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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

Positive partnerships

We are always keen to learn about successful partnership working across sectors. This page can be used as a resource for those working in all sectors to see how successful collaborations starts, how it works in practice and what the ultimate benefits are for both organisations and communities.

Some of our most recent case studies outlined below highlight collaboration during the covid-19 pandemic. Currently SCVO is working with Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS) to evaluate the impact of these partnerships and use that learning in the recovery from the pandemic.

We hope you find this page useful, and use it to point to examples of existing positive partnerships when you’re seeking to build your own cross-sector collaborations. If you would like to share your own partnership story with us, please contact 

Simon Community Scotland

Context: Homelessness is a significant problem in Scotland, despite world-leading legislation. Several charities work across the country to end homelessness and ensure suitable, sustained housing for all. The pandemic has shone a light on this injustice and the vulnerability of people without a good home. Simon Community Scotland is one such organisation.

What happened: In the period between lockdown and July, their staff, volunteers and partners supported 2,500 people experiencing homelessness or the risk of homelessness, including virtually eradicating rough sleeping for the first 14 days of lockdown from the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh for the first time in decades. This has been achieved together with partners, including the Scottish Government, local authorities, corporate donors, and individual donors.

Lessons learned: This example highlights the value of local government working in real partnership with voluntary organisations where the unique strengths of voluntary organisations are recognised and utilised and the importance of many actors in a system coming together to overcome longstanding challenges. There is an opportunity to nurture and grow these partnerships to lock in and catalyse lasting change. 

Auchinleck Community Development Initiative

Context: Due to the unprecedented load on the Department for Work and Pensions systems and the local Citizens Advice volunteers, many vulnerable people are trying to access benefits without support. These are often first-time signers with no experience of the system. Many people are still unsure of their entitlement and where and how to claim. This, combined with what can be a lengthy process to gather and input all the relevant information, is creating an ever-increasing wait to access benefits.

What happened: A unique delivery partnership between East Ayrshire Council’s Vibrant Communities Team and Auchinleck Community Development Initiative has continued to provide vital benefits advice, support and information to vulnerable people affected by the pandemic. New and additional support has also included essential food supplies and deliveries to vulnerable residents; prescription collections from the local pharmacy, fuel card top-ups, mobile phone top-ups and “befriending calls” to older and shielding residents.

Lessons learned: Voluntary organisations play a crucial role in ensuring that people do not fall through the cracks altogether, and this example highlights the council’s recognition, confidence, and reliance of the vital role the sector can play.

Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland (CCPS)

Context: The Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland (CCPS) held several workshops with local authority chief finance officers and voluntary sector providers on the issue of partnership working around finances, funding, and claiming additional costs to run services caused by the pandemic.

What happened: Many local authorities have been working well with voluntary sector providers, particularly where local authorities are relaxing monitoring processes and taking a light-touch approach to financial reporting from providers. Other examples are where funding has been made available for a range of additional costs due to the pandemic (additional support hours, staffing costs and PPE). Commissioners and finance officers have also worked closely with providers to ensure payments are made to support the sustainability of the sector and its crucial work during this time. In particular, East Renfrewshire Health and Social Care Partnership’s commissioning and finance teams have worked flexibly to support voluntary sector care providers, with strong communications and trust being essential. CCPS members have also reported positive relationships and processes for claiming additional costs for COVID in various local authority areas including Dundee, East Lothian, Stirling, and Argyll and Bute.


Context: HomeAid West Lothian was successful in securing funding administered by the Hunter Foundation for pandemic related support activity. They worked with West Lothian Council to identify those who fell into the gap of needing access to the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) but unfortunately did not meet the criteria.

What happened: The council’s Scottish Welfare Fund team referred these people to HomeAid West Lothian, as well as to the Council’s Advice Shop and Women’s Aid. HomeAid West Lothian was able to provide white goods or furniture free of charge, which was extremely helpful for those who were on low incomes but did not qualify for the SWF. They were also able to supply a number of fridges and fridge freezers to people to help those not able to get to the shops as regularly to store food for longer. Particular instances where support was most needed were for those recently made unemployed as a result of the pandemic and woman fleeing from domestic violence having to leave everything behind.

Lessons learned: While the council could not help these people under the current criteria of the SWF, by working in partnership with the voluntary sector, they fulfilled their role to ensure these people were not left behind.

Values In Action Scotland

Context: The pandemic has been a challenging period for young people, and the economic outlook and impact on jobs is uncertain. Values in Action Scotland (VIAS) is committed to ensuring people with learning disabilities or autism have the same opportunities as everyone else and are supported to achieve these goals, including work.

What Happened: While their planned events were halted due to the lockdown, VIAS’ already strong relationships with Renfrewshire Council was integral to their efforts in moving these vital services for young people with learning disabilities or autism online. Their first online Young Scotland’s Got Talent event in July (delivered in partnership with Scottish Commission for Learning Disability) was a huge success, and the Economic Development Department at Renfrewshire Council ran a Project SEARCH workshop for virtual attendees. Together with Glasgow City Council and North Lanarkshire Council, all three councils provided role models to discuss employment and opportunities for young people. Positive partnerships between VIAS and Renfrewshire Council have also supported communications for Project SEARCH, a one-year transition programme which provides employability training and education. Having noticed some vacant placements remaining available, VIAS and the council have worked together on a communications plan to promote the project and opportunities online.

Lessons learned: Positive relationships stretch beyond Renfrewshire, with North Lanarkshire Supported Enterprise having commissioned VIAS to deliver autism awareness and creating an inclusive workplace training online after recognising their innovative approach to co-produced training at a recent VIAS event. This example highlights the importance of strong ongoing relationships between local government and the voluntary sector, and how continued dialogue can foster new opportunities even in the most challenging of times.


Context: Yipworld is a voluntary organisation supporting families through the provision of activities for children and young people, particularly from families where parents and carers have underlying issues such as mental health and find it difficult to cope without external assistance. 

What happened: During the pandemic, they also provided telephone and ‘garden gate’ social distancing support for vulnerable, lonely and isolated residents throughout Cumnock and surrounding areas.  Yipworld’s strong relationship with East Ayrshire Council was vital in helping them to secure funding and reach those who needed their support.  They were nominated by East Ayrshire Vibrant Communities as the preferred provider for the holiday hunger programme funded by Youthlink Scotland across a number of local authorities, and through working with headteachers from a range of local schools they were able to ensure that their project to help parents living in poverty or at the edge of poverty to purchase training shoes and clothing from a local sports shop (funded by Corra Foundation) benefited families most in need. 

Lessons learned: This case study highlights that positive partnerships between local government and the voluntary sector need not involve the direct provision of finance by the local authority.

Engage Renfrewshire

Context: Engage Renfrewshire works in partnership with Renfrewshire Council’s Procurement Forum to ensure that the value of community benefits from contractors is maximised.

What happened: One example of this saw four hundred individual pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) donated by Alexander Workwear to organisations in the third sector.  A representative of environmental Social Enterprise organisation ‘Eadah’ said: “it has made such a big difference to kit out all our staff and volunteers with the proper PPE, this ensures that we are able to go onsite and comply with health and safety regulations, as well as delivering our services locally”. 

Lessons learned: Again, this shows the ways in which resources can be brought in from elsewhere through strong local partnerships between the voluntary sector and local government.

Edinburgh Leisure

Context: Edinburgh Leisure is a charity on a mission to keep people in Edinburgh active and well. Each year Edinburgh Leisure’s Active Communities programme supports over 10,000 people affected by health conditions, disabilities, poverty, and inequalities to get active and stay active.

Its Active Communities Team runs Edinburgh Leisure’s Community Access Programme (CAP), which works in partnership with around 250 charities and community groups in Edinburgh to support their beneficiaries to get active. It works with a range of organisations, from small youth centres to larger national charities working in Edinburgh. It supports people from all walks of life, including carers, minority ethnic communities and groups, people experiencing homelessness, care experienced children and young people, and people affected by health conditions and disabilities. The one thing they all have in common is that they believe physical activity can help their beneficiaries to improve their health and wellbeing.

With its city-wide facilities, wide range of activities to suit all interests and abilities, and expert staff who understand the barriers many people face to being active, Edinburgh Leisure is uniquely placed to help its partners support their beneficiaries get active in their local communities.

What happened: For just £20 per year, charities can join the Community Access Programme. This enables them to accompany the people they support, either 1:1 or in groups, to Edinburgh Leisure facilities to take part in a range of activities for just £1 per visit. These include swimming, working out in the gym, fitness classes, badminton and football. The Active Communities Team understands that many of these people lack confidence and have little experience of a leisure centre, so are more likely to try activities if they can go with someone they have already developed a relationship with.

Once people have started to incorporate physical activity into their lives and have built up the confidence to access facilities by themselves, they can apply for a free individual Community Access Programme card that enables them to attend independently and is currently used by over 2,500 people across the city.

One charity that Edinburgh Leisure has worked closely with through the Community Access Programme is Health All Round, a community development charity which supports people living in Gorgie, Dalry, Saughton, Stenhouse and the surrounding areas of Edinburgh to live longer and healthier lives. Alan Gray from Health All Round said:

“The people we work with have been referred to us by their GPs because they have long term conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, COPD and cancer, but many also live in areas of deprivation and are affected by poverty. They know that physical activity will help them to improve their health and wellbeing but often they don’t know how to get started.

The Community Access Programme addresses the barriers they face to being active, such as the cost, a lack of confidence and a fear of not fitting in, and helps them to weave physical activity into their lives in a sustainable way. Most of them use their access card to go to the gym and they tell us that it has made a huge difference to their mental wellbeing as well as their physical health. 

We know how important physical activity is for people’s health and wellbeing but, as a small charity in the west of Edinburgh, we don’t have the facilities to offer a wide range of opportunities to be active ourselves. Being part of Edinburgh Leisure’s Community Access Programme and having access to its gyms, pools and fitness classes across the city means that we can provide a meaningful and long-term solution to the people we work with rather than deliver a series of smaller projects that depend on short term funding.”

John is a Health All Round beneficiary who uses the Community Access Programme to get active. He said:

“The price of being active was a barrier for me before, so the Community Access Programme has made exercising so much more accessible. Since I started going to the gym and swimming, I have enjoyed having time to focus on myself. My mood has lifted, I have more energy and I have even lost some weight.”

Lessons learned: The partnerships that have been have formed through the Community Access Programme, like the one with Health All Round, are mutually beneficial: partner organisations help Edinburgh Leisure to reach the individuals and communities who need its support the most and Edinburgh Leisure helps partner organisations access services that can make a positive difference to people’s lives. 

By working closely with partner organisations, Edinburgh Leisure can build its understanding of the areas in which they work, get to know the communities they serve, identify gaps in service provision that it could help with and undertake consultations that help form the basis for other Active Communities projects. For example, its Looked After and Active project, which supports care experienced children to enjoy an active childhood, was developed in response to its work with care charities.

The Community Access Programme has also given it a platform to raise awareness of its other Active Communities projects and has made it easier for partner organisations to refer their beneficiaries to a service that might be helpful. For example, its partnerships with charities supporting minority ethnic communities and groups have enabled it to develop female swimming sessions at Leith Victoria Swim Centre to better support the local community’s needs.

Overall, Edinburgh Leisure and its partner organisations recognise that they could not have made nearly as much of an impact without each other. Edinburgh Leisure is proud to have formed such productive and meaningful relationships that have helped to improve the health and wellbeing of thousands of people in Edinburgh over the years.

Food Train

Context: Food Train, a voluntary service which provides weekly food shopping, handyperson, meal-sharing and library services to older people in their own home, has a very positive relationship with West Lothian Council and NHS via the Health and Social Care Partnership.

West Lothian has a very active seniors’ forum, supported by the HSCP as part of their commitment to really responding to what local older people want and need.

What happened: As part of their engagement with this forum, commissioners realised that their in-house shopping service wasn’t quite working; this led them to approach the Food Train directly for assistance. The Food Train pulled together a proposal, including costing details, and funding agreed. 

That was the start of what has proved to be a long and fruitful relationship. Food Train has now developed further services in West Lothian, in partnership with the Seniors Forum and HSCP. The funding for these additional services have actually come from savings made through having the agreement in Food Train itself: as Food Train’s weekly shopping service took off, the need for the frozen meals service reduced. The money saved has now been directed by the seniors’ forum to a handyperson service, also carried out by the Food Train.

Lessons learned: This relationship has been in place now since 2010. Regular feedback is sought from the Seniors Forum on the value of Food Train in West Lothian, and due to their satisfaction levels, the service is continued. No fuss, no drama, no new expectations or burdensome evaluation. More talking and negotiating, rather than formal commissioning and procuring.

Because of the success of this service, the Food Train was more recently contacted by the library service of the council. They’d had problems with finding a taker for a library book delivery service they were looking to contract out, and had been encouraged by council colleagues to contact the Food Train to see if they could help. Chief Executive, Michelle Carruthers, was very clear at the outset that they’d consider whether or not they could design a service that would both fit with the organisation’s aims and also would work to the available budget. This open conversation – as opposed to the transactional nature of a classic procurement process (where a service is defined by the buyer, who then seeks bids to run that service) – led to the Food Train taking on the council’s library book delivery service, adding to it the option of volunteer readers, who come and read to the older people in their homes.

It is this kind of open, conversational relationship, with the weekly food shopping and handyperson service, and with the library service, that allows the Food Train to get on with what they do best for the benefit of older people in West Lothian, all at a fair cost to public sector partners.

Getting Better Together

Context: Getting Better Together (GBT) is a community-based initiative that aims to improve the health and wellbeing of the local community in North Lanarkshire. It’s based in Shotts and offers a range of services for people of all ages including community transport. 

What happened: GBT’s Community Transport service was created in 2008 to fill gaps in public transport provision in the Shotts area. It particularly helps meet the needs of people who may have difficulty using public transport due to frailty or disability. The service is supported by two public bodies – Strathclyde Partnership for Transport and, to a lesser extent, North Lanarkshire Council. GBT are also currently piloting a service with NHS Lanarkshire. 

North Lanarkshire Council (NLC) supports GBT through the environmental services department. Paul Bridges, from GBT Community Transport, describes their relationship with that department as excellent. It was developed over more than a decade of relationship-building, positive meetings and low stakes piloting of various schemes. 

Officers in NLC’s environmental services team recognise the benefits that NLC and the community derive from working with GBT, and so support the organisation by providing and leasing vehicles and offering maintenance facilities; in return, GBT provide the council with training in passenger assistance for the vulnerable. This quid pro quo demonstrates the mature relationship between both organisations, seeking the best outcome for both partners and their service users.  

GBT is also developing a new relationship with NLC’s education department, taking on ad hoc school work for the council. Paul says this suits GBT well, as to take on a large council contract would be considered a commercial undertaking not suitable for a community transport organisation. The ad hoc school transport provision that GBT provides brings benefit to the school children in terms of fully trained drivers – including in assisting those who are more vulnerable – and benefits to the council in terms of reduced costs. 

This new school provision came about thanks to a session GBT and another local community transport provider, Glenboig Development Trust, organised with the council’s transport committee. In this session they were able to highlight the training, professionalism and community focus of their staff and organisations, which impressed NLC elected members and staff. GBT further demonstrated their commitment to the NLC by paying for extra PVG checks for all their drivers through the council’s own scheme, on top of the PVG checks GBT already had in place; this way, NLC had full confidence in GBT’s staff.  

Thanks to GBT’s positive and professional approach, appropriate school work is now being passed on to GBT, and local school children are getting a better quality of service. Not only that, but other parts of the council are now also taking an interest in community transport.

It’s not just the council where GBT have been building relationships. GBT’s strongest and most valuable relationship is with Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), the local transport authority. SPT have a clear understanding of what GBT do and how they can help plug some of the gaps in public transport provision in North Lanarkshire, particularly providing an appropriate service for people who have difficulty using mainstream services. 

Again, this is based upon very good relationships with SPT staff, which Paul describe as supportive, helpful and open. The overall relationship is not based on a funder-supplicant dynamic, but rather each party recognises they need the other. They therefore work together to develop services – a real joint working relationship, with SPT passing jobs on to community transport whenever suitable, and offering GBT the opportunity to pilot some innovative services. SPT also provide funding (for example, they recently fully-funded a new seven-seater bus for GBT), and the returns which SPT expect from its funding of GBT are realistic. 

Finally, GBT have slowly developed a relationship with NHS Lanarkshire. Since 2013, GBT has successfully undertaken several transport commissions with them, and in 2015/16 NHS Lanarkshire commissioned GBT to provide a free ‘Health Centre’ shuttle service in East Kilbride which carried over 11000 passengers. After the success of the East Kilbride project, NHS Lanarkshire launched a pilot scheme which includes GBT and Community Transport Glasgow to run a community transport service based at Monklands Hospital. Paul has high hopes that this will mark a turning point for GBT with the local NHS, leading to the kind of truly mature and strategic relationship that GBT have with SPT. Again, all of this work uses the extra skills GBT drivers have in working with those who struggle to use mainstream transport services, resulting in better outcomes for these customers.

Lessons learned: In all cases highlighted above, Paul highlights that the strong personal relationships and trust between individuals in the various partner organisations is a crucial factor in the development of GBT’s services, and that, once that trust has been built, the benefits for the local community in the form of a better service, and for the partners in terms of affordability, are significant.

More examples of positive partnerships:

Last modified on 21 March 2022
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