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Showcasing Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Showcasing Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

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.

Showcasing Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Showcasing Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

The Gathering, organised by SCVO, is the largest voluntary sector event in the UK.

Over two days on 7 and 8 November 2023, more than 3,000 people from the voluntary sector and beyond came together at the EICC in Edinburgh to enjoy a packed programme of over 75 workshops, seminars, and training sessions. Our popular exhibition space was also back by popular demand!

On 29 November 2023 (and available online until 2 January 2024), we hosted the Gathering Extra. All new for 2023, the Gathering Extra was hosted by Maddie Stark and Manish Joshi, featuring conversations with special guests from across the sector, live chat among the audience, and brought curated, recorded content from the Gathering to life.

Across both events, over 3,500 colleagues and friends from the voluntary sector and beyond came together. The Gathering was a chance for people to network and connect, showcase work, to learn from each other and be inspired.

Thank you to our platinum sponsors Keegan & Pennykid; our gold sponsors AAB Group, the Access Group, CCLA, Social Print & Copy and Vodafone; our partners ACOSVO, EVOC, Social Enterprise Scotland and Volunteer Scotland; and our exhibitors and event hosts. Your support and participation helps to keep the Gathering - the UK's largest event for the voluntary sector - free to attend for our delegates.

This page contains:
  • Information about our aims for the Gathering 2023 and what we did to achieve them
  • Highlights from the Gathering 2023 programme
  • Access to the Gathering Extra programme until 2 January 2024
  • Details on how to give us feedback on the Gathering 2023 to help us to improve for next time

Photography by Lewis Houghton of LewsPics

Check out some highlights from the Gathering 2023 in this short video

Our aims for the Gathering

A Gathering experience

We wanted the Gathering 2023 to offer meaningful, inspiring and informative opportunities to as many delegates as possible to network, connect and learn. It was a chance to showcase skills, try something new and also to have a good time and enjoy the experience! We wanted the Gathering to be one to remember!

Here are a few things we did to try to help our delegates to get the most out of their Gathering experience:
  • The Gathering exhibition was back by popular demand! Delegates enjoyed opportunities to engage with brilliant exhibitors from 70+ organisations from the voluntary sector and beyond
  • The Gathering programme offered delegates a packed programme of over 75 free workshops, seminars, and training sessions, with something to suit everyone in-person or online at the Gathering Extra
  • This year's Gathering was all about experiences. We had interactive, mindful and energising workshops and activities. Our delegates enjoyed fun activities like group walks with Paths for All, Taiko drumming, making art with Albatross Arts and cycling for smoothies with Fun & Fit Bikes. Nemo Arts community choir also joined us to entertain delegates with joyful musical performances
  • At our 'Connect with SCVO' area, delegates had the chance to be part of our voluntary sector mosaic wall, and to chat one-to-one with SCVO team members to learn more about the different ways we support Scotland's voluntary organisations
Delegates at a conference have conversations and smile in front of a graphic that reads "Connect with SCVO"

Delegates networking in one of our exhibition spaces

Manish and Maddie are sitting together , smiling n a podcast studio. Manish holding a clapperboard and Maddie is holding a Gathering Extra clipboard

Hosts Maddie Stark and Manish Joshi hosted the Gathering Extra live on 29 November

A hybrid Gathering - the Gathering Extra

We thought long and hard about how to make an online version of the Gathering work whether you joined online because an in-person event doesn’t work for you, or wanted to catch up on something you missed from the in-person event. To make attending the Gathering more accessible to a wider audience, we introduced the Gathering Extra - an online version of the event which featured a selection of our key seminars, live event hosts, special guests and discussions

Here are some of the details about the Gathering Extra:

  • We talked to organisations across the sector that had approached hybrid and online events in different ways and we consistently heard that we should offer a simple programme on an excellent platform
  • We worked with online event experts Everywhere+ to offer an excellent experience that would work work well for an online audience, whose needs are different to people who attend in person.
  • We hosted the Gathering Extra live on 29th November with hosts Maddie Stark from SCVO and Manish Joshi CEO of Strathclyde Students' Union and former SCVO trustee
  • On the day, Maddie and Manish engaged in conversation with special guests from across the sector while delegates contributed to the discussions via the event chat
  • We curated and edited 8 of the most popular sessions from the Gathering and also included additional sessions and resources in an online delegate bag
  • The Gathering Extra is available to watch online on our YouTube channel, and because it’s the Gathering it is 100% free for everyone

The Gathering Extra is available to view for free, online.

View the Gathering Extra now

A greener Gathering

Our approach to environmental matters underpins all of SCVO's strategic objectives. We're a champion for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and we wanted to do what we could to make this year's Gathering more sustainable and "greener" than before, to reduce our carbon footprint.

We know that hosting a large event has environmental impacts including but not limited to:
  • Power and energy production and consumption
  • Procurement, production, use and circularity of materials
  • Production, creation and waste of food and beverages
  • Transport of delegates, staff and event materials
Some examples of how we made the Gathering greener include:
  • We went veggie - all catering in the EICC was vegetarian
  • We provided water fountains and encouraged delegates to bring a re-fillable water bottle
  • We excluded metal shell stands from our exhibition spaces to reduce transportation of materials
  • We asked all exhibitors to make careful considerations on what materials and merchandise they used within exhibition spaces
  • We reduced our printed materials and merchandise to reduce our carbon footprint and where possible we re-used and re-purposed existing signage - the majority of our venue dressing was hire and re-usable to avoid buying single-use items
  • We asked all attendees to dispose of waste in the recycling bins around the SEC
  • We encouraged delegates and SCVO staff to use public transport and active travel

In line with our commitment to encourage more plant-based diets, we asked the venue to offer vegetarian-only catering options, with all ingredients sourced from within 200 miles of Edinburgh.

Delegates explore one of the exhibition spaces at the Gathering 2023

A more accessible and inclusive Gathering

We wanted the Gathering 2023 to be accessible, inclusive and enjoyable for everyone. We applied a range of accessibility measures as standard and introduced the Gathering Extra to ensure that even more people could enjoy the energy of the Gathering from the comfort of their own homes or offices.

To prepare for the in-person Gathering on 7 and 8 November, SCVO’s event team and internal staff accessibility group used the ‘Access Chain’ resource. We also took guidance and advice from the venue and specialist organisations.

Here are some of the things we did in advance of the Gathering:
  • We proactively asked delegates to tell us their needs so that we could make adjustments where possible
  • We provided advance information about access and accessible facilities in a range of formats and offered other information in accessible formats
  • We provided transport and accommodation information and details of car parking and drop-off
  • We shared information welcoming people bringing their own lunch, snacks and refreshments to save on cost and to meet their own needs
Here are a few things we did to try to make the Gathering more accessible and to support delegates' wellbeing:
  • We had an accessible registration desk with welcoming and informed staff and tried to ensure clear signage and easily identifiable staff to provide support. We also provided online and hard copy event and venue information
  • We offered and highlighted a quiet space which was free from group conversations, telephone calls and where noisy activities didn’t take place. We also limited public address (PA) announcements and ambient music in the EICC
  • We provided provided induction loops at registration and in all event rooms and provided British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters as standard at the most subscribed events (which we also recorded for the Gathering Extra)
  • We gave Gathering exhibitors and event hosts tips on how to be more accessible and inclusive, stressing our commitment to making the Gathering accessible
people smile while holding drum sticks in the air as part of a drumming lesson
Drumming lessons with Taiko Drumming
Light-up wall with "Connect with SCVO" written across it. A man in a black tshirt is attaching a sticker to a board with a mosaic of other stickers that spells out the words "Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector"
Adding to our voluntary sector mosaic wall
people in yellow tshirts holding papers singing in a choir
Lunchtime entertainment from the Nemo Arts choir
Woman in blue jacket and woman in red jacket smile in front of an blue backdrop in front of a photobooth camera
Fun photos at the 'Connect with SCVO photo booth'
A large group of people crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing
Lunchtime fresh air and gentle walks led by Paths For All Walk Leaders
A post box, some postcards and pens in an "I love charity" mug, a pink phone and a neon sign saying "leave a message" sit on top of a table
SCVO's message desk where you could leave us a voicemail, a note or chat to our team
Two people in white tshirts ride on stationary bikes to create power to fuel a smoothie machine
Delegates used pedal power to get some exercise and to make a nutritious fruit drink using their energy
Two people holding coffee cups smile and chat at an exhibition table covered with a blue table cloth and promotional merchandise
Delegates and exhibitors engaging in the Gathering exhibition hall
A group of people sit at a table with a red table cloth and arts and crafts materials, taking part in craft activities
Albatross Arts creative workshop where delegates took a break, digested information and contributed to a collective art installation

Some highlights from the Gathering programme

Meet the First Minister

SNP leader and Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf was speaking at his first Gathering, kicking off the second day with his first address to the voluntary sector, followed by Q&A.

The chief executive of SCVO, Anna Fowlie, opened the session before Mr Yousaf addressed delegates. During his address, the First Minister set out his plans for working with the sector and his thoughts on the valuable role the sector plays in Scottish society. The First Minister offered the audience his assurance that ministers will treat voluntary sector organisations as equal partners.

In his underlining of the work done by voluntary organisations over the past few years, including during the Covid-19 pandemic, the First Minister said: “There’s been incredibly difficult times over the past number of years. My belief is that, in the most difficult times - the darkest times - humanity shines through. The third sector organisations that are here are the ones who shone through.”

Following his address, SCVO’s head of policy and research led a Q&A with the First Minister addressing questions submitted by audience members.

Catch up on the 'Meet the First Minister'

First Minister Humza Yousaf delivers a speech on stage at the Gathering 2023

The FIrst Minister addresses the audience at his first 'Meet the First Minister' event at this year's Gathering

Jonathan Christie, SCVO Trustee hosts a session on "Building a wellbeing economy from the ground up" at the Gathering.

Building a wellbeing economy from the ground up

With the concept of the Wellbeing Economy gaining increasing attention and support throughout Scotland, this event presented a vision for what this could mean across the country.

Representatives from Foundation Scotland, WEAll Scotland, and Children in Scotland discussed plans that have been developed alongside allies and the movement.

Chair Jonathan Christie facilitated a conversation to further develop the vision and to discuss the role the voluntary sector can and should play in the transition to a Wellbeing Economy.

Delegates learned about what a Wellbeing Economy is and the work that WEAll Scotland has been doing, as well as what the key opportunities and challenges are for the voluntary sector to play its part in delivering a Wellbeing Economy.

Catch up on 'Building a wellbeing economy from the ground up'

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the voluntary sector: potential and pitfalls

Reflecting on recent developments, this event aimed to get beyond the headlines to a strategic reflection on how organisations in the voluntary sector can make effective and responsible use of new tools and platforms.

Featuring an expert panel discussion to explore the potential and possibilities of artificial intelligence, delegates heard from global experts in the responsible development and use of AI.

A wide range of topics were covered, including responsible use of AI with vulnerable people and communities, the impacts of human expertise and trustworthiness when we make use of AI, and how smaller organisations might make use of AI with low data expertise and reduced capacity.

Catch up on 'AI and the voluntary sector: potential and pitfalls'

Panellists open the discussion on the potential and pitfalls of AI

Lillie Jeanrenaud, Dr Richard Dixon, Talat Yaqoob and Dr Mike Robinson panellists for "The current climate and what needs to happen to get back on track to meeting emissions targets" at the Gathering

The current climate and what needs to happen to get back on track to meeting emissions targets

Voices from across the environmental movement came together in Edinburgh to reiterate the climate emergency and the responsibility we all have to save the planet.

Delegates discussed the action that needs to be taken to ensure Scotland meets its legal climate targets, as well as how the public and the voluntary sector can show support for the action we need to see.

The recent Climate Change Committee (CCC) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports make clear that current action is insufficient to meet climate targets. The Scottish Government published a new Climate Change Plan in September, and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland shared an overview of the process, what we need to see and how all people and organisations can add their voice to call for action and come together to show strong support for climate.

Catch up on 'The current climate and what needs to happen'

Building a cash-first future: can we make food banks history in Scotland

Campaigners from a number of groups came together at the Gathering to underline the need for an end to foodbanks.

With food insecurity across Scotland at record levels, this joint event - organised by the Trussell Trust and the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) - provided an opportunity for people working in the voluntary sector to find out more about why a cash first approach is central to tackling poverty and food insecurity in local communities.

This ground-breaking plan – the first in the UK - includes critical support for the creation of cash first partnerships in communities across Scotland. The speakers explored the development of local cash first partnerships, financial inclusion partnerships in six Scottish local authorities and the co-production of "Worrying About Money?" Resource.

Catch up on 'Building a cash-first future'

A woman in a green jacket (Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice) stands at a lectern delivering a speech. To her left is a panel of people sat at a table and behind her is a large screen that reads "Building a cash first future: can we make food banks history in Scotland?"

Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice addresses delegates at the 'Building a cash first future event' at the Gathering

Lou Chauvin and Laura Pilkington from the Young Women's Movement shine a light on the Embody to Empower programme.

Lived experience at the heart of what we do

Lived experience was at the forefront of this event as we heard from the Scottish Recovery Network and the Young Women’s Movement (YWM) and their services.

Delegates were left with a clearer understanding of peer support and how it can help them to achieve the outcomes or impacts they seek.

This event was co-facilitated by two organisations who work closely with peers to ensure lived experience is at the heart of their work.

The panel discussion from the presenting organisations and young women currently working with YWM on the EmBody to EmPower project, as well as focusing on participatory-led research models and how the YWM's co-design with young people approach works in practice.

Catch up on 'Lived experience at the heart of what we do'

Transformational change: investing in communications and marketing

This seminar, hosted by Waverley Care, inspired organisations who are looking to undertake large-scale website or rebrand projects.

Following the successful launch of their new brand and website, Waverley Care - Scotland's leading HIV and sexual health charity - took us through their journey of rebranding their organisation and undergoing digital transformation.

Over the course of two years the communications team at Waverley Care developed an ambitious project plan to reposition the organisation to increase its reach and visibility; and crucially through digital transformation develop digital services for people living with or at risk of HIV.

This fantastic event saw discussion on getting the board 'on-board', consulting with service users and putting their voices at the forefront, and getting internal buy-in from staff.

Catch up on 'Transformational change'

Niamh Barton-Maynard of Waverley Care leads a session on their organisation's re-branding and digital transformation journey.

A lively panel conversation at the Gathering where panellists discuss the Lankelly Chase foundation and issues relating to wealth, colonialism and capital.

Funding social justice – why Lankelly Chase decided to give all their money away

Charities need to contend with the “extractive capital markets” that they remain invested in, this Gathering 2023 event heard.

Following years of discussions about their role in the sector, in 2023 the Lankelly Chase board decided that they could no longer operate following the traditional philanthropy model, and over the next five years they will dismantle and close down, distributing all of their assets including the endowment and all resources.

The foundation has operated for over 60 years, distributing grants addressing the problems caused by injustice, but now hopes to address the causes of injustice.

Representatives from different groups discussed Lankelly Chase’s decision. The decisions that organisations and boards reach as they really grapple with Scotland’s colonial history might be different, but delegates heard that we are all connected through the interlocking social, climate and economic crises that are playing out in our communities.

Catch up on 'Funding social justice'

#EssentialSector film launch

When the dust settled on the first day of the Gathering 2023, attention turned to 10 voluntary organisations from across Scotland as short films about their work were debuted at the #EssentialSector film premiere.

The #EssentialSector campaign is spearheaded by a group of organisations who believe more needs to be done to highlight the impact our sector. And the #EssentialSector film premiere was an opportunity to celebrate our sector by highlighting just a snapshot of the work that goes on in charities, social enterprises and community groups every minute of every day, in every corner of Scotland.

Back in May 2023, 10 organisations were selected to showcase their work in short films. They are just 10 of 46,500 voluntary organisations in Scotland. The featured organisations are from across Scotland and are of all shapes and sizes, to help show the diversity and impact of the sector.

All unique. All essential. All the time.

Catch up on '#EssentialSector'

Woman at a lectern on a stage speaking. A screen behind her reads "#EssentialSector"

SCVO chief executive Anna Fowlie introduces the #EssentialSector film premiere at the Gathering 2023

After the Gathering

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the Gathering 2023 and who contributed to making it such a success.

Here are a few things that delegates have told us that they enjoyed about the Gathering:

  • "Being able to learn from other charities and talk to a range of organisations. Also being able to attend educational sessions about different areas in the third sector"
  • "Seeing the trends of things that are currently funded. Catching up with a lot of different people from my field"
  • "It felt that there were a lot of people there ... it made me feel like I was part of something bigger (not just a small organisation but a profession). I thought the size gave a good range of topics to choose from for the talks"
  • “Great opportunity to catch up with colleagues across Scotland, make new connections and recharge”
  • "It provides such a range of topics in a good, focussed amount of time and the event overall attracts so many people in the sector, offering a great networking opportunity”

We know we didn't get everything right this year and that we have work to do to make future events even better. When we asked delegates what would improve their experience of the Gathering, there were three main areas where some delegates would like us to think about doing things differently next time:

  • To improve the availability and pricing of the food that was available in the venue
  • To provide more seating options to provide a place to have a coffee, lunch or to have a chat with someone
  • To provide more opportunities for networking and socialising

After the Gathering, we invited delegates, SCVO staff and other stakeholders to tell us what they thought of the Gathering. We also asked people who didn't attend this time to tell us why and how we could do things differently in future. We've just closed our Gathering evaluation surveys and are analysing your responses. Thank you to everyone who shared your thoughts with us. Your opinions will help us to shape our plans for what the Gathering and other events might look like in future.

If you'd like to catch up on the Gathering, the Gathering Extra is available to view online for free.

Catch up on the Gathering Extra

If you'd like a reminder of your personalised Gathering programme, you can access it via My SCVO

Go to My SCVO

Did you spot yourself or your colleagues in our Gathering photo album? Feel free to like, tag and share. If you'd like to see photos from the Gathering, head over to our Facebook page and give us a follow

Gathering photo album

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