Ewan Aitken: Patrick Keast photos illustrate importance of partnerships

People on Princes Street walk past a beggar in this example of Patrick Keast's work
People on Princes Street walk past a beggar in this example of Patrick Keast's work
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If you head up to St Andrew Square you’ll see some photographs of city life. Set in the heart of our city they are a window into the lives of some who are on the “edge” of city life – even though many are physically not far from the exhibition which contains their images.

If you head up to St Andrew Square you’ll see some photographs of city life. Set in the heart of our city they are a window into the lives of some who are on the “edge” of city life – even though many are physically not far from the exhibition which contains their images.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians

The photos are by an amazing man called Patrick Keast. Last week there was an article in this paper about Patrick, his photographs and his journey. It tells of how photography, which Patrick discovered when he was part of Cyrenians Recovery service, has played a huge part in keeping him clean and sober.

Patrick knows what it is to be on the edge of life, in a tough reality from which there seems little escape. It’s his lived experience which means he has an eye for a picture which others might not see; raw and human, often not pretty but deeply moving and challenging. It’s a privilege for Cyrenians to have been allowed to travel with Patrick on his journey and be part of his flourishing. Our hope is his pictures will see others choosing to support our work so we can share more journeys with people in tough realities to places of hope and transformation.

The truth is though it wasn’t just Cyrenians travelling with Patrick. Everything we do is in partnership with other organisations, not just charities but right across the spectrum of public, business and charity sectors. The exhibition in St Andrew Square is no exception. It only happened because of the support and collaboration we had with our generous partners Essential Edinburgh who run the Business Improvement District in the city centre. We also had support from the amazing people at Multiply Agency and at Eastern Graphics who helped with the design of the boards and produced the final products and the lovely people at Unique events who gave us the stands. It is an excellent example of charity and business making things happen by playing to their strengths and being committed to helping make the city a more inclusive place. I am very grateful to our partners, without whom it would not have happened.

READ MORE: Ewan Aitken: Festival is a safe space to explore difficult subjects

Cyrenians believe in partnership working; the sum of the parts is always stronger and means we are all better able to do our jobs. Partnership working, collaborating and working together is not an “add on” for us; it’s core to how we work. Every single one of our 37 projects involves working with others, and I don’t just mean our funders. It can be risky. It requires honesty and openness, sometimes involving crunchy conversations and being willing to give up opportunities to others, as well as take them on to share the work effectively by playing to our individual strengths rather than hogging everything all for ourselves.

For example the new Housing First programme which is largely funded by the Social Bite sleepout is being delivered by consortiums. In Edinburgh seven charities are collaborating. In addition, the council, NHS, several other public sector bodies as well as other charities not directly part of the consortium are involved; all playing to their strengths together to make Housing First work in Edinburgh.

Housing First has the potential of not simply providing support to some of the city’s most excluded citizens but of radically changing the system which saw them end up in the tough reality they now find themselves. It will only work with a level of collaboration which see us all committed to transparency, openness and putting those we journey with at the centre of all we do.

Patrick’s stunning and challenging pictures tell a very profound story of our city. Collaboration helped that story be seen by many more people. Collaboration can help us have a very different story to tell in years to come – if we are willing to take the risk.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians