Going for gold: celebrating 50 years of Simon Community Scotland

Pictures: Alex Woodward

It was a golden anniversary party with a difference: no-one was celebrating the core issue of what brought them together, but they were marking 50 years of doing something about it.

The Simon Community was founded to tackle homelessness, initially in London in 1963 , but three years later became active north of the border, where the Scottish charity now delivers around 170,000 hours of support every year and engages with up to 3000 people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

Simon Community Scotland operates eight residential facilities and also reaches rough sleepers in Glasgow, where its street team see around 150 people on the streets every month, with up to 40 new cases each month.

Around 50% of the people it supports are able to move on ‘positively’ over the course of any three-month period.

It held a 50th anniversary event on Thursday September 29 in Pollokshields Burgh Hall, where guests included  MT Gibson-Watt, the widow of the late founder of the Simon Community, Anton Wallich-Clifford.

Some 250 people attended the day-long celebration in what was a colourful and energetic mix of staff, partner organisations, volunteers, as well as service users – both past and present.

Eddie Lynas said contacting Simon Community Scotland four years ago was among the best things he has ever done. Four years ago, the former London publican found himself in temporary accommodation in Lanarkshire, with no friends or family nearby.

Eddie, 60, said: “I was so depressed, I felt completely cut off. And I returned to the flat one night, to see a Simon Community Scotland card had been put through the letterbox. Out of courtesy, I phoned them, and it was one of the best things I have ever done.”

Eddie is now a volunteer with the charity and life has turned around so much for him, with other interests including serving on the committee of a local football club.

His story is typical of the many people involved with the Simon Community Scotland, which is less about campaigning and more about finding practical solutions, individually-tailored.

The 50th anniversary was first marked, at the beginning of the month, by saying thank you to one of the charity’s many partner organisations, the Bike Station, for running workshops that enable service users to build their own bikes.

A fortnight ago, it launched a ‘Nightstop’ appeal, asking the people of Glasgow to make available any spare rooms they might have, to help prevent young people, in particular, making what can be a fateful decision to sleep rough for the very first time.

Lorraine McGrath, chief executive of Simon Community Scotland, said: “Homelessness is not just about rough sleeping, it can take lots of different forms, such as sleeping on friends’ sofas.

“We are grateful for the media’s coverage of our various activities this month, because one of the things we are trying to do is recruit more volunteers, so we can provide even more practical solutions for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

“We want to reach more people to help them understand that homelessness can happen to anyone; however, a lot of people have journeys into chronic homelessness that begin at an early age and there are lots of ways every person in Scotland can help so that people keep their homes and find ways to recover their lives and wellbeing.

“This community festival is a celebration of the people we support and who support us and to bring some fun, laughter and a sense of belonging – to make some positive memories within the bleak experience of homelessness.”

MT Gibson-Watt said: “The work we do is transformative; not just for the people who use our services, but it is transformative for the people who do the work as well.

“The underlying philosophy – that we all share – is about accepting people as they are, working with people as they are, creating opportunities that allow people the opportunity to see a bigger picture, to feel they have the capacity to change.”



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