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Morven Mackenzie gets ready to Celebrate Aberdeen’s vibrant community culture

The Orcadian businesswoman has helped create a vibrant event which highlights the significant impact of the third sector in the city.
Neil Drysdale
Morven Mackenzie, organiser of Celebrate Aberdeen, at the Aberdeen Journals office. Pic: Darrell Benns.
Morven Mackenzie, organiser of Celebrate Aberdeen, at the Aberdeen Journals office. Pic: Darrell Benns.

Morven Mackenzie, the organiser of Celebrate Aberdeen, realises that most cities face challenges post-Covid – yet she is inspired to improve matters.

And when you look at the range of thriving festivals and entrepreneurial spirits across the north-east, why shouldn’t she be optimistic?

If you listen to some people, you might imagine Aberdeen is in a bottomless slough of despond, with Union Street the equivalent of one of those old Wild West movies where tumbledown blows across the screen.

They tend to talk about the death of the energy sector and bemoan whatever development plans are mooted by council or civic authorities, but they rarely offer any solutions, preferring to accentuate the negative at every opportunity.

Thanks heavens then for the  positivity of somebody like Morven, who has studied and worked in the north-east for more than 30 years since arriving from Orkney in 1991.

Where others see obstacles, this redoubtable individual views opportunities; where others focus on struggles, she concentrates on success stories – and, quite rightly, talks about the tremendous work done by the city’s third sector, with its litany of charity stalwarts and volunteer heroes and heroines.

Passionate about the charity sector

Celebrate Aberdeen
Celebrate Aberdeen has become an annual highlight in the city. Pic: Scott Baxter

Celebrate Aberdeen started in 2018. Morven said: “I came up with the idea for Celebrate Aberdeen after being approached by a number of voluntary organisations looking for help to raise their profile. The charity sector is one that I care passionately about and so I decided to do something that would show our region just how important, significant and diverse it is.

“Fast forward to 2023 and we have thousands of representatives – staff, volunteers and services – from more than 140 charities walking down Union Street together in a display of unity, coming together in a positive and celebratory manner.

Pandemic impact not all negative

“There’s definitely a lot of work going on behind the scenes like all large scale events, but I guess the challenge we have that some others don’t is that we are all volunteers and none of us work for the same organisation, so we have to do everything virtually.

“To be fair that’s one thing that has actually become easier since the pandemic; the tools needed to work remotely have improved significantly.

“Also, because we’re all volunteers, we all have other commitments including busy working lives and family and so it means that we all often have to burn the midnight oil to get things done. That’s not always ideal.

“However, we have a fantastic group of core volunteers who have been supporting Celebrate Aberdeen for a number of years now and know exactly what they’re doing in their given role, so it all usually goes pretty smoothly give or take the odd, inevitable hiccup – I hope I haven’t jinxed anything now by saying that!

“Plus the third sector is a really robust one, which I think helps explain why our parade and our awards event are always well supported. As a sector, its has its own challenges currently, but the people who work within it really are the best our region has to offer. That’s what keeps us all going when we’re working late.

“And, of course, we’re well supported by the private sector, Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeen Inspired too, which means we can keep doing what we do.

“We’re incredibly grateful for that”.

Emily Findlay
Emily Findlay BEM has become a stalwart figure in Aberdeen’s charity sector. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

Many organisations banding together

This year’s Celebrate Aberdeen event is on Saturday August 26 and anybody who has attended in the past will be aware of the sheer ebullience and effervescence which emanates from the participants.

Last summer, pipers and other musicians whipped up a joyful noise and members of myriad organisations came together in a collegiate spirit with a big smile on their faces.

It would have taken a Scrooge with a heart of stone not to have felt that, while such a battalion of voluntary vim and vigour was spearheading the city’s revival, there’s no shortage of reasons to be cheerful about the direction in which Aberdeen is headed.

And, though that won’t silence the nay-sayers, Morven has other priorities.

Lord Provost Dr David Cameron heading up the 2022 Celebrate Aberdeen Parade
Lord Provost Dr David Cameron heading up the 2022 Celebrate Aberdeen Parade. Image: Aberdeen City Council.

She said: “It’s such a shame that some people are more likely to complain about the city, rather than talk about what’s great about it, and there really are many things to be thankful for.

“I’m lucky enough not to have had too many people moan about Celebrate Aberdeen, but I have had some. My view is that we should encourage people who are trying to bring new things to the city, rather than knock them.

“Thankfully, there are also a lot of people who are really positive about Aberdeen and want to change it for the better. The recently launched ‘Our Union Street’ campaign is a great example of that and I’m looking forward to seeing positive results from it.

People are proud and passionate

“My experience is of dealing with people in the third sector specifically, so that involves charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups, and my belief is that they are some of the most positive people you could ever meet.

“I think they have to be innovative, adaptable and solutions-focused to achieve what they achieve on a daily basis. And it’s clear that they are proud of what they stand for and passionate about each of their given causes.”

Morven Mackenzie
Morven Mackenzie loves working with the third sector in Aberdeen.

Morven is convinced that growing up in an island community had a lot to do with why she subsequently established Celebrate Aberdeen. It was all about nurturing a sense of community and bringing different groups together in a common cause.

After graduating, she headed off to Southampton where she worked as a reporter on a technology magazine, as the prelude to moving to London and switching to a career in public relations. And yet, the Northern Lights burned brightly, so she returned to Aberdeen in 1999 and has worked in PR and marketing ever since.

A love of rugby

One of her other loves is rugby and it wasn’t a surprise, as somebody who has been at the heart of various fundraising initiatives, not least for the much-missed Doddie Weir, to learn she will be cheering on Gregor Townsend’s team at the World Cup next month.

Yet, in this regard at least, she is letting her head rule her heart.

Morven Mackenzie
Morven Mackenzie is the driving force behind Celebrate Aberdeen. Pic: Darrell Benns.

She said: “I am heading out to the South of France for the weekend of the World Cup quarter finals [towards the end of September] with family and friends.

“We don’t have any tickets unfortunately, but we will be heading to the fan village in Marseille. Here’s hoping Scotland are still in the tournament when we get there.

“But sadly, I’m not sure how realistic that is as they’re in a tough group [alongside holders South Africa and No 1 ranked Ireland].”

Whatever transpires, one conclusion can be safely reached. If the Scots perform with the same can-do attitude and attention to detail as Morven and her colleagues, they too can be celebrating just as Aberdeen will be next weekend.


  1. What book are you reading? The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom. I’m really enjoying it.
  2. Who’s your hero/heroine? I honestly can’t think of any one individual who really stands out. The reality is I’m inspired by the people around me who work hard on a daily basis, often to make the lives of others betters – they’re the real heroes in life.
  3. Do you speak any foreign languages? I studied French and German at University and also sat O’Grade Norwegian at school, so in theory I should be able speak a few. But the reality is I’ve forgotten a lot over the years, which is a real shame.
  4. What’s your favourite music or band? I’m a huge Abba fan and am not embarrassed to say so. I was also really into Pulp in the 1990s and think Jarvis Cocker is an incredible performer.
  5. What’s your most treasured possession? I’ve kept so many of my kids’ drawings, school workbooks, reports, etc. I’ve even kept their exam papers. Those are very precious to me and I hope will be to them, in time.