New look Edinburgh kirk provides safe haven for 75 rough sleepers

St Aidan's Parish Church on Chesser Avenue
St Aidan's Parish Church on Chesser Avenue
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A Church of Scotland congregation has undergone a £220,000 transformation to provide a care shelter for up to 75 rough sleepers.

The conversion of one of the Edinburgh Kirk buildings means people who are accustomed to sleeping in the Capital’s doorways and graveyards have somewhere warm and safe through the night.

The outside of St Aidan's Parish Church on Chesser Avenue

The outside of St Aidan's Parish Church on Chesser Avenue

The wooden pews in the red brick sanctuary have been removed and replaced with single beds with linen while the vestry and small rooms have been turned into toilet and shower facilities for women, whose sleeping quarters are in a separate area of the sanctuary.

A new extension has been added to the former Stenhouse St Aidan’s Parish Church building on Chesser Avenue to house a toilet block and showers for men.

The building has been renamed Diadem and volunteers from around 70 church congregations in Edinburgh use the kitchen to cook a two-course evening meal for service users each night.

The emergency accommodation project, which opened on December 21 last year on a trial basis, is a joint venture between Gorgie, Dalry, Stenhouse Church of Scotland and Bethany Christian Trust.

To date, the shelter, which is open from 9pm until 6.30am, has welcomed 653 different individuals and provided 10,767 bed spaces.

An average of 60 people use the facility each night with many being ferried to the congregation by minibus.

A secondhand clothes bank, which also provides new underwear and sanitary products, is available and a light breakfast is served in the morning.

Gorgie, Dalry Stenhouse Church building manager, David MacLennan, said: “The pilot project has been a resounding success.

“Jesus had a great concern for the poor and the outcast and we strongly believe that we must share God’s love for those who are less fortunate than ourselves.”

The care shelter began in Edinburgh as a two-week pilot in 1996 and has grown to 32 weeks, covering the coldest months of the year.

Up until now the project rotated round different church venues in Edinburgh and service users slept on mats on the floor.

Mr MacLennan said: “The feedback from clients has been very positive.

“One lady was literally dancing with joy at the prospect of having the comfort of a bed and a hot shower.

“We hope that the care shelter which is closing for the summer on May 5, will reopen on a permanent basis in mid-September once the necessary permissions are in place.”

Representatives from different support services visit the project on a regular basis to offer specialised advice to clients in a bid to help them get their lives back on track.

Ruth Longmuir, care van and care shelter manager of Bethany Christian Trust, said: “Diadem is a wonderful venue and we are delighted to be based there.

“The raised beds and shower facilities have made a huge difference to our guests.

“We are thankful that Gorgie Dalry Stenhouse Church shares our vision for the Care Shelter and have so generously provided this building for our long-term use.”