Anna Dove reports on Royal Bank of Scotland’s charity work and finds that it goes well beyond fundraising
Since its first branch opened in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town in 1727, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has played a positive and recognisable role in communities across Scotland.
One of these roles is being a supporter of the charitable work and activities taking place in towns and businesses across the country. That support doesn’t begin and end with making a donation or handing over a cheque.
For the bank it is about offering all of its resources, sharing skills, staff time and even buildings if it means it can make a difference.
“What’s really important to RBS is that we have healthy, vibrant communities and we can help them succeed even more,” says Chris Wilson, managing director, branch and private banking at RBS.
“It’s about seeing how we as a bank can use our resources and our people to help organisations within our communities prosper.
“We focus mainly on education, entrepreneurs and employment because that’s where we as a bank can help communities the most.”
Whatever their specialism, staff at RBS are encouraged to put their skills and knowledge to good use.
Wilson highlights the bank’s work with the Prince’s Trust where RBS employees act as progression mentors to guide young people as they come out of care.
Within the branches, charities are given space to exhibit and engage with customers – and in some instances even use available space. Social enterprise and charitable organisation Street Soccer Scotland is an example of this. The organisation operates from the bank’s Leith branch.
“Three years ago we did a cheque presentation for the STV Children’s Appeal with Lorraine Kelly and beside me on the couch was David Duke, the founder of Street Soccer Scotland,” explains Wilson.
“We started working together and he’s now a good friend of mine.
“David is an inspiring character. He works with young people and gives them a chance to get involved in sport.
“It’s about helping people who have maybe fallen off the rails get back into being people with a purpose in life who can get into education or employment.”
In 2003, Duke was living on the streets. Today he is the driving force behind an organisation which uses football to change the lives of the disadvantaged.
What started as a few drop-in sessions in Edinburgh has been transformed into a programme of 30 activities which range from adult sessions to games for young people who are affected by child poverty.
“The people who we work with are getting jobs skills and positive learning as well as access to a fun football session,” says Duke.
“It’s a win-win situation. We are engaging with 1,000 people a week. It might be refugees, people who are homeless, people with mental health problems. They all head to the football pitches to take part.
“It’s really diverse in terms of what people get out of it,” Duke continues.
“It’s about confidence, self esteem, friendship, companionship. If someone comes to us they are often isolated and don’t have a lot of friends.”
For RBS, the partnership with Street Soccer Scotland also offers an opportunity for staff to get involved.
“It’s a really nice fit,” says Duke. “Combining both organisations was a really good step because for us we get the support of a recognised brand and Royal Bank of Scotland gets this positive social message that we carry.
“With RBS it’s not just about putting money into our organisation. What they provide is a real partnership and it works both ways.”
Since 2011, the bank has supported the STV Children’s Appeal which raises money for the one in five children and young people in Scotland who are living in poverty.
With four walks planned across the country, the Royal Bank of Scotland Kiltwalk is one of the biggest events in the STV appeal calendar.
This year, for the first time, walkers can choose which children’s charity benefits from their hard work.
“It is a charity we think works really well for RBS because we have got banks throughout Scotland,” explains Wilson.
“The STV Children’s Appeal operates across every local authority in Scotland so it’s relevant for every branch. Its focus on child poverty resonates with staff.”
Paul Cooney, chief executive of Kiltwalk, believes having RBS on board has helped spread the message about tackling child poverty and inspired walkers to sign up for the events which take place in Glasgow on 24 April, Aberdeen on 5 June, Speyside on 14 August and Edinburgh on 18 September.
“It’s a great message that RBS is backing the Kiltwalk,” says Cooney. “They are encouraging their staff to walk so it’s great that they will give us walkers.
“We have had a great response so far. Outside events and street events are becoming more and more popular, but walking is just something that just about everyone can do.
“Families can walk together, colleagues can walk together.
“It really is open to everyone and everyone has a cause they want to raise money for.”
Every penny raised by walkers who are not fundraising for a particular charity will go directly to the STV Children’s Appeal.
“Think of the children you would want to walk for and have a great day,” says Cooney.
“Really it’s the people of Scotland getting out and walking in a kilt or a wee bit of tartan, raising money for Scottish children with every penny going to the children’s charities.”
Sport Relief is another charity to benefit from its links with the bank. With its recognisable red nose logo, it bring people together across the UK to get active, raise money and change lives.
Six months of sponsored cycles, runs, swims and bake-offs to replenish the lost calories has seen RBS raise almost £1.4 million for Sport Relief, the most the bank has raised for a single charitable partner.
Staff at the bank’s Gogarburn headquarters have been taking part in 10ks and cross-trainer challenges during lunchbreaks in support of the charity.
Kevin Cahill, chief executive of Sport Relief, said the donation represented an amazing achievement. “The money they have raised will make a big difference to people living incredibly tough lives, here in the UK and across the world’s poorest communities,” says Cahill.
“Our job at Sport Relief now is to spend it well in order to repay RBS for such outstanding support.”
A recent addition to RBS’s charitable efforts is the Skills and Opportunities Fund which launched in May 2015 with the aim of making a difference in the communities the bank serves.
In its first year, the fund attracted over 1,800 entries from not-for-profit organisations across the UK and Ireland, 114 of which went on to win grants of up to £35,000.
“We focus our efforts where we can give what we are good at whether that’s people skills or indeed our facilities,” says Wilson.
“We want to give our support in a way that will help our local communities prosper which is what banks are there for.”
Football kicks off a new life
Growing up, Jodie McEwan from Kilmarnock dreamed of playing football for Scotland.
At the age of 11 she became caught up in substance abuse and it wasn’t until she attended a drop-in session with Street Soccer Scotland just over a year ago that her childhood goal became a reality.
“I went into detox and they suggested I needed something longer term so I went into rehab in Glasgow,” says McEwan. “Through that I was homeless and I was involved with the criminal justice system.”
To comply with her supported living arrangements, McEwan needed to find an activity to fill her days.“I was a Celtic fan, so I went along to a session with Street Soccer Scotland,” she explains.
“I was the only female there but as soon as I got started I got to know the guys and just fitted in.
“I got the chance to play in the Homeless World Cup and I was the second female to be announced for it.”
Through the social enterprise and charitable organisation, McEwan has gained her coaching badges and now gives talks about her story and the help she receives from Street Soccer Scotland.
“I have managed to secure my own place in Glasgow and that was a big step,” she says. “Football is kind of my life now. I’m wanting to get involved in volunteering with women’s sessions and some of the kids sessions as well.
“Even when times are hard, Street Soccer Scotland was there for me. It has given me my life back and completely opened me up to new opportunities. Every time I have set a goal I have achieved it.
“I would never have thought 20 months ago that I would be representing my country. That was my dream before I got caught up in the system.
“When I’m out there playing football, no drink or drug could have given me the same buzz that it gives me out there.”
Support for families in times of need
A joint venture between Safe Families for Children UK and the Bethany Christian Trust, Safe Families for Children Scotland was set up in 2014 to help families in crisis.
Thanks to a donation from the STV Children’s Appeal, supported by RBS, the project is now in a position to grow and offer support to even more families across Scotland.
“The aim of the project is ultimately to prevent children from entering the local authority [care]system,” says Iain Gordon, chief executive of the Bethany Christian Trust.
“We do that in a number of ways but it’s primarily by supporting families who are struggling or who are encountering a period of crisis.”
Safe Families for Children provides volunteers who can step in to stop children being taken into care.
“There are a number of reasons that might happen,” says Gordon. “For example, if it’s a single parent family and the parent has a hospital inpatient appointment, we can provide volunteers that would support that family through that. The children would spend time with a host family for a few days.
“If parents are really struggling to look after the family to a point where it’s causing concern, we can send in volunteers for mentoring who can help them to build their own confidence and capabilities.”
Safe Families for Children Scotland is in discussions with RBS, a major supporter of the STV Children’s Appeal, about how the bank’s staff can link in with the service. “They have staff all round the country and we work in all different communities,” explains Gordon. “There will be RBS links in these communities.
“In Edinburgh we have already seen a dramatic reduction in the number of children that are on the Child Protection Register. We have now got the means by which to build on that.”