Our founder, Kirsty Thomson, has stepped down

June 28, 2024
Our founder, Kirsty Thomson, has stepped down

After 12 years at the helm of ACK and The Circle, we are saying goodbye to our Founder and CEO, Kirsty Thomson. Kirsty is taking on an exciting new role at The Big House SCIO, a multibank based in Fife which was launched by Gordon Brown to distribute surplus goods to charities around Scotland to deliver to people in need.

A photo of Kirsty Thomson. In the photo, Kirsty is wearing a black dress with a red blazer. She is standing in the garden outside of Dudhope Castle and is in front of a blossoming tree
Photo by Kathryn Rattray

Kirsty set up her first business, Along Came Kirsty (later, ACK Third Sector Consultants CIC) in 2012 to provide business support to people and organisations in the third sector. She and her team worked with hundreds of individuals and organisations, supporting them with fundraising, public consultations, business planning and much more. She founded The Circle in 2015, having seen the need for affordable workspaces where organisations could work together and build community. The two social enterprises were merged in 2019, allowing The Circle to offer consultancy services alongside its existing offering. The Circle is now a thriving social enterprise with a team of 13 operating across 3 hubs in Dundee and Glasgow. We offer fair-rent, flexible workspaces, business support, volunteering opportunities and recently took on the former Shopmobility service in Dundee, hiring out mobility devices for free to anyone that needs them.

Before she leaves us, we asked Kirsty a few questions about her journey so far and what she’s taking with her in her next steps.

What first prompted you to start ACK and then The Circle?

ACK – I wanted to do something to support charities as they had supported my family for years and having worked with them for a long time knew I had skills I could offer to support. I knew many were busy dealing with supporting their clients and didn’t have time to find grants, run events and develop fundraising and income streams to support their work. I had developed lots of skills, especially grant writing from my research background, and it felt like it was the right thing.

The Circle – I could see issues affecting charities and social enterprises renting premises and thought there must be a better way where we could share resources, collaborate and bring funding together to support communities. I also wanted to create a space where everyone was welcome regardless of background. And I wanted people to feel they could do what they put their mind to and that The Circle could be the safe space to do this.

The ACK team - Kirsty, Jenny, Clare and Fiona - standing together in front of a multi-coloured brick wall and laughing

How do you feel about what you’ve achieved at The Circle?

I feel very proud about keeping going despite the challenges and most importantly watching the people we work with grow and develop.

What are you proudest of as a social entrepreneur?

Taking ideas and making them a reality for people, developing and growing people, transforming underused spaces into new places.

A group photo from The Circle's first DIY day in 2016
DIY day at The Circle 2016

What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far?

Never give up and keep believing in your vision; it is what gives you focus at all times even when times get tough.

What are you most looking forward to in your next steps?

A new chapter and challenge, continuing with the More Than Profit® approach and ensuring charities and social enterprises come together with businesses to support those in our communities who need it most.

A group photo of The Circle team at a celebration event for the Institute of Director Awards in 2021
IoD Director of the Year Awards celebration at The Circle, 2021

What advice would you like to give The Circle team before you go? 

Remember our values, they will always guide you and what The Circle was built on.

Here are some of Kirsty’s highlights from the past 12 years:
  • Creating a free networking group for people working in and with the third sector, first called Charity Chit Chat and now The Circle Networking.
  • Working with UnLtd to distribute £80,000 in start up grants to social entrepreneurs in Dundee and over £20,000 to Ukrainians Together.
  • Working with Creative Dundee to launch Dundee Soup, an event where the community could come together, enjoy some soup and hear pitches from local projects who could win a microgrant from the event takings.
  • Winning Social Business of the Year at the Courier Business Awards
  • Creating The Circle Academy, our SCQF accredited training programme for early-stage social entrepreneurs which has supported over 70 candidates and is now being spun out into its own charity, set to launch next year.
  • Employing and supporting 5 care experienced young people through The Circle Café pilot project.
  • Working with Academy alumni to create The Circle Superstars which distributed 300 activity packs to children in deprived areas of Dundee during lockdowns in 2020.
  • Navigating a move to new Dundee premises with 14 tenants in just 8 weeks.
  • Being approached by Glasgow Council to take on a former business centre in Easterhouse as our second hub through the Space for Growth scheme.
  • Joining the consortium delivering the Just Enterprise programme, allowing us to give free business support to charities and social enterprises in Dundee and Angus.
  • Relaunching the former Shopmobility service after 28 years of it being its own charity as The Circle Mobility.
  • Employing a total of 48 staff.
  • Raising over £14million for third sector organisations.
  • Being named on the WISE100 list three times.
  • Having The Circle one the SE100 list three times.

We are so grateful for Kirsty’s leadership over the years and are delighted for her to have achieved what she set out to do at The Circle, allowing her to now take on this exciting new opportunity. Our Financial Controller, Ruth Finnan, and General Manager, Paul Hastie, will now be leading the organisation together in its next chapter.

A photo of Ruth Finnan, Kirsty Thomson and Paul Hastie. They are standing together outside on the grounds of Dudhope Castle