The Capital’s two biggest clubs crossed the football divide yesterday to bring a little joy to Edinburgh’s most needy in the countdown to Christmas.
Hearts pair Andy Webster and Jason Holt swapped their football boots for aprons as they helped serve up a three-course festive meal to 60 homeless people at Streetwork’s 24-hour crisis centre in Holyrood Road.
At the same time, a group of Hibernian players, led by captain James McPake, visited the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Newington bearing gifts, much to the delight of young patients.
Roast turkey with all the trimmings was dished out alongside chestnut and sage stuffing, and pigs in blankets at Streetwork’s fifth annual Christmas dinner.
Watching some of Edinburgh’s most vulnerable residents enjoy a three-course lunch supplied by the Sheraton Grand Hotel’s full banquet team was an experience that left Webster, by his own admission, feeling humbled.
He said: “Being a footballer, you’re in a fortunate position and to come down here and be humbled by what’s going on and to be able to help out in any small way [is special]. We like to come along.”
Despite being a Rangers supporter, 24-year-old Daniel Jones was grateful simply to be dining like a king for a day. An end to a spell in prison prompted him to move from Hull to Edinburgh earlier this year, where he could be closer to family.
He admitted up until eight months ago he had never been willing to ask for help from a crisis centre, adding: “For the last four Christmases, I’ve been by myself. You get used to yourself, if you know what I mean.
“It’s nice to have some people about me for once. It’s different, but it’s a nice experience. I’d probably be in jail now, to be honest, if I didn’t have this support.”
Streetwork chief executive Clare Gibson said more than 4000 people used the service each year, including 1500 who would be classified as permanent homeless.
The crisis centre offers support, showers and food to people with nowhere else to go.
Ms Gibson said: “Relationship breakdown is one of the main contributing factors to housing crises and homelessness, so Christmas can be really difficult for people who aren’t in touch with their family. Making sure that we’re open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and we’re available for people to resolve crises is more important at Christmas than at any other time of year.”
Ms Gibson encouraged people to attempt to rekindle relationships during the festive period, adding: “Sometimes people are worried about their previous behaviour, which has been born by addictions or mental health [problems] and sometimes people think their chances with family or friends are exhausted.
“I would think where possible if you’re able to rebuild relationships with family, it’s by far the better outcome.”
Lothian MSP Sarah Boyack said those sleeping rough in the Capital during the winter months were experiencing “horrendous circumstances”.
She said: “They need the right sort of accommodation and professional help.”
Across town, Hibs players signed autographs and posed for pictures with young patients.
McPake said: “Our Christmas visit to Sick Kids is the most important community event we do all season. To see the reaction from the kids and how it gives them a lift is a really special feeling and puts everything into perspective.
“Hopefully, our visit helped to put a smile on their faces and all the lads who were there were moved by the experience.”
THE contractors managing the Edinburgh Waverley and Haymarket train station upgrades see the impact of homelessness in Edinburgh more than most.
For that reason, construction firms Balfour Beatty, Morgan Sindall and C Spencer decided the right thing to do would be to donate £1500 to crisis charity Streetwork yesterday.
Morgan Sindall project manager Patrick Seymour said: “There is a lot of homeless people. We mainly work night shifts, so we see these guys hanging around the stations quite a bit.
“We know they need help, so it’s good to be able to help in some way.”