Rowan Alba (RA) was founded in 2005 and supports some of the most vulnerable people affected by homelessness in Edinburgh, many with complex, long term issues such as poor mental health, and drug and alcohol abuse. RA’s support focusses on those who are unable to manage their own care and who need a consistent and person-centred approach to avoid repeating experiences of living on the streets.

Two men playing snooker

Why Pilotlight and the Pilotlight Direction Programme?

As a provider of supported accommodation for homeless people, RA’s most significant challenge is securing and owning good quality, fit-for-purpose accommodation in Edinburgh. The charity finds it difficult to compete with other commercial landlords who can outbid charities in the open market.

CEO Helen Carlin's ambition is to tackle the cycle of homelessness experienced by people due to their vulnerabilities. However, RA has limited capacity due to the lack of suitable properties at a realistic price. She came to Setting Direction (a programme we run in partnership with Barclays) to explore a suitable investment model to attract new investors who share RA’s values. Securing and managing its own property portfolio would enable RA to create the long-term support needed to better service the most vulnerable homeless people in Edinburgh.

What we did

The Pilotlighters reviewed RA’s proposed idea for a for a viable investment model to enable the charity to purchase suitable properties to manage in Edinburgh. Alongside this, the Pilotlighters researched and scoped out risks of potential buy-in through legacies and donations. Finally, they helped to identify RA’s USP and created a plan in order to drive engagement.


The process was very useful for me. I was led to question my assumptions around different possibilities for our future.

Helen Carlin,
CEO & Founder, Rowan Alba

The Pilotlighters recommended building on the strong foundations RA already had by focusing on raising its profile through a targeted marketing strategy. This included expanding the training and qualifications offered, telling RA’s story and expanding the charity’s reach to engage potential investors and unlock support. This would strengthen its financial position and capabilities to enable the longer-term plan to be more viable.

Since participating in the Pilotlight Direction, Helen has found the perfect vehicle that builds on the Pilotlighters’ recommendations. RA has now established a community benefit society, which will promote investment to purchase a property to provide long-term accommodation for former homeless people. This is due to launch in June 2020 and will provide a home for life for eight people.