Sports club makes Christmas a little more cheery for homeless

Volunteers Bonnie Thomson, Neil Hay, Hazel Gray and Paul Thomson at the soup kitchen. Picture: Scott Taylor
Volunteers Bonnie Thomson, Neil Hay, Hazel Gray and Paul Thomson at the soup kitchen. Picture: Scott Taylor
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IT’S the season for feasting, opening presents and spending time with loved ones.

But this Christmas will have brought little comfort and joy to the hundreds of homeless in Edinburgh.

Facing months of harsh weather conditions, their daily existence is a struggle against the odds that’s made immeasurably worse by winter’s chill.

Yesterday, volunteers at Inch Park Community Sports Club, off Gilmerton Road, decided to throw open their doors to the Capital’s most vulnerable residents to provide them with somewhere safe to meet, talk and eat in the festive week.

More than 30 homeless people turned up to the event, which was run by city charities Cyrenians, Super Saturday and Soul Food, with volunteers from the sports club, which provided the space, also turning out to help.

Running from 8am to 3pm, the day saw hot meals dished out – from warming soup and porridge, to sandwiches, mince pies and pasta – as well as access to the club’s washing and shower facilities.

And a shuttle bus was even put on from Waterloo Place to the community centre to help those in need reach it easily.

Neil Hay, volunteering coordinator at Edinburgh Cyrenians, said it was the first time the three different homelessness groups had worked together to deliver a vital service.

“As a community exercise, it’s been brilliant,” he said. “These guys are struggling at the best of times, out on the fringe.”

Mark Diver, convener of Super Saturday – a group that gives out meals to the homeless every weekend at St John’s Church – said: “I think things like this are vital. There’s people here who would not eat otherwise.

“This is about bringing people in to a warm, safe environment where they can socialise. It’s very difficult to socialise if you are homeless, because it’s quite a solitary life.”

One woman, who has been living on the streets for the last eight years, told the Evening News resources like yesterday’s soup kitchen are vital.

The 63-year-old, who asked not to be named, suffers from bipolar disorder and found herself with nowhere to live after leaving her council house in fear following a burglary. She insisted life was particularly hard over the winter months.

“Everybody here is vulnerable in one way or another,” she said. “You lose hope of ever finding somewhere you can rent.”

Paul Reddish, a member of Inch Park Community Sports Club’s board of directors, said: “We’ve been here six or seven years and we always shut for a few days over Christmas. This was about just making use of something that would otherwise have been sat doing nothing. It’s been great. It’s the first time we have done like this.”

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com