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  • Writer's picturedouglas

Lending a hand

A number of years ago I was a volunteer who worked on a care van, which distributed blankets and clothing as well as tea and hot soup to those who were homeless or felt rejected from society. It wasn’t an onerous task as so many people from Edinburgh and Lothian churches and organisations had signed up to help.

Basically, teams of eight people would take the van, (which if I remember correctly was held together by sellotape and had to be treated kindly before it would start) to three designated places in Edinburgh. We would arrive at our first destination for 9pm and would finish by midnight. The work was co-ordinated by a very efficient individual so all the volunteers knew well in advance when they would be on and three times per year was the average call out time for each team. We provided this service every night throughout the year (even on Christmas night) and the van became a familiar sight in the city. It was very rewarding work, for as well as the hot food and clothes we all provided a listening ear to the many individuals who believed we were a godsend — and maybe we were, but maybe even more importantly we (the ‘carers’ learned so much from those that were often wiser than us).

I was always struck by the fact that in one of the most prosperous cities in Europe another class of people lived alongside the party-goers, tourists and locals and they were the forgotten and the excluded.

Many of them sleeping in cemeteries or park benches often vulnerable and exposed, not only to the weather but the treatment and condemnation of others. Sometimes the soup and sandwich which they got was their only meal of the day.

Since my stint on the bus I am still aware that the disenfranchised are still with us and that is one of the reasons that I embarked on a journey from Glasgow to Fort William one October in order to walk 96 miles of the West Highland Way with an old friend Ewan Aitken who is the CEO of the Cyrenians — an organisation which supports the very people whom I befriended all those years ago — sons, daughters, grandchildren who have fallen on tough times and who, I believe if we help one of them then we are doing a little bit for the betterment of society.


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