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A unique social enterprise and football partnership is changing lives.

The partnership is signed
Left to right: Tony Fitzpatrick (CEO of St Mirren), Jim Gillespie (CEO of Kibble), Gordon Scott (Chairman of St Mirren) and George Adam (Chairman of SMISA).


Kibble is a specialist child and youth care charity and social enterprise that supports at risk children and young people (aged 5-26) across the UK.

In February 2020 Kibble announced a historic new deal to become a major shareholder in St Mirren Football club, through a unique link-up, the first of its kind in the UK, with the club’s supporters’ trust.

This historic new partnership with St Mirren Independent Supporters Association (SMISA) is helping to “change the lives of some of the most vulnerable young people in Scotland – by allowing us to step up our young workforce development programme to provide training and job opportunities based around the club’s facilities and operations,” according to Kibble Chief Executive, Jim Gillespie.

Despite the devastating and unforeseen impact of Covid-19 on people, communities and every part of society including football clubs, the partnership has already enhanced skills training and employability opportunities for young people and widened access to sport, health and wellbeing. It addresses local deprivation and exclusion through youth employment, community engagement, initiatives and activities.

Watch this 17 minute presentation from Mark Macmillan of Kibble about the partnership or read on for more details.


Kibble is one of Scotland’s largest social enterprises and operates across the UK. Many of the young people Kibble cares for have experienced significant trauma. Using a therapeutic and trauma‐informed approach it provides care, education and a range of supports to open opportunities and create positive futures.

At its core, Kibble provides residential care, primary and secondary schools, therapeutic support, secure care, fostering, and community housing and support.

Kibble has established strong connections in communities including Paisley over its 160-year history through its social enterprises and partnerships.

After many months of discussion between Kibble, St Mirren and the St Mirren Independent Supporters Association, Kibble created a partnership with the St Mirren Independent Supporters Association (SMISA). SMISA members voted overwhelmingly in favour of this partnership in February 2020 which led to Kibble owning a 27.5% stake in the club, believing a partnership with Kibble offered the best possible future for the club “by securing fan ownership in a way which could move St Mirren to the next level, on and off the park, while growing it as a force for good within the Paisley community.”

The St Mirren partnership provides a range of opportunities for young people at Kibble and the wider Renfrewshire community. Through Kibble’s Skills Academy, young people gain education and employment training in line with the current jobs market through its social enterprise programme. They can also secure qualifications at SVQ and City and Guilds level.

The Skills Academy operates from two locations (St Mirren’s Stadium and nearby Hillington). It runs social enterprises providing goods to the local community, while developing the young workforce. At St Mirren, young people develop skills and gain experience in hospitality and retail, catering and customer service. Apprenticeships in grounds keeping and maintenance are also available.


With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic contributing to heightened unemployment and subsequent social issues around food poverty and crisis in mental health, the partnership enabled Kibble and St Mirren to help address local deprivation and exclusion through youth employment, community engagement initiatives and activities.


During the pandemic Kibble established a confidential support line ‘Safe Space to Talk’ through which Kibble’s in-house counsellors offer telephone support for St Mirren staff and players, helping break the stigma around mental health in sport. This was set up following the success of the service for Kibble staff and the wider Scottish social care sector, and offers confidential, one-to-one calls every day of the week.


Kibble and St Mirren work with FairShare (the UK’s largest charity fighting hunger and food waste) and the locally-based members of the The Renfrewshire Food Network to deliver essential food parcels to families struggling to put food on the table. Each week, Kibble offers voluntary support to collect and deliver the food parcels to the Tannahill Community Centre for distribution across local foodbanks in Renfrewshire. Many thousands of food parcels have been delivered over the past year.


In the light of the devastation wrought on Scottish football clubs by the pandemic, St Mirren’s partnership with Kibble has been a “godsend” according to the club’s chief executive Tony Fitzpatrick. Like other clubs, St Mirren was closed when games were initially postponed. Then matches were allowed but with empty stadiums, and subsequently with limited capacity, so gate revenues nose-dived. Fitzpatrick told the Daily Record:

“The Kibble partnership is a godsend. Given the organisation they are and how long they’ve been running, it’s a bonus that we can both help each other through these challenging times.

“That was one of the main reasons the partnership between us and Kibble seemed like such a good idea. It gives us stability.”


Kibble’s partnership with St Mirren Football Club is already bringing meaningful change to the lives of young people at Kibble, the Football Club and the wider community. It will strengthen Kibble’s young workforce development including employability programmes, volunteering support, traineeships and apprenticeships to provide wider opportunities between local schools and businesses. It will offer young people from Kibble and the wider community support, tuition, training and confidence that they need to get a job.


The partnership combines the youth-centred, educational and commercial expertise of Kibble with St Mirren’s first-class sporting facilities and national profile. The opportunities it creates are profound and its success is down to “effective communication, a shared understanding of the aims and objectives of both organisations, and the ability to pull in the same direction,” according to Mark Macmillan, Kibble’s Director of Corporate Services.

“It demonstrates the club’s place in the community as more than a football club – it’s a valuable community anchor,” adds Macmillan, “and its structure, with Kibble as a major shareholder, means we can all pull in the same direction. It’s an incredibly exciting partnership offering increased job prospects for our young people, and young people in the community aligned with the current job market. We are looking forward to enhancing employment opportunities in the area, while continuing to engage with local groups and residents to support wider regeneration and community initiatives, and of course continuing the success of St Mirren in Scotland’s Premier League.”


This is a unique partnership compared with our other case studies but it offers many lessons around purpose alignment, communication, trust and flexibility in the light of adversity. Football in the UK has “an enormous reach because so many people care about it,” says Macmillan, “and we want to use the reach that football has. That’s good for the team and for young people.”

What next?

5 Fundamental Correctives for Public Service Reform

Read about the Five Correctives here or click the buttons below for descriptions of the outcomes of, process behind, underlying principles, and evidence for each corrective.

9 Key Principles for working with purpose-aligned partners

Component principles for effective partnership working. Click here.

Tools, Resources and Model Documents

Example documentation, contracts, processes and agreements you can access – or use as a checklist as you progress your partnerships. These practical models and outlines include a set of social value imperatives.

Case studies of purpose-aligned partnerships

Examples of successful public service community partnerships delivering a variety of public services. See them here.

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