreal. It took me a while to realise but from that date I had a tendency to become tearful, which I guess is some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. Back then it was controllable, I could stop myself from crying so it wasn’t a problem and I didn’t do anything about it. It wasn’t until the situation was so bad, caused by pressure at work, that if somebody talked to me, about me, I started crying and then it became obvious there was a problem. A combination of exercise and cognitive behavioural therapy along with great support from family and friends helped me recover.

I think unconscious bias is a major barrier. When we’re talking about the strategy of Changing the Chemistry now, a large part of this is influencing others around both the supply and the demand side of boardroom recruitment. The supply is there; the candidates aren’t necessarily ex- CEOs or ex-FDs but there are lots of very capable women. We need to help the demand side understand that women are as good and that they can do the roles. Chairmen and other male non-execs say to me that it’s important that they have the best person for the job, and I agree – but it isn’t a meritocracy. If it was a meritocracy, there would be many more women on boards already, but they’re not there. Thinking about unconscious bias, research shows that when faced with the same CV, both men and women are more likely to choose the one with a man’s name on the front rather than a woman’s. It’s quite scary. The situation is similar with names indicating different ethnicity or culture.

Because there are so many people looking at diversity topics, particularly the women on boards issue, I’m keen to work in a collaborative way. For the Highlands and Islands events I suggested that Women on Boards was involved and also the Institute of Directors because I realised these were other forms of support for people that want to a board role. Since I met Fiona Hathorn – Managing Director of Women on Boards – in a queue once, I have thought that our organisations are complementary. They’re great because they work across the UK and have a more mass market model but although I saw a reason for focusing on women at a general level, at the same time I felt there was a place for Changing the Chemistry because we are about diversity of thought (not just gender but also other aspects of diversity such as ethnicity) and the support we offer is more bespoke, more about helping individuals as a peer support network.

I read a really interesting article by Herminia Ibarrain Harvard Business Review. She asks are women ambitious? And responds that yes, they are ambitious but they’re working in a world designed by men, for men who have carers at home, but that doesn’t work for women. When working in the City, there were times when on work trips the men would talk about football and then go off to strip joints, and the women stayed behind. It was very excluding but it was easier to accept it. When I decided to leave the company though, some female colleagues told me they were sad because they wouldn’t have me as a role model. That hadn’t even occurred to me. Now, with Changing the Chemistry there are people I would pick up the phone to if there was something bothering me, there is a network we can leverage.

The challenge for Changing the Chemistry is to maintain what we have as we grow, and that’s hard as a peer support network. We are looking to change the structure to help make that work but I feel very strongly about not charging a membership fee because the sense of all being in it together and pitching in is core to our success and could be lost if we started charging membership fees. We have made great inroads and do a lot in the public sector but, with the private sector, the issue is the demand side. There are so many people not aware of the impact of unconscious bias and who don’t realise that diverse teams perform better; there are lots of places to influence still.

Rhona Matheson, Chief Executive, Starcatchers

Rhona Matheson photoRhona is Chief Executive of Starcatchers; a national arts charity that began as a small pilot project in the North of Edinburgh. The organisation’s arts-based approach to child and family development has been shared in communities across Scotland.  Recognised as a leader in their field at an international level,  Starcatchers is the only arts and Early Years organisations funded by the Scottish Government’s Third Sector Early Intervention Fund. 

 Reading Breaking the Mould was really interesting. It’s exciting to think there are all these women who have done these amazing things, but a lot of us don’t know they existed and that they had such impact. It’s also only a fraction of the number of women out there who’ve done amazing things, if you extend it beyond this one small geographic area, what else have we been doing? The stories are a way of understanding who’s been here before us and what they’ve had to do to achieve their ambitions, especially given the context that some of them are in. I thought the profile of Marie Stopes was interesting – that there was a real ego in the middle of her work, how she didn’t allow her husband to take any credit for his role in their work and her disapproval of her son’s choice of wife. It’s all about context, the context of the time she was living in. The context we live in and the people that surround us inform everything we do and that resonates for me in terms of the work we do with Starcatchers.

 Whilst there was some theatre being made for Early Years in Scotland when Starcatchers started 10 years ago at North Edinburgh Arts in Muirhouse, no one was making work for babies. The focus for the pilot project was on how artists make work for 0-3 as a creative intervention. We asked how do you engage with that age group? And from that, make professional children’s theatre performance for babies? It was a really pioneering initiative that I was brought in to manage. Being based in the Arts Centre, the project was also in the position to ask how do you create a bridge between the Arts Centre and the local communities?

 I think we’ve still barely scratched the surface, in terms of how we use arts with very young children in Scotland and that has been a key driver for me. My job has completely changed as Starcatchers has evolved: I came in as a project manager, sitting within the structure of another organisation, and now I am the Chief Executive of a company that is flourishing. Becoming a company in 2011 was a huge step but this was also liberating. The conversations that we’re now able to have about work we want to do, now and in the future, gives us the freedom to breathe, move and connect. One of the things I’m most proud of, is that we’ve been able to make inroads across the different sectors. We have local authorities, not just their arts divisions but early year’s education, social work, children and family services, who now have an understanding of why using an arts-based approach can support them to deliver the outcomes that they’re working towards. 

I have become obsessed with what happens when you have a consistent contact between artists and the same group of children, and parents and carers over an extended period of time. This is about having a deeper, more meaningful impact through the consistent contact of an artist going back week in week out, building up relationships with children and really responding to their needs and interests.

 People often assume that our work is just for the babies and children, but connecting with parents and carers is just as important. With The Playground we did really simple things in a block of sessions, where the artists would work with parents. The nursery said they were usually lucky if they got 50% attendance for parental engagement projects, we got 96%! We also had local authority educational psychologists come to the sessions with parents and children. They observed relationships and attachments between some of the parents and children that they had never seen before. Getting that feedback showed us that this approach makes a difference and this has allowed me to push for us to look at ways in which we can offer extended programmes in communities that can become embedded in these areas and become part of the fabric of the community rather than something that parachutes in for a fixed period of time.

The performances that we make are also really important and instrumental in enabling children to have positive, shared experiences with their parents or carers. We know that the experience can stimulate play and we get lots of feedback from people saying they still use the CD from Hup, for example, and they make connections between the performance and their child’s activities even weeks afterwards.

In a wider context, I think Starcatchers has achieved huge amounts and we have been recognised much more broadly as an organisation that is making a difference. We’re one of the only arts and Early Years organisations funded by the government, not through culture, but through the Early Years division. Making the connections at government level has been key, as has connecting with the third sector and we’ve established a broader understanding that has been instrumental in breaking down sectoral barriers across the Early Years landscape. We are also often asked to input into projects by other artists and practitioners as a result of our expertise and this allows us to support the growing field of arts and Early Years in Scotland.

Throughout Starcatchers’ evolution, there has been a sense that we’re always fighting our corner, justifying the importance of arts and creativity for our youngest children, which has been a challenge. It’s the sense of having to hold on to what you believe in, having the courage of your convictions and really going for it. Sustainability is always the biggest challenge that I think we’ve all got, but particularly in this climate. Many of our funders have a focus on supporting vulnerable children and families and this is something that is at the heart of much of our work. However, as our approach is different, that can sometimes be quite intangible to funders because we’re talking about the arts. That can be frustrating because we know that the work can deliver the outcomes they are looking for.

Academic research and evaluation has run alongside our projects from the beginning. It has been instrumental because it allowed us to say ‘this is how children engage with this work and this is why it’s important’. I think over the years and all the performances and projects, we’ve probably had 98% of people thinking that it’s been a really positive experience. That’s fine for us to say but actually having an independent perspective saying yes, this is good quality, this is having an impact, is really important.

International connections also started early on, and have had an impact on our organisation and arts and Early Years across the world. A member of the pilot project’s steering group, Jo Bellolli, who works for Polka Theatre in Wimbledon was connected with a European project for 0-6’s called Small Size. She connected me to this network and to develop relationships with a range of companies across Europe. Additionally, becoming part of Imaginate allowed us to connect into the International Children’s Theatre Festival in Edinburgh and their networks, which were quite different to mine. It was an interesting way of bringing those two parts of the children’s theatre sector together in Scotland and there’s now a very, very strong early years theatre sector across the world.

Whilst developing a strong Board can be challenging, we have been lucky to get some brilliant people [Fiona CarrProfessor Aline Wendy-Dunlop, Susannah Jeffries, Kate Park, Mary Glasgow] who have been really instrumental in getting us to where we are now. They come from different sectors, including higher education, the third sector and social work, primary teaching, midwifery, theatre and art. So, they all have really interesting experience and that means they can offer the right kind of support for almost everything that we might need at this point.

I’ve been really lucky to have had support from a number of people over the years. It’s been quite a tumultuous journey with lots of highs and lows. I never expected to be running an organisation: I always knew that I wanted to make a difference but was never exactly sure what shape that would take. There are some key women who work in this field who have connected across Europe and further afield who support each other. Jo Bellolli was really key in sharing her expertise and offering support the first few years. My colleague in Holland, Ingrid Wolff, runs a small festival and delivers engagement projects that have parallels with some of Starcatchers’ work. We have developed a strong relationship over the last few years and use each other as support.

 Since 2013, through our Creative Skills programme we have worked with over 1000 Early Year’s practitioners to build their confidence and capacity in using arts and creativity in their daily practice. There’s a mindset that we’re trying to shift and in certain areas that is beginning to happen. It is frustrating that at times we are working with practitioners who are not always able to make connections between what we are offering and the policy. At the same time, there are many organisations in the third sector and local authorities who see how the arts and creative practice can contribute to delivery the policy framework that we are all working with, and there’s huge opportunity within that for us. I have grand ambitions of having a Starcatchers nursery offering an arts-based approach to childcare that is rooted in a community. I would want this to be a setting that is a community resource that connects across the area. I think this could offer an exciting way for us demonstrate the transformational power of the arts and the impact this can have on very young children and their families.

Mairi Campbell Jack, writer and activist

MairiMairi is a social activist working with politicians of all hues to bring about radical change. By day, she works as Parliamentary Engagement officer for Quakers in Scotland; in her free time she blogs about life as a single parent in Edinburgh. Mairi has been involved in several feminist organisations and recently published a book of poetry.

I was amazed at the number of women in Breaking the Mould, from just Edinburgh and the Lothians. It made me think wow, what if you extended this further – across Scotland or the UK? I also thought it was sad that so many of these stories are silent. All the time I’m learning about women from history that have done amazing things but you just don’t hear them talked about in the media. It’s still very much focussed on men making change happen; as the innovators, the inventors and the people who push things forward. That’s not to say men’s contributions aren’t as exciting or as good, but often women, while making their contributions, are also fighting against stereotypes and bias.

I would describe myself as a social activist because I pick and choose what I want to work on, depending on what my personal issue is. When I first got involved in politics I wasn’t a mum so issues surrounding lone parenting weren’t things I worked on. Now I can see that there’s a need for all parents to have a voice in activism and for activism to open up a space for them. Of course in my work my priorities are set by others, but in my personal life I can decided to try for change when I come across the need.

My work as the Quaker’s Parliamentary Engagement Officer at the moment is centred around a public petition that we have in the Parliament on the increasing number of armed forces visits to schools. The petitions committee has not seen it yet, but that should happen in Autumn and we’re reasonably hopeful that we can start a debate about it. We really want to get this talked about and discussed within Scotland; among parents and among kids, just get a bit more awareness of what’s going on. So, it’s still to come to fruition but fingers crossed, it’s quite an exciting piece of work.

The role has two sides, on the one hand it’s speaking to politicians about matters of concern to Quakers and on the other hand it’s speaking to the Quakers about how to effectively engage with parliamentarians in Scotland. Quakers are very socially active people and peace has always been a large part of what they do so when I started the job I was pleased one of my priorities was raising awareness about the creeping militarism in schools. We didn’t know where it was going to go but another organisation working on the same issue – Forces Watch – asked me if I wanted to put a petition into Parliament and I thought, let’s go for it. The public petition system in the Scottish Parliament is particularly strong and is a really good way for non-politicians to engage in the political process, open issues up to public debate and get people talking about them. I started the process last January and after almost a year’s worth of getting together FOI’s, doing research and formulating the wording, we launched it in November.

Asking for transparency so that people can know what’s happening is a big thing. We tend to have three reactions to the petition, one is ‘absolutely, go for it, it’s awful that this is happening’ – those are people who already tend to know a lot about the peace movement. There’s the more neutral, middle reaction of ‘I never knew this happened, I’m not sure how I feel about this’. Then we get the people who will not broker any criticism of the armed forces whatsoever and don’t want to listen at all. Through spreading the discussion, sharing the petition on social media and annoying as many people into signing it as I possibly could, we got 1,027 signatures before it closed. To be heard by the public petitions committee you just need one, but obviously we wanted more to show that people are genuinely concerned about this and want to have a closer look at this in Scotland.

We got some great media coverage, with The Herald and Common Space, that helped raise awareness outside the normal areas and expand the discussion outside the usual suspects. Quakers want to change the public discourse about militarism so Forces Watch also had talks across different cities which again engaged new groups, such as people from trade unions and teachers. The SNP Youth Wing also had a big discussion about it as well which was really great. It’s good to see young people talking about it because I’m quite aware that I’m no longer young so I can parachute in there and tell young people what should be happening with them, but ultimately, it’s great to hear their voice saying what they want.

One of the obstacles is that some people immediately mistake what we’re trying to do and assume we’re asking for a ban. Peace discussions tend to centre on either being pro-army or pro-peace and there hasn’t been a huge amount of meeting in the middle ground. I think people have a kneejerk reaction and assume we are really anti-army, which isn’t the case. That’s part of the reason why we want to open it up to debate, so we can explain the angle that we’re coming from, that we’re not asking for a ban but are asking for some really reasonable things.

I’ve had very different reactions being a lone parent and trying to be an activist as well. One feminist organisation I was working for made it very clear that they didn’t want to do anything to facilitate someone with childcare issues to be part of the organisation. Another feminist organisation I was involved with hadn’t thought about childcare provision at one of their big meetings, but they thanked me for raising the issue and made a huge effort to rectify it. So it wasn’t perfect, but they really listened and tried to change. These were totally different responses to childcare needs from feminist organisations. A lot of people seem to think children are a lifestyle choice and that can be a barrier to being an active parent. It also means that activism is less diverse, if you’re immediately excluding parents – and most of the time it will be the woman – from taking part.

Social media is a really helpful resource, both as a writer and an activist; you can connect in a way that you never could before and  find like-minded people so you don’t feel so much like you’re out on a limb. For example I blogged about my recent correspondence with Picturehouse Cinemas [challenging their nuclear ‘family tickets’ and asking them to encompass all family realities]. I think the pressure of social media coverage encourages them to pay attention. For me social media and social connections are very important because I’m quite an extrovert and I get a lot of energy from interacting with people. I wilt a bit if I’m not interacting enough. I also have some great friends who are open-mined, curious and questioning people who you can sit down and have a really good chat with about stuff or just are very supportive and help me out.

Following from my social media work, particularly my idea to change the notion of ‘family tickets’, i.e. two adults, two children, One Parent Family Scotland asked me if I’d write a guest blog post for them, on being a single parent. Parenting can be quite hard and I think things like social media and blogging actually make it a hell of a lot easier now than it used to be, because you can easily reach out to other parents and get advice and support. There are also still a lot of myths about lone parenting, so I’m hoping that my blog will have an impact and help people see we’re not all 16-year-old mums on council estates, chain smoking, on benefits, which is what some people think a lone parent is. I have really good reactions when I blog about how I talk to my daughter about sex, from non-parents too. People who were brought up with more old fashioned ideas say it’s brilliant to see that kids are being brought up in a more open-minded, open way. I hope it does contribute to change but I think how much it does it yet to be seen.

I always wanted to be CJ Craig from The West Wing because the show inspired me in terms of politics, debate and argument, and I just thought CJ Craig was amazing. In real life, in Scotland, there were women like Kirsty Wark but there weren’t that many other really prominent women. Now it’s a bit different because we’ve got three female leaders in the Scottish Parliament. Things are obviously changing but growing up I wanted to be CJ Craig, I wanted to be a bit Kirsty Wark; I wanted to be these intelligent, powerful, together women.