Ewan Aitken: Despite death and disaster, there is hope for the future

Two young women bed down for the night at Social Bite's Sleep in the Park event. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Two young women bed down for the night at Social Bite's Sleep in the Park event. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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As 2017 ends with a narcissistic, lying bigot in the White House, Brexit undermining our economy and the quality and opportunities of our diverse communities, the fall out from the terror attacks in Manchester, London and elsewhere here and abroad, Grenfell Tower, and international tragedies like the continued suffering of the Rohingya Muslims, the Palestinians, the people of Yemen and of Syria – it seems hard to find hope and possibility.

As the year ends it does seem a sadder, more fearful world. If we add the ultimate challenge of climate change new light as the year turns is hard to see. Yet there are still moments from this past year which also give me huge hope. Without suggesting this is any more than a tiny snapshot of the change we need to see; here are my five hope-filled takeaways from 2017:

Cyrenians CEO Ewan Aitken

Cyrenians CEO Ewan Aitken

Social media is the new place of power. It is rewiring our brains. It very dangerous when it is left unaccountable and in the wrong hands. Yet it can be the place where silenced voices are finally heard. The #metoo campaign was an extraordinary a moment where women spoke in solidarity, breaking their silence about sexual harassment and assault. It has changed the debate; it has not solved the problem but it has created a place where the conversation of change can begin.

Our capacity to care is enormous. The Social Bite Sleep in the Park did much more than raise an enormous amount of money. It challenged us to believe, by acting in solidarity, each of us can make a difference. Cyrenians are very please to be managing the Social Bite Village which some of the money raised will support. But a movement of compassion and care has been inspired which will be much more valuable than cash alone.

People can be inspired to reach out to the stranger. One of the most amazing donations Cyrenians received this year was 100 live trout! Stephen Auty who ruins Yarrow Fishery donated them (thankfully he arranged for them to be smoked and packaged) after seeing the film I, Daniel Blake. They now grace the plates of many of the 7000 people we help feed every week.

The journey of change is a long one but begins with the smallest of steps. Cyrenians Rough Sleeper Outreach teams journey with folk whose complex challenges mean change is tough. Sitting on a bench one day with one of our outreach workers who’d sent many hours with him, one man whose spent 10 years on the streets said; “I am really struggling – it’s really scary but because you never give up on me I am seeing change is possible”. A single sentence signifying an enormous leap forward. The journey of change always begins with a tiny step of self-belief.

Food is the greatest catalyst for change. Cyrenians set out to create two Community Cook clubs this year, where food is cooked by volunteers from a community for whoever wishes to gather for whatever reason. Its “pay as you feel” and no one asks why you are there. They have been so successful we actually started nine across Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Borders with three more planned in the new year. Those who have attended tell us the building of community round the dinner table is changing lives through the new relationships formed by the simple act of sharing food. If you want to make the word a better place in 2018 – start by finding a place to eat with your neighbour and the stranger.

Best wishes to you all for 2018

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians