Ed Mayo



Every set of Commonwealth or Olympic Games (or even City of Culture awards for that matter) proclaim that they will have a legacy, but how true is this claim?

Ahead of July’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Ed Mayo (Chief Executive of Pilotlight) shares some of his organisation’s experiences of Glasgow 2014 and how the UK’s second city could benefit from putting charity at the heart of its approach to legacy.

The Commonwealth Games are coming up in and around the great city of Birmingham, starting on July 28 2022.  Twelve busy days of games to catch the public imagination, but beyond this, the public investment of around £778 million has also supported jobs and led to new sporting facilities and new housing that are designed to last for years afterwards.

Every set of games proclaims that it will have a legacy, but how true is this claim? You can build a stadium or an aquatics centre, but it is harder to test whether people’s lives have improved.

A good case study is the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, one which we know well because of a far-sighted decision by business and organisers in the city to invest in the social infrastructure of Scotland. The reasoning was, that if there is one thing that is going to improve the lives of people in need over time, then it is the capacity of voluntary organisations that are there to support them.

Pilotlight (the organisation that I lead) ran this programme which worked to help twelve health and sports charities and social enterprises by harnessing the skills of business leaders.

The key needs they had were:

  • Diversifying income
  • Leadership and change
  • Building successful partnerships with business
  • Resilience and planning for uncertainty
  • Impact and performance measurement

These organisational needs are still relevant now for others today, although to add to these, we see more recognition of the challenges of promoting diversity and of going digital.

Drumchapel Sports Centre, for example, is a community run sports venue that is home now to fifteen clubs and groups that use the facility every week. All of these, such as the Drumchapel Amateur Boxing Club, are voluntarily run sports clubs in their own right. Over twelve months, around 30,000 people come through the doors of the centre.  One of the main results for the charity from our involvement s was to make it more productive by increasing trust, delegation and responsibility within the organisation.

Youth Football Scotland provides a one stop shop for anyone connected to the game of youth football Scotland-wide. It seeks to fill gaps and promote good practice in all areas of youth football. This could range from someone who is the head of a big youth club to a parent on the side lines.  Robbie Forsyth, a Director at the time, commented that “The Pilotlight project came at exactly the right time for us as we were stuck in a bit of a rut. Working with the business team enabled us to think about the bigger picture and what we wanted the organisation to achieve. By getting expert advice we now had the skills to take our social enterprise forward so that we can help more young people across Scotland.”

The business team we put together included senior leaders from VisitScotland, Scottish Enterprise and SportScotland. Tom Ward, Chair of Foundation Scotland and an experienced business leader was also part of the team.

In the independent evaluation immediately after, all of the charities and social enterprises supported through our organisation reported that the process had had a positive impact on their long-term strategy, with three out of four saying this was a major positive impact.  We then know that two years after working with us, on average, charities increase their reach by 30% and their income by 44%. These are figures over five years, so based on a proven model in the form of the Pilotlight 360 Programme.

And what happened after that?

Stramash Social Enterprise is now the largest provider of outdoor nurseries in Scotland, expanding from Oban to four sites. They comment that “‘the ‘outdoors’ is where we ‘do what we do’, but it’s our ethos, values and people that really deliver the magic.”

Two organisations, including Youth Football Scotland have shifted to an online only model, while those who have been closed over the pandemic are re-opening. In the case of MacPool in Argyll, this is the swimming pool, coupled with soft play area for children and a new café, re-opening around Easter 2022.

The Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters has become the Scottish Register, or the Scottish Register of Language Professionals with the Deaf Community, shifting when the Scottish Government gave welcome recognition to British Sign Language.

Support in Mind Scotland has gone from strength to strength, leading the growing recognition of needs around mental health. The charity received an impact award from the company GSK prior to the pandemic, saying that the charity stood out as an organisation that values the views of its service users. Frances Simpson of Support in Mind says that “the Pilotlight process helped to transform our organisation.”

Overall, the positive trajectory of impact has been sustained for the cohort of charities Pilotlight supported. In terms of financial accounts, over the last four years, the charities have grown on average by a further 87% in terms of income.

Talk of legacy is similar to talk of sustainability, where politicians and companies can cloak themselves in rhetoric, but do little in truth that will stand the test of time. We have fact checking for fake news, but what forms of assurance can evolve to avoid green washing or legacy embroidering?

The first step is to identify and generate data that can be used to assess progress.

The question is therefore – how do we measure a legacy? It is a common feature of regeneration programmes, from the Single Regeneration Budget onwards, that legacy is most evident – sometimes only evident – in the physical infrastructure of places.

The reason however is not because that was the intent, but rather because capital projects and those behind them were more successful in capturing resources than the harder-to-see social infrastructure that communities rely on. It may yet lack concrete form, but the recent Levelling Up White Paper from the UK Government is in fact very good on this – pointing to the need for investment in social infrastructure.

This ties up with the second step, after data, which is a need for the kind of long-term institutional capacity that can support patient accountability over time. This can be in the form of voluntary organisations, long-term in nature because of their purpose, rooted in the communities they serve and less prone to capture by the short-term attention span and electoral cycles of public bodies.

The multiplier in terms of legacy from capacity building the voluntary sector is impressive. It compares well too to other forms of spending. By building the capacity of charities, you build their capacity not just for the short-term and you build an institutional potential to serve communities over time.

The 2022 Commonwealth Games have charity partners and business sponsors, but not yet a plan for how to use business skills and pro bono expertise to build what can follow in the Midlands.

For a tangible legacy over time for people, the real success of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games was to think long-term and to include charity at the heart of how it could achieve this.

It is not too late for the Birmingham Games to do the same.

About Ed Mayo

Ed Mayo is Chief Executive of Pilotlight, a charity that amplifies the impact charities, business and individuals can bring to make a better world. Pilotlight has helped over 1,000 charities who tackle social disadvantage to ignite change that lasts.

Ed has led the development of a diverse range of civil society organisations, including Co-operatives UK, the National Consumer Council and the New Economics Foundation. He’s a longtime business campaigner, an author on values in business and a respected leader and innovator in the third sector. His current mission is to change the way that business leaders engage with civil society.

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