The Ecology Centre is an inclusive, community-led charity and social enterprise that inspires positive change through directly connecting people and the natural environment for the benefit of both. Situated alongside Kinghorn Loch in Fife, it provides a base for environmental education projects, volunteering, training and employability programmes as well as an event space and meeting place for visitors and staff.
When The Ecology Centre first applied to Pilotlight in the autumn of 2015, it had been through some major changes and there was a sense of a new beginning in the air. Having just completed a Big Lottery funded building programme, a new site and buildings were now in place and General Manager Julie Samuel and her team were keen to look at the big 'what next?' question. Chair Anthony Payne commented, “when the building programme finished, it gave us an opportunity to take stock and look at where we are after all the change".
In July 2014, with support from the Big Lottery and other funders, The Ecology Centre purchased five acres of land on the eastern shore of Kinghorn Loch as a new place to provide the programmes and projects it runs. It also reconditioned shipping containers to serve as spaces for education and projects such as the ‘Tool Shed’. Work was also underway to enhance biodiversity across the grounds and provide more opportunities for The Ecology Centre to have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the local community.
As Julie said, “we used to be known as the ‘hippies on the hill’, but we were keen to ensure that the whole community understood that the site is open to everyone.” With such a valuable community asset, Julie wanted to ensure the local community stayed engaged through and after the site move, continuing the involvement of as many local volunteers and visitors as possible. She came to Pilotlight for solid business coaching support on how to grow The Ecology Centre into its new skin, and make the best of the new buildings and grounds.
What we did
Our managed process really helped the Pilotlight team to get under the skin of the charity’s strategic challenges and opportunities. The strategy ‘away day’ supported the organisation to identify its key messages and help find the right balance between the two pillars of The Ecology Centre’s mission. As Julie said, "we're about people as well as plants".
The Pilotlighters also supported Julie and her team to develop a more coherent and effective process for commissioning projects, reducing the risk of mission drift. Gail Skinner, one of the Pilotlighters, explained, “I must admit, after the first meeting, I wondered what we could actually do to help, but during the third or fourth meeting I had the ‘lightbulb moment’ that so many people involved with Pilotlight talk of, when I realised we actually could make a difference and our experience was relevant.”
Julie highlighted that "working with a team of highly skilled Pilotlighters was a great benefit to The Ecology Centre and to me personally. It allowed myself and the Chair time away from the office to look at the organisation strategically. The decision making matrix tool we co-created during the engagement has been of great value to The Ecology Centre since, strengthening the processes we go through when commissioning new project work".
Overall, the greatest impact of the Pilotlight project was on how the organisation now approaches its planning, as Julie said, "having the Pilotlighters as a sounding board was extremely helpful and enabled us to have more of a business perspective on our plans".
Gail Skinner also commented: “As part of a team of four Pilotlighters working with a Project Manager, I learnt through this project that it is crucial to listen and offer advice, rather than jump in and tell the charity leaders what I think they should do. The mentoring process gives them the confidence to make their own decisions going forward.”