What should have been a joyful time celebrating 150 years of a great charity, Aberdeen Association of Social Service (VSA), has had some of the gloss taken off it by the coronavirus crisis.Use any word you like from meltdown to lockdown or shutdown, it has been hard not to feel swamped by this global turn of events.
However, hundreds of VSA staff, led by chief executive Kenneth Simpson, are bravely continuing to provide a duty of care across its 22 locations for the most vulnerable members of society, from young to old. The range of support is huge, from care at home for the elderly to the welfare of young adults and vocational training. However, one key aspect of the continued success of VSA is the generosity of businesses and the public in supporting fundraisers.
Jennifer Mitchell is director of external relations and having a background in banking and wealth management is well qualified to spearhead the drive to raise a colossal £3.2million for the Abergeldie unit in Aberdeen, a residential centre for 20 people living with a mental health condition.
Guess what, a staggering £2.5million has already been raised which is tangible proof of how much VSA means to people. Says Jennifer, ‘We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has stepped forward so far to play their part in helping us build this vital new mental wellbeing facility. But we urgently need the public’s support now more than ever. We need to raise £700K to reach our target of £3.2 million. If you are near the foot of Holburn street you will see that we have already broken ground and can see our progress as we make our vision a reality, the new build is scheduled to open later this year. We really need one big push from the public to help us change more peoples lives by achieving our goal.’
Royal patronage has been enjoyed by VSA going back to Queen Victoria in 1870 and through to today, so much so that the charity has been given the rare privilege of staging a ball in the grounds of Balmoral Castle in November. No wonder that is already a sellout, says Jennifer.
She hails from Forfar where she still lives with husband Kevin, daughter Emma, 17, and son, Taylor, 13. ‘I did have my children at a young age, however, at 36 I feel, very privileged to have accomplished so much across my career in financial services and in the not for profit sector.”
Jennifer started in financial services with the Bank of Scotland and was quickly promoted from retail to wealth management. Working from home, she had many clients in the oil and gas sector in Aberdeen but also did business in London. However, after going through two mergers, she decided to take a break from banking. What to do next? Says Jennifer: ‘I had raised millions in investment and income so why not transfer any of the skills I had acquired in the private sector to a not-for-profit organisation. I worked for Macmillan Cancer Support, for three years and have been with VSA at the office in the city’s Castlegate for nearly three years.’ And still commuting daily from Forfar!
Jennifer’s job also entails meetings with MPs in London, MSPs in Edinburgh and councillors in Aberdeen to advocate for the vulnerable children and adults they support and for issues impacting the sector such as the implications for the VSA workforce caring for 20,000 people in the wake of the UK’s exit from the European Union. ‘Staffing in the care sector is a very serious issue,’ she stresses.
For further information about VSA and to support the Changing Lives Campaign, please visit vsa.org.uk
Words by Peter Mitchell