Towards the end of last year, I took part in Sleep in the Park along with a team of colleagues from GoodPractice. This was a ‘mass sleepout’ organised by Social Bite to raise money to help end homelessness in Scotland. Tracey, Andrew, Ross D, James and I joined more than 8,000 people to sleep out in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens on what was one of the coldest nights of the year. You can read about our experience in a previous blog.
Now, just four months later, some of the money raised from Sleep in the Park has already been put to good use. The newly built Social Bite Village provides an innovative, safe, low-cost living environment for people who have been affected by homelessness. Last week, the GoodPractice Sleep Out team were lucky enough to be invited along for a VIP tour of the village before the first residents move in. In this blog, I reflect on our visit and share Social Bite’s vision for this new space.
Ten brand new homes have been created in the Granton area of Edinburgh, each designed to give a fresh start to people who really need it. As you can see, they are not nondescript, bland houses. The Social Bite village is something truly special. It’s not just about providing people with a place to call home, it also offers a real sense of community, as well as tailored support to help people get back on their feet.
As soon we walked into the village we were struck by how beautiful and calm the space was. Designed by Jonathan Avery of Tiny House Scotland, each of the ten ‘nest’ houses can accommodate two people, with a total of 20 residents living in the village at a time. The houses have separate bedrooms and share a cosy living space. Set on a gentle incline, the homes are surrounded by flowerbeds and plants.
We were able to look inside some of the houses and saw that they were neat, compact and filled with lots of lovely touches. From the crockery in the kitchens, fluffy towels in the bathrooms, artwork and plants, each house had a homely, welcoming feel. Each bed has a unique handmade quilt, created by designer Jo Avery. Each resident will take their quilt with them when they leave the village, and they’ll be replaced every year.
The first residents are set to move to the village in June 2018. Right now, they are living in unsupported temporary accommodation, shelters, and B&Bs. Many will have slept rough on the streets of this city for days, weeks and months at a time, with no place to call their own. They may have been raised in care, come from broken homes, struggled with addiction and be victims of domestic violence. Growing up in care is a bleak and institutional experience. But with the Social Bite Village comes a new and exciting opportunity.
In one of the houses we met and chatted to Sonny Murray, who works for Social Bite and Invisible Cities, a social enterprise that organises city tours with people affected by homelessness working as trained walking guides. They’ll show you parts of Edinburgh as you’ve never seen them before. Three years ago, Sonny was homeless, addicted to heroin and begging on the streets. He would visit the Social Bite cafe on Rose Street for free food. He says:
“I had a baby daughter on the way at the time, and wanted to get a job. I didn’t have many prospects at the time, I was in and out of prison and taking drugs. Social Bite took a chance on me and I grabbed it with both hands.”
The heart of the Social Bite Village is the community hub, at the top of the site. It provides a large indoor and outdoor space where residents, staff and volunteers can prepare meals together, eat together, socialise and develop social and practical skills. It is a bright and welcoming space which features a state of the art kitchen, log burner, dining tables, TV and sofas, with wonderful views down to the Granton shoreline. It also has a number of private meeting rooms, where residents can benefit from 1:1 tailored support. The help on offer is wide-ranging and includes life skills such as cooking lessons and budgeting as well as counselling, volunteering opportunities and placements, employment opportunities and placements, sport and meditation facilities and help in applying for permanent accommodation.
The aim is that after around 12-18 months, Social Bite will help transition the residents into permanent accommodation and provide pathways to mainstream employers, supporting their journey back into society where they belong. After 12-18 months another 20 residents will be welcomed into the village.
Alan from Social Bite welcomed us to the village and shared details of their exciting plans for the future. Sleep in the Park 2018 will be a multi-city event, with cities around Scotland all taking part. Funds raised in each city will be used for specific projects in the local area to tackle homelessness, with the Social Bite Village in Edinburgh providing the blueprint.
I feel so proud to have played a small part in this amazing initiative alongside my colleagues. We believe that homelessness has no place in Scotland, and we look forward to taking part in future Social Bite events. I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who sponsored our team – just look what your money has helped to achieve!
To all our friends, family, clients and colleagues who contributed so much – a heartful THANK YOU from Tracey, Andrew, Ross, James and I!