VSA swings into action to celebrate its historic anniversary celebrations

Dr Kenneth Simpson, Chief Executive of VSA

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By Donna Ewen

HE’S never shied away from the occasional reverse Bungy jump, nor a zip slide or two, a 300ft skydive (dropped from 300ft into a net) ­– all in the name of raising money for his beloved VSA.

More recently, Chief Executive, Kenneth has shed a whopping 22lbs in weight. However, this is not with the intention of running the Balmoral Run or London Marathon, as some of the VSA staff have already signed up to do. No, he wants to champion the wellbeing programme in VSA; to promote physical and mental health and also be in the best possible shape for the year ahead as the social care charity will reach its landmark 150th anniversary. Kenneth already possesses an unquenchable commitment to continue to raise the profile of VSA – the caring social charity which reaches out every year to help 20,000 people in the area. The Torry loon, who has been at the helm of VSA for the past 15 years, tells ABN he has never been quite so positive the best is yet to come.


ABN: It’s a big year for VSA with the 150th Anniversary. What plans do you have to celebrate such a monumental year?

Kenneth: We are incredibly excited that VSA will be celebrating such a historic milestone. Our anniversary year will run from March to March 2021, and we are planning a number of community engagement events across the year.  The official date of our anniversary is the 10th March and this month we will be launching our 150th-anniversary Vintage Tea Party, whereby we hope individuals, groups, and businesses will sign up to host a vintage afternoon tea party on the 10th March to help us celebrate our 150th anniversary and raise funds in aid of VSA. The Lord Provost will also be holding an afternoon tea for VSA. In addition, we have a number of other events being planned which also includes a special heritage project and we look forward to sharing more details as the year progresses.

One highlight which we announced last summer is that our 150th-anniversary ball will take place at Balmoral Castle by gracious permission of our patron Her Majesty The Queen. We have been blown away by the response to this and 700 people will be attending this once in a lifetime event. We are delighted that Apache, John Clark Motor Group, Balmoral Group, Aberdeen Standard Investments and Entier have stepped forward to support the event.


ABN: It’s only just begun, but how is the foundation for the state-of-the-art mental wellbeing centre coming along?

Kenneth: We broke ground mid-November on our new mental wellbeing facility and we very much hope that the building will open by late winter to coincide with our anniversary year.  We have worked with the Aberdeen Health and Social Care Partnership to design the building to deliver the best possible outcomes for people living with a mental health condition.


ABN: How long have you worked with VSA and what is your proudest achievement to date?

Kenneth: I joined VSA 15 years ago, and it is hard to pick out one singular achievement that I am most proud of. VSA is a very worthy charity with fantastic values throughout the whole social care model. My role was to modernise the charity, make it fit 21st century – digitalisation, staff training and support, financial security for the future while continuing to provide a very good service, for those in need of it. We have several refurbs and invested in several properties in the region of £50 million. We continue to invest in providing the best positive environment, which gives me tremendous satisfaction. For me, for the charity to be fit for purpose, care for staff, is also vitally important.

From left, John Booth – Deputy Chief Executive VSA; Alex Hunter – Former Chair of the Board of Trustees; Torry loons, Lord Provost Barney Crockett with
Kenneth Simpson and Maggie Wilson – Chair of the Board of Trustee (Picture courtesy of Evening Express)

ABN: You need to raise nearly £17 million every year to run VSA, how do you manage to generate that amount year on year?

Kenneth: It is with thanks to the support VSA receives financially and non-financially that we have the opportunity to give vulnerable people the skills, opportunities, experiences and environments that they need to realise their dreams and lead more independent and integrated lives. VSA receives a mix of statutory and voluntary funding, but as you know year on year statutory funding is becoming more constrained which means we need to increase the voluntary amount we secure.

It is a testament to our strong business/financial model that we have been around for 150 years. We believe that no other charity is better placed to help our community and we will continue to develop and evolve our services to meet the support needs of the people who need and use our services; ensuring we provide the ‘best of care’ so that people can live the ‘best of lives’ but we cannot do this alone and now more than ever we need peoples support.


ABN: What message would you put out there to encourage people to give to VSA?

Kenneth: From a person’s first breath through to their last, VSA has stood next to the people of Aberdeen for 150 years offering care, support, and vital services to vulnerable people living in our communities as and when they needed it.

As times have changed, so has the way we have delivered our services, but always with one ambition; to give the people of Aberdeen the best of care to enable them to live the best of lives.

We are Aberdeen’s local charity and we are very much the root and heart of the community. Your support helps us change vulnerable babies, children and adults’ lives.


ABN: Aberdeen City Council is warning of the need to close a potential budget gap of £38 million in 2020/21 and further shortfalls in the years to follow. How might that affect the work of VSA – both in terms of direct impact and wider impacts across the city?

Kenneth: It is naturally a concern that potentially vulnerable people might be adversely impacted by such a large forecasted budget deficit. We will be advocating hard with the IJB and other providers across the city to ensure that the council remain committed to supporting and investing in services to support the vulnerable people that need help and support across the city.


ABN: There are so many wonderful things VSA does to help the community, is there any avenues you have yet to pursue or do you have it already covered?

Kenneth: Keeping people in their own homes, rather than in residential services. The 21st-century social care report projected in 40 years’ time we would have to build a substantial, two-bedroom care home every two weeks; And in 40 years to staff it, every child leaving school would have to go and work in a care home. It isn’t sustainable, it just wouldn’t work. For us, it is all about giving the right support and meeting people’s aspirational needs to remain at home


ABN: When it comes to caring for vulnerable people, there’s always talk about getting upstream of problems. Is the partnership between the public sector and third sector mature enough for that to happen?

Kenneth: There is a mature way for us of looking at commissioning. There is a big drive between the sectors and for us it is about partnership working, talking about production, getting people involved. Sandra Ross at the Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership has done great things in the past year and by re-engaging the providers who are essentially our cornerstone. The partnerships have been a real success, and I can honestly say we are all working closer than we have ever before.


ABN: What role does the private sector have to play in taking a more holistic approach to social care?

Kenneth: I think over the next decade advances in the private sector will heavily influence models of social care. Take for example digital smart technologies, we are heading into an era whereby our homes are evolving to be fully inclusive of smart technology. For example, Amazon’s Alexa, these can be used in homes of older people so that if they fall, they can ask Alexa to call for help. I believe the technology sector will help drive positive change that will deliver better outcomes for people and enable them to remain living in their own homes.


ABN: How many staff will be participating in running the London Marathon and Balmoral Run, this year? Will you yourself be participating?

Kenneth: I think the time for me personally to have run a marathon has come and gone! I will do my fitness bit; a walk perhaps is more appropriate these days. I’ve done my fair share of daredevil feats over the years… I’ve been catapulted and shot over the Duthie Park, even, but that was then and this is now.  However, we do have a team of people signed up to take part in various challenge events across the year such as, 5 runners in London Marathon, 150 runners for Run Balmoral and we have 12 people trekking Kilimanjaro. All participants are a mix of staff and the general public, even our Chair of Trustees is signed up to trek Kilimanjaro.


ABN: You’re given to quoting that one in three Scots is diagnosed with a mental health problem each year. Why do you think we’ve seen such a rise in recent years – and to what extent does it reflect a fracturing of society?

Kenneth: Over the past decade we have seen a significant rise (with thanks to key social influencers) in people speaking about mental health with the aim of ending any stigma and to educate people about the broad spectrum of mental health. I think through this education, we as a society, are much more aware of different conditions and we are living in a time where early diagnosis for a multitude of health issues is actively being promoted with the general public. In addition, we live in a digital age which has many positives however it can have a downside – people no longer switch off. We are constantly connected through technology and for our young people the pressures of social media can be tough to handle.


ABN: How does VSA find a balance between caring for people but also allowing them to build resilience?

Kenneth: Each person’s journey is unique, but it is remarkable to see how a safe home and/or support in their own home can support service users to make small changes which lead to significant improvements in their independence and quality of life. At our mental health services for example, we use our highly regarded recovery model. This focuses on the personal experience of the individual. For the people who use our services and residents it’s about what they can do; not what they can’t do. Recovery is more than the treatment and management of symptoms. It’s about empowering people to achieve their potential and by doing this people focus on their strengths. The people living in our services will progress through their recovery journeys at their own pace. It’s their recovery and staff are there to support and signpost them dependent on each individual.



ABN: What role is social media playing both in how VSA does its job and how communities can connect?

Kenneth: As a charity we have continually evolved the way in which we connect with our future service users and supporters over the decades. We live in a digital era and VSA works hard to ensure that we connect with people across multiple communication platforms which includes social media. At some point in the next ten years we recognise that potentially all of our communication will be delivered through digital avenues. Whilst Facebook, Twitter are great the younger generation are using apps like Tik Tok & Snap Chat so we must evolve with the latest trends to ensure we remain relevant and are connecting with the people who need our support and hopefully inspiring a new generation to step forward and support VSA.  Social media can bring many benefits but it can also bring many challenges at the same time.


ABN: Any message for ABN’s readers?

Kenneth: Just to ask people to kindly link to our videos and sites, and if they think they can help, however great or small that may be, to please just get in touch.


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