Chief Encounters

A recent interview I did with Third Force News

What makes a good day at work?

Hearing about the comments made by the older guests in our groups. This week a new guest said “I thought this was going to be really stuffy but I’ve never laughed so much in a long time.”

What makes you most proud of Contact the Elderly?

In 50 years our basic ethos hasn’t changed. Sunday afternoon tea parties for groups of isolated, older people. It’s a simple, effective idea and it works so we keep doing it. I am most proud of the wonderful army of volunteers who enable us to keep doing this, they’re a brilliant bunch.

Do you socialise with colleagues outside the Christmas party?

Yes, absolutely. In Scotland we have a fantastic team and it makes for a supportive working environment when you know you can also call your colleagues your friends.

What’s the best thing that’s happened this month?

Two best things actually – we launched our campaign ‘Be Our Guest’ to encourage more isolated older people to join our groups. It’s creating interest which is great because isolated, older people exist in every community, the challenging part is reaching them and letting them know about our groups.

Secondly, we have been shortlisted for The Herald Society Award for best Older People’s Project in Scotland.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Don’t be concerned about feeling grown-up – you never do. And neither does anyone else!

Is the third sector a calling or an accident?

Whilst in a corporate role I liaised with the various Charities of the Year. I met with the representatives of several charities and used to think “I’d quite like to have your job”. So part calling, part accident.

Is getting older in our society getting harder?

I believe it is. Families are more dispersed, we have many older guests in our groups with family all over the world. Social media and digital technology has its place and the use of video chat certainly helps but nothing beats face to face contact which is where our tea parties play such an important role.

If you were your boss would you like you?

I think so, I’ve had some great bosses and I’m still friends and in touch with them so hopefully this means they have liked being my boss. One of them is actually now one of our volunteers.

Do you volunteer, and if so what do you do?

Yes, with Mealmakers, The Worldwide Tribe, Mary’s Meals, a local refugee support group and Stirling Soup. Mostly befriending and fundraising.

You’re home, fully fed with your feet up – which comes first Eastenders or emails?

Emails – but not work ones, personal ones.

What’s the best book ever written?

A Garden of Eden in Hell by Alice Hertz-Sommer.  At 110 Alice was the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor. A concert pianist, she used her music to survive the concentration camps with her young son.

A very close second is Sally Magnusson’s Where Memories Go, the story of her mother’s life with dementia and how music kept her connected to her family. Ultimately this experience led to Sally founding the charity, Playlist for Life.

Two books that highlight the amazing power of music.

What cake would you take to a tea party?

Someone else’s. I’m definitely not a baker but there are so many fabulous bakers amongst our tea party hosts. I’ll leave the baking to those who do it really well.

What advice would you give to someone who’s worried about an elderly neighbour?

Speak to them, ask if you can help. Suggest organisations that may be able to help. Most importantly keep the communication going, maybe all that is needed is a cup of tea and a chat.

Which Brian Cox?

Actor – because he’s William Wallace’s Uncle Argyle.

Morna O’May is Head of Service at Contact the Elderly.

Are you a volunteer?

Volunteering quote 2

Are you a volunteer?

Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes and volunteering roles also come in all shapes and sizes, indeed you may not even immediately think of yourself or others as volunteers.

Volunteers’ Week is the perfect time to reflect on what exactly we think of volunteering. During Volunteer Week organisations including Volunteer Scotland, SCVO and the Third Sector Interfaces have been thanking, showcasing and celebrating volunteers all over the country. Voluntary organisations have shown their appreciation for their volunteers by taking part in online awards ceremonies, presenting digital certificates and highlighting the fantastic work done by their amazing volunteers.

Volunteering takes many forms and some are very obvious like working a shift in a charity shop, donating your time as a befriender to a refugee arriving in this country or sharing your skills as a trustee on a board. All clearly identifiable volunteering roles. Other types of volunteering may not be so obvious and we may not immediately define it as volunteering. There’s the parent who helps sell raffle tickets at the playgroup fundraiser or helps out on the school trip or the young man who cuts his older neighbours grass or collects their newspaper for them. Is this volunteering, is this being neighbourly or is it ‘just what you do’?

All these small acts and larger acts add up to a lot of volunteering in our society. The Charity sector is largely held up by volunteers and the public sector is supported to a greater or lesser degree by the volunteering that exists across these services.

There are staggering figures available detailing the amount of hours given in volunteering, the equivalent in monetary terms and the benefits this brings to our society. I’m not going to go into figures and percentages here. Suffice it to say that it is eye-watering!

Without this level of volunteering activity many services simply would not exist and the value goes way beyond the task, expertise or time donated.

This huge amount of volunteering may appear in various guises, it may not even be called volunteering. You may be a ‘charity champion’, an ‘ambassador’, a ‘helper’, an ‘active citizen’, ‘engaged with a charity’, ‘knowledge or skills sharer’, an ‘unpaid professional’ or ‘just being neighbourly’. You may volunteer as an individual, as a family, as a group or with workplace colleagues.

All of the above is essential and irreplaceable and needs to be acknowledged for what it is. For all the recognisable volunteering being applauded and celebrated by the many organisations during Volunteer’s Week, let’s also acknowledge and thank all those who are contributing to this huge and valueable resource.

Now, let me ask my question again.

Are you a volunteer?

If you are – then thank you.

Morna O’May Volunteer quote

Soup, soup, soup…

Who knew a simple bowl of soup could be the catalyst for amazing community development and support?  Well the people of Detroit Soup knew, that’s who.

In 2012 Amy Kaherl of  Detroit Soup held the first soup event. A $5 donation at the door, you listen to 5 community initiatives pitch for your vote, you enjoy your bowl of soup and bread, you vote for your favourite and the winner gets the takings from the door.  That’s it! Simple! Brilliant!

Fast forward to 2016 in Stirling, Scotland and Kathryn Welch is leading her team of volunteers to launch the first ever Stirling Soup. On the evening of Friday 27th May 2016 the Albert Halls in Stirling was packed to standing room only. I was lucky enough to be the first of the five pitchers that evening making the case for  Contact the Elderly tea parties combatting social isolation among older people. I was followed by Nikki from Couthie Cantie telling us about her Community Cook School aiming to inspire and teach ‘scratch cooking’ skills. Third up on stage was Rosie from The Conservation Volunteers explaining the notion of a Green Gym where volunteers help with tree and meadow planting and wildlife conservation. Next we heard from Sandra from Bridge of Allan Community Council who have plans to raise awareness of their newly refurbished play park by holding a celebration fun day.  Finally it was the turn of Savi and Lesley from Stirling Citizens for Sanctuary. This group are doing marvellous work with refugees coming into the Forth Valley area by providing befriending, interpretation services and practical and material support.


The crowd then enjoyed the delicious bowls of soup and bread on offer from Sprinkle Happiness and Riverside Bakery. Music was provided by the University of Stirling Live Music Society and, as an added treat, Lush were also ‘on hand’ to do hand massages. This gave everyone time to chat to the pitchers further and make up their minds about their vote.  At the end of the day Savi and Lesley from Stirling Citizens for Sanctuary were the very worthy winners and went away with the pot of money from the door containing £630!

It’s a wonderful, simple initiative and for all the pitchers it was an excellent opportunity to get our projects out there in the public arena and to be able to chat to the very receptive audience about the work that we are doing.  Soup is indeed the catalyst for community initiatives, development and support, there was so much good will and desire to help improve the local community amongst those gathered in the hall.

BBC reporter Richard Fenton-Smith, when reporting on Detroit Soup, once asked “Can soup change the world?”  I think the answer to that is “indeed it can!”


The 6th Stirling Soup is now being planned for March 2019 and is now run by Laura Brown and Liam Miller. If you would like to apply to pitch at it then contact .  Edinburgh Soup were the first soup in Scotland when they launched a few  years ago, to date they have raised over 5K! There are also plans in place for more Soups across Scotland, the latest one being Dundee Soup which took place in April 2017. 

Good Stuff

Tommie Hansen_Violet Flowers_YkVjQ2QIt seems like Third Sector organisations are getting a bad press at the moment. There are so many negative media stories about unethical fundraising practices, overpaid CEOs and mismanagement of funds raised.

However there is such a huge amount of fabulous charity work going on as well as the recent growth in inspiring and innovative social enterprises that it is time to focus on the ‘good stuff’!

This blog will be dedicated to ‘Good Stuff & Great Ideas’