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All the latest news as well as posts from guest authors

Worry and stress: A message for young people

By Gordon McKinlay, Head of Schools for Renfrewshire Council

I didn’t do particularly well at school.  Every report card said that I was “easily distracted”. I did enough to get by but never so much that anyone would notice. My exam results weren’t brilliant, just enough not to be noticed by my mum.

It was a bit odd then when I became a teacher and tried to encourage young people that they really needed to work hard so that they could get good qualifications.  I don’t work in schools now, but I still love to see people flourish and my work means I get the chance to encourage lots of different people in lots of schools.

This year has been really difficult for everyone.  When schools closed in March and it was announced that the exams would be cancelled, young people didn’t know what was going to happen.  Uncertainty can be really horrible to deal with and there are lots of emotions that get in the way of thinking clearly.

When I get anxious about something that I think might happen, I find my stomach gets itself tied in knots and it becomes easy to focus on everything that might go wrong.  I am not going to do as well as I thought, I’m not going to get that job or everything is going to end up in a mess.

When I am feeling like this, I find it very easy to get a bit snippy with people or to retreat and hide away so that no one can get anywhere near me. Recently I completed a university course and every time the results were due out everyone knew about it.  I went very quiet and folk wondered what they had done wrong!

Scientists tell us that cortisol helps us deal with stress. It works with parts of our brain to control our mood, motivation and fear. It is best known for our “fight, flight or freeze” reaction when something scary happens.  Normally this is a good thing as it protects us from danger.  However, when it builds up and doesn’t disappear it can have more negative impacts on our wellbeing.

There are lots of things we can do to help.  I have found that going for a walk can clear my head and make me feel as though I am in control again.  I wonder what works for you?

I have been asking myself how I would have reacted if I had been sitting my Highers this year. Nothing could have prepared any of us for what has happened over the past few months.

As we wait for the results to come out, the important thing to remember is that a piece of paper from the SQA does not define us. If you do well, congratulations.  If you don’t do so well, remember that there will be other ways, other opportunities and other chances.  If you are worried or upset then talk to someone or go for a walk like me.  Bottling it all up really won’t help.

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Perspective, mental health and art with Creative Natives’ Jennifer Hunter

By Rachel Lee, SCCR Digital Media and Communications Officer

“Perspective is something you need to be consciously aware of on a daily basis.”

“I’d call it needing to have a default mode of never making assumptions about another person’s reality…the only way to achieve this is to build trusting relationships where you really do get some insight into another person’s life – then you have real ‘perspective’.”

This is Jennifer Hunter’s perspective of, well, perspective. It has been gained from working alongside people experiencing mental health issues for 15 years.

Jennifer is an artist, with a degree from Glasgow School of Art, who has combined her creativity and compassion in her role as a key worker for Creative Natives.

Naturally, she believes there is an undeniable link between art and mental health and it’s something Jennifer sees demonstrated in her work on a daily basis.

Jennifer said; “We find at Creative Natives that when the young people are focussed on their art in the studio, they tell us they feel uplifted, more positive – and any negative feelings they may have been experiencing are momentarily gone.”

“They also find confidence through their practice, literally the act of creating something makes them feel good – having something to hold or look at that came from them makes them feel proud and empowered.”

Creativity has endless benefits. Art can be a vessel for people’s self-expression and a key coping mechanism for dealing with mental health issues or difficult situations.

Jennifer has kindly shared this powerful story of a Creative Natives participant who had struggled at school due to being bullied by their peers and feeling unsupported by their teachers as they identify as transgender. This led them to experience mental health issues and suffer from panic attacks and, as a result, had become socially isolated and withdrawn.

However, after attending Creative Natives for almost a year and a half, they began to see the studio as their safe space.

Jennifer said; “They are a phenomenally talented visual artist so we always gently supported and encouraged them to get their art out into the world but as it’s a very personal expression of their gender identity and their struggle for acceptance this had to be done at their pace.”

“Eventually though they produced a series of works which they felt really expressed their emotions surrounding gender, identity and acceptance in a very beautiful and powerful way so they agreed to have them published on an online gallery and to be entered into a competition,” she continued.

“The day we uploaded them to the online gallery was an absolute celebration and such a turning point for them in terms of their confidence and we were all so incredibly proud of their achievement which was huge.”

“They told me they felt they had used their art to help others experiencing similar issues and that in itself made them feel really good and gave so much of what they had been though a more positive outcome and meaning.”

How do you express your emotions? The SCCR can help you find out.

The SCCR have infused art into our innovative resources to help people gain a better understanding of their brain’s chemistry, emotions and reactions. By using engaging visual animations and expressive illustrations, we convey complex scientific ideas in our psychoeducational digital resources that are free, easily-accessible and suitable for young people, parents/carers and professionals who work with families struggling with conflict.

Improve your self-awareness by exploring our digital resources here: https://scottishconflictresolution.org.uk/brain

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Perspective, mental health and art with SMHAF artist Lauren Stonebanks

By Rachel Lee, SCCR Digital Media and Communications Officer

Perspective. A word that is rooted in the Latin meaning “look through.” A word that evokes many interpretations as it’s how we, as unique and complex individuals, see something. How we perceive our own and other’s emotions, situations, relationships…

The SCCR has explored this word in relation to the arts and wellbeing with Lauren Stonebanks, a talented artist who was part of the Scottish Mental Health Art Festival’s team who decided on 2020’s theme of ‘perspective.’

Like many who experience mental health symptoms since childhood without receiving support, Lauren believed she was weak and simply oversensitive.

Since being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BDP), Lauren has projected her experiences into various artworks that have helped people to understand BDP, which affects how you think, feel and interact with others.

The Edinburgh-based artist is now an advocate for mental health who challenges stigmas surrounding Borderline Personality Disorder. In 2013, Lauren was one of the founders of the annual Out Of Sight Out Of Mind mental health art exhibition that takes place every year at Summerhall, the art complex located in Edinburgh, and she has “been making mental health based art ever since.”

Her piece for the 2014 Out Of Sight Out Of Mind exhibition was a series of hand bound books. In these books, Lauren reflected upon her mental health experiences and detailed her personal perspective of how BPD had affected her life.

What began with ‘The Little Book Of BPD’, ‘The Little Book Of Drugs’, ‘The Giant Boom Of Side Effects’ soon grew into a 15 piece artwork with many other hand written and bound books due to the visceral response of the exhibition’s visitors.

Shortly after, the series were compiled into one book and self-published. ‘Keep Calm And Take Your Meds: An Omnibus Of Lunacy’ can be found in many libraries and Police Scotland have a copy that officers find helpful when interacting with an ill person.

Lauren says; “Mental health touches every single aspect of your life in my experience. I find art to be an excellent medium for explaining my mental illness to others. It’s been the basis of many of my pieces and people often comment on how it helped them understand something in a way words couldn’t.”

As well as using her art to explain the practical and emotional challenges of living with BPD to others, Lauren also uses art to get something out that she can’t express in any other way.

She says; “A lot of my art is very angry according to some people. I’m not very good at expressing anger outwardly. Maybe that’s why my art is that way.”

“Other art, not so much. It’s not what I imagined it would be but then I’m not what I imagined I would be.”

How do you express anger? The SCCR can help you find out.

The SCCR have infused art into our innovative resources to help people gain a better understanding of their brain’s chemistry, emotions and reactions. By using engaging visual animations and expressive illustrations, we break down complex scientific ideas in our psycho-educational digital resources that are free, readily-accessible and suitable for young people, parents/carers and professionals alike.

Improve your self-awareness by exploring our digital resources here: https://scottishconflictresolution.org.uk/brain

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Exploring the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival Theme of Perspective

By Hannah Foley, Health Care Professional and Illustrator

In the past I have wrestled with the idea that I should have some sort of core, unshakable identity that isn’t shaped by the things I do or by my circumstances. But when everything is stripped away, all I could ever say about myself was that I was a human being, taking twelve breaths a minute on planet Earth. And that’s just the same as everyone else! The fact is our identities are made up of the things we do, our circumstances, and our interactions with others. But what if I can’t do the things I’d like to and the power to control my circumstances has been taken away from me? Or the path to becoming who I’d like to be has now become closed to me? Who am I then?

During these strange times, questions like these have been especially hard to answer for people who were part way in to something. If you’ve lost your job as a trainee hairdresser, are you still a hairdresser? If you were about to do your Highers and are now reliant on some dismal predicted grades for your next step, does this define you? My debut children’s novel was due to come out in June, but publication has been pushed back to next year, and Covid-19 has shot a hole through the publishing industry. What does this mean for me, and for my sense of myself as a writer?

When Covid-19 has caused doors to be slammed in your face it’s hard to stay solution-focused. You’ve turned it round and round, and whichever way you look at, you can’t find a way forward. One of the tactics I use for coming up with solutions is to do something really sensory. Bear with me, it’s not as hippyish as it sounds!

In our society we talk about our minds and bodies as two separate things, often in conflict with each other. But most creative people will tell you this just isn’t true. Our minds and bodies are deeply connected. I don’t know one writer who wouldn’t advocate going for a walk when you get stuck. The novelist Stephen King prioritises going for a walk every day. Other artists and writers I know swim in the sea, take a bath, knit, sketch or go for a run. For me, I love to go out on my bike, or do some digging on my allotment. It needs to be an activity that takes over all your senses, leaving no room for angst or ruminating on the “what-ifs” of your dilemma.

As I push my spade into the earth, I’m not thinking consciously about anything other than the sun on my back and the physical motion of turning over the soil. It’s immersive. And when I straighten up and look back over the freshly dug patch, I can almost guarantee you that I’ve got the beginnings of an idea forming, a chink of light under a door I hadn’t noticed, the first baby steps on a way forward.

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Mental Health, Conflict and Kindness

By Andrew Boyd, Mediator

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, with this year’s theme being ‘kindness’.

In 2015 I wrote a blog for the SCCR which I called ‘Conflict & Mental Health – a chicken and egg situation?’ When we are struggling with conflict, our mental health can suffer but also when our mental health is poor, our ability to manage conflict effectively, can be compromised. I’ve been reflecting during Mental Health Awareness Week and I’m now adding kindness into the mix.

Kindness is central to our mental health and particularly when we are under great stress, kindness can bring people together. When we are kind to others or kindness is shown to us, our emotional wellbeing improves. Kindness has perhaps never been more important and can be key to managing and resolving conflict. We can all hopefully think of times during this lockdown period when our mental health has benefited from either giving or receiving acts of kindness.

So how does kindness integrate into our relationship between conflict and our mental health? Conflict is challenging for all of us and managing it can sometimes feel a step too far and so we avoid dealing with things, but rarely does the conflict go away and left unresolved it can often seem more difficult to address. Often when we avoid conflict our mental health can be severely compromised.

On the other hand when we do address the issues and get things resolved, it feels really great. Resolution positively impacts our mental health. When we add kindness into the conflict resolution mix we often see and feel a change in dynamics. When we communicate in a kind manner the messages become easier to actively listen to and it is easier to take the other persons views on board. It’s not about agreeing, compromising or not playing hard-ball but introducing the human element can make all the difference, with the potential for better mental health for all those involved.

So when we nudge out of lockdown, what will our new normal look like? There are some elements which we will have little control over but there are many more elements which we will have control over. Do we want to just go back to the old normal or do we want to have a better normal where kindness is more integral to what we do and say?

Read ‘Conflict & Mental Health – a chicken and egg situation?’ here.

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Mental Health Awareness Week: Kindness

By Stephen O'Rourke, Faculty of Advocates

How aware are any of us about our own mental health? I’d say we’re generally not as well aware as we should be. Like many health issues it can gradually build over time before reaching a moment of crisis. So unless we learn to look for the signs we can miss them. Like all health issues, there is no shame in acknowledging there may be a problem and the approach of previous generations, which often involved ‘toughing out’ life’s stressful times and refusing to talk about mental health, is fortunately no longer the only option available.

We all live busy lives full of commitments and deadlines. So how can we spot mental health problems brewing? If we do spot issues, what should we do?

The answer can be found in this year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness week, kindness. While we tend to think of kindness as something we show others in life, as part of our good deed for the day, in making that phone call to a friend or family member or in reaching out to be there for someone in our community, it is easy to forget that we need to be kind to ourselves too: because if charity begins at home then, in a similar way, we’re little use to others unless we’re in a good place ourselves.

Being kind to ourselves means recognising our own humanity and our own needs. And so the simple things like good sleep, regular meals, regular light exercise, a good routine, these things can save our lives. If you’re reading this right now, then I invite you to answer one set of simple questions:

  • How well did I sleep last night?
  • Did I do some light exercise yesterday or this morning?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how healthy is my diet?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how stressed do I feel?
  • When was the last time I spoke to anyone about my mental health?

Every day I work with people experiencing enormous stress in their lives due to difficult circumstances; and, in turn, I aim to manage the stress of how best to help them while remaining in a good space. I’ve learned to look for the signs and to read them – and I’ve done that myself just by asking those simple questions. I’ve found them helpful and I hope you do too. If the answers to these questions make you think your mental health is not what it should be, then maybe it’s time to talk to someone about it, most obviously your GP.

I’ve also been fortunate to work with the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution in recent years and have seen first-hand the amazing work they do with families and young people in crisis. One thing I have learned from working with them is that conversations, even difficult or downright awkward conversations, are better than suffering in silence. When people take the risk of speaking out it can be a frightening experience: how will the other person or people in the conflict react? There may be fears about not just what the other person will say, but also what they might do.

That’s why talking to someone in confidence outside of the conflict might help enormously and could lead to a better way of dealing with the conflict you’re experiencing. In addition to its own resources available through this website, SCCR also has strong partnerships with Young Scot, Parent Club Scotland and other resources available through the Scottish Government. As these challenging times have demonstrated people do care, reaching out is important, kindness does matter in our lives and we can make a difference both for ourselves and others.

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Young Scot in Partnership with SCCR

By Louise Macdonald OBE, CEO, Young Scot

It’s normal for young people to feel anxious and overwhelmed by what they’re hearing about COVID-19 right now, and the need for specialised youth information has never been greater. 

As their daily routines change, the impact on young people’s lives is enormous. Many are not attending work, college, university or their Modern Apprenticeships. Others are dealing with illness, self-isolating or caring for a family member or someone in the community. For others, they are worried about what school closures mean for their future. 

To help young people through this crisis, we quickly developed a quality-assured information platform populated with youth information and support around COVID-19. The information includes the steps to take to avoid catching COVID-19 and how to prevent spreading it to others. We also developed information on emotional wellbeing and mental health, money, finance and how to support others in the community. The information continues to be shared on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and YouTube. This is helping to reach young people in the digital spaces they spend their time in.

At Young Scot, a key part of our strategy is collaborating with information partners. This helps us to ensure that we share only the highest-quality information. It also helps us to challenge the misinformation that young people often are exposed to.

Soon after the start of lockdown we began to hear from young people about their concern over conflicts resulting from spending more time at home with family, carers or loved ones  creating difficult situations, especially for those coping with family problems or worrying about COVID-19. We immediately identified that the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution’s (SCCR) expertise in mediation and understanding of conflict could help to support young people during this time.

The SCCR and Young Scot teams quickly began working together and we were soon able to publish specialised youth information on how to resolve conflicts. The information focuses on understanding what starts conflict, which helps young people to understand how to resolve it. It also includes tips for how to react when upset by something someone has said or done. To support young people’s emotional wellbeing, SCCR also included information on how emotions work, and advice on what to do if young people are struggling to manage them.

The information was shared widely with young people via our social media channels. We also invited young people to send us their questions about conflict and arguments, with  Duncan Gordon, Diane Marr and Andrew Boyd from SCCR filming their responses to the questions, which we shared on our YouTube channel.

We are incredibly thankful to the SCCR for the support they’ve given young people during these challenging weeks and months. Partnerships such as these help Young Scot maintain our commitment to providing young people with the information they need to make informed decisions and choices – especially in times of such turmoil and uncertainty.

For more information visit:
www.young.scot/coronavirus

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A day out at the SCCR Conference

By Pupils from Dalziel High and Mrs Nielsen

Hello!

We are four S4 pupils from Dalziel High School in Motherwell. Our teacher (Mrs Nielsen) was showing us some new video clips from SCCR when we quickly realised that there were no sub-titles.

Sub-titles matter to us because we are deaf, and we wanted to understand what the messages were. So we emailed SCCR and asked why there were no subtitles. We received a reply to say that they would try to do something about this…

Very soon we heard back from SCCR that they had some students from Napier University working on the materials. We then received an invitation to their 2020 Conference in Edinburgh.

We had to get permission slips from our parents and initially, we were going to take the train from Motherwell to Edinburgh. However, Mrs Nielsen decided to take her son’s car (which is a jeep) so that we could spend more time at the conference.

Andrew from the SCCR met us in the car park (after Mrs N’s dodgy parking) and took us to the conference. Andrew gave us our delegate passes.

We couldn’t believe the number of people attending, but we were very pleased that we had a seat at the front. Dr Vanessa Collinridge was speaking and then she came and asked us questions when she was getting udience contributions. That felt a bit embarrassing, but we managed to speak out. The break was so good as we had lots of things to eat and drink: it felt very grown up.

Then there was a workshop with Andrew and Duncan from the SCCR where we looked at the new “homunculus” cards and talked about feelings and emotions and the effects on the body. Again we all spoke out and we really enjoyed that.

Lunch was a high point of the day because the food was delicious (even better than a half-pizza crunch which is Jamie’s favourite) and then we went to the “Brain Box” chill-out room which had been set up for us by Yvonne from the SCCR. This was relaxing and fun and we even had more sweets and popcorn. Brilliant!

After lunch we heard Callum Hutchison speak about his difficult childhood. This had some of us in tears as he had been through such a lot, but he is now in a much better place and is trying to help other people who are living with conflict. We think he should be really proud of himself and we would like him to come to our school to speak to all of the year groups. We had our photos taken with Callum and also with Maree Todd who is the Minister for Children and Young People.

After Gordon Jackson QC from the Faculty of Advocates had spoken about the legal system in Scotland (while wearing Diane’s glasses, due to a malfunction with his own) it was time for us to leave. We popped downstairs for some more snacks in case we got hungry on the way home and then Mrs Nielsen dropped us all off at our houses.

Before we went to the conference, we weren’t sure what it would be like, but we had an amazing time. We felt as though people really wanted us to be there and to hear what we thought about the materials which can be used to help young people understand what conflict is and to find better ways of dealing with it in their lives. The two quizzes “Monkey V Lizard” and “Keep the Heid” are really good, and now that the video clips have sub-titles, we think that all young people in Scotland should have the chance to look at them.

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Love is all you need…

By Ewan Aitken

Today we are faced with a unique, confusing and downright scary global crisis. We are living in uncertain times, but one thing that is certain is the importance of human relationships.

Here at SCCR, we work to resolve conflict in the home and maintain relationships between family members to reduce youth homelessness. Presently, many families will be “locked down” together which increases the amount of time they all spent under one roof and thus, could exacerbate an already stressful environment and the chance of conflict.

Relationship dynamics between family members can be challenging at any time, however, this is an exceptional and particularly testing situation. When families are quarantined together, personalities can clash and disagreements can feel heightened, which is why we encourage people to use our resources to find ways to better communicate when things feel tough.

In his blog below, Cyrenians CEO Ewan Aitken, reflects on his experience at the SCCR 10th annual conference held earlier this year, at which he gave a speech about the infinite value of human love and relationships. The power of showing and receiving love on one’s wellbeing and quality of life cannot be underestimated. A sentiment we all need reminding of during these difficult times.

Earlier this year, I spoke at the 10th anniversary conference of our Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) – ‘The Faces of Transition’. It was a great day shared amongst colleagues and friends from across the sector, as well as guests from far and wide, to reflect on how we might tackle conflict, one of the main triggers for homelessness. My grateful thanks and congratulations goes to the colleagues and collaborators who worked so hard to make the day so special.

In Scotland alone, family conflict accounts for over 4,000 young people becoming homeless every year – the equivalent of the number of students in around four secondary schools.

We know that, if you live in a household struggling to get by, you’re more at risk of strained relationships and conflict – the stress of financial and social worries feeling unmanageable. Things can spiral out of control, and relationships become fractured. The young people that leave will then live an insecure, transitory existence; sleeping on sofas, in and out of institutions, or on the streets.

The impact on the outcomes for those experiencing homelessness – on health and wellbeing, on educational and employment prospects, on life expectancy – is profound, and deeply unjust.

We have to see homelessness from this wider perspective – one that takes into account the whole story of individuals, how the various aspects of their lives relate to one another, and how they relate to wider social structures. This is not an isolated issue.

One particularly poignant moment for myself on the day of our conference was hearing Callum Hutchison from the Violence Reduction Unit talk. He described a turning point in his life, as a result of the simple act of one person reaching out to another and saying ‘is there anything I can help you with?’ He could not, as he put it, remember the last time someone reached out to him like that.

I thank him for generously sharing his story. Callum now works with the organisation that ‘intervened’ with him that day, and described their ethos as this – ‘we don’t do things to people. We do things with people’. This is exactly how we work at Cyrenians, because we know that it works.

In Cyrenians, core to our way of working is Carl Roger’s principle of ‘unconditional positive regard’ – unconditional; seeing and accepting the person, the human being before us without judgement; positive; accepting with warmth and care; regard; seeing all of someone’s story as theirs to hold and share as part of a growing relationship not ours to use as a prism to see them through.

Its hard work. It’s really challenging and requires us each to be resilient, to nurture our resilience and be rooted in our values. But one of the ways I think we can make it easier on ourselves is not to just describe it or understand it as a theory of practice or a way of working but simply and first and foremost as an act of human love. Because when we know we are loved and that our love for others is accepted we can truly flourish and be fully human.

We have some of the most progressive housing legislation in the world in Scotland – but we’re falling short on preventative work, and more needs to be done. It’s why we as an organisation put so much work into resolving conflict through the SCCR, and our mediation and support services – among many other projects.

While I’m proud to lead an organisation dedicated to tackling the causes and consequences of homelessness – that understands the importance of early intervention and prevention – I’m even more proud and humbled to work with a whole community of people who share that aim, and engage in that hard work, with real passion and genuine love.

To find out more about the conference, visit: https://scottishconflictresolution.org.uk/conferences/conference-2020

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Giving Children and Young People a Voice

By Andrew Boyd, Mediator

This week is Family Mediation Week (20-24th January), which aims to raise awareness of mediation and how it can help separating families manage their issues collaboratively and productively.

Relationships Scotland are Scotland’s largest provider of relationship counselling and family mediation. Their Family Mediation service provides a space for separating or ­separated parents to discuss and plan future arrangements for their ­children with a third person, the mediator, there to help them to have a productive conversation.

Rosanne Cubitt, Head of Practice for Mediation at Relationship Scotland recently wrote a blog for the Relationships Scotland website, where she highlights the importance of ‘kids having opinions too’. Rosanne wrote, ‘It is important for children to feel heard and for their experiences and views to be considered. Research shows that most children want to be involved in decisions that affect them and it is good for their mental health and wellbeing for them to talk and feel listened to. Listening to children is not about them being the decision maker, but having a voice.’

Working as part of Cyrenians, the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) is a national resource, promoting and supporting best practice in mediation, family conflict resolution and early intervention work, with a particular focus around young people and families. Cyrenians’ Mediation and Support service offers an early intervention approach to prevent relationship breakdown, offering both one-to-one support and mediation. Last year 98% of the young people that worked with the Mediation and Support service remained at home, returned home or moved out in a supported way. It is clear that mediation provides an effective space for children and young people to express their needs and for them to be listened to. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is clear that children who are capable of forming their own views, have the right to express them freely in matters affecting them and the subsequent right for those views to be given due weight, according to the child’s age and maturity.

On 29th January the SCCR is holding its Annual Conference with the theme of ‘The Faces of Transition’. Inspired by the Roman God Janus, the conference explores the themes of beginnings and endings of conflict, transitions, time, duality and how our past can impact our future but does not define us. We are fortunate that there will be some young people attending and contributing to our conference. The young people will be telling us about their own experiences of mediation and in particular how peer mediation has benefited their school communities.

Young people are the future so it is vital that we listen to their views, benefit from their wisdom and act to make Scotland the best place for children to grow up.

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Fire-retardant relationships

By Karen Holford, Family Ministries Director for the Trans-European Division

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#FiveYears

By Diane Marr, Network Development Manager

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A Reflection

By Untangling the Knots 3 day Training Delegate

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