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My first 400 days as Cattanach Chief Executive

Presidents and Prime Ministers tend to get only 100 days until the first summaries of their experiences –  and judgements of their performance – start to crop up. In the grant making world, the clock thankfully ticks a little bit differently. So today, I would like to share with you my thoughts and reflections about my first 400-odd days as Chief Executive of Cattanach.

Change, and lots of it

One thing was just as expected: The quantity and pace of change over the last 400 days. Cattanach Trustees had ambitious plans around our approach to funding, partnerships, and resulting operational changes. And I am absolutely delighted to say that team Cattanach has delivered on this ambition: Internally, we became a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) in December 2019; a new state-of-the art grants management system will launch in October 2020; a new Grants Committee has deepened discussions on proposals and improved feedback; a network of Associates brings insights from practice and lived experience; and we have grown first to a team of two in January, a trio in June, and now a quartet plus intern in August.  My priority for our external activities has been to strengthen our existing and valued partnerships while also building new partnerships across the funding and Early Years sectors. The Stepping Stone Strategy for 2020 was - literally – only the first step and I am just as excited about the journey as I was back when I started in May 2019.

My highlights

There are those moments that stick with you. Whether they are incredibly positive or negative does not matter; these moments leave an imprint that is just that little bit deeper. For me, the last 400 days have created many of these memories through working with our fantastic grantee organisations; you can see some of them and the incredible work they do in our case study section. What makes Cattanach so special to me is not just our thematic focus on the Early Years, which has allowed us to build an expertise in funding and supporting the sector, but first and foremost our relationship-based funding approach, which you will be able to read more in a blog series over the coming weeks.

The Elephant in the room: COVID 19

Little did I know that part of my first 400 days would be spent working very differently. COVID-19 hit hard. After the blast of inspiration of The Gathering in February 2020, I went off with pneumonia and returned to find the world in lockdown. Adjusting Cattanach was an easy exercise, with highly motivated staff, and work that is easily brought online. Challenges for our grantees were far greater amidst increasing child protection concerns, financial pressures on many more families in an environment of already extremely high child poverty rates, and mental health pressures that have exacerbated existing issues for Scotland’s Early Years children and their families. Our grantees have risen to this challenge with dedication, passion, and determined optimism, and we are so grateful for the work they do to. In reaction to COVID-19, we made all existing grant instalments unrestricted to offer flexible support. We also offered over £20,000 in additional microgrants while collaborating with other funder colleagues on the Community Wellbeing Fund. Finally, we partnered with the Life Changes Trust and Youth Scotland to offer direct grants to young families. Our Board decided to raise £900,000 from our portfolio for our increased activities, first and foremost additional grants. No one knows what the future will bring but we are determined to support our current and future grantees in the best way we can, whatever the circumstances.

What’s next?

There is much on the horizon that has carried the buzz of the first year into year two, and I do not think it will end any time soon. We look forward to reviewing our funding criteria and processes to be the best Early Years funder we can be. Our project on Wellbeing Budgeting for the First 1,001 Days is starting to take shape, and we look forward to keep driving the debate on Scotland’s vision for its youngest children – and therefore our joint future as a society. We cannot do any of this alone, and I welcome your views, feedback and ideas. If you feel you can contribute to our mission, please have a look at our current opportunities  or send me an email with your ideas and comments ( Together, we can create better starts for better futures – starting now.

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