Ewan Aitken: The importance of ‘unselfie-ish’ attitudes

Giving: Charities need support, financial and practical, every day
Giving: Charities need support, financial and practical, every day
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I took an “unselfie” – a “selfie” with my face hidden – this week, something many folk have suggested is an improvement!

It was in a good cause. I took the unselfie as part Cyrenians #givingtuesday campaign – one of thousands of similar charity campaigns this week to encourage folk to think of others as we enter the run-up to the festival of consumerism once known as Christmas.

Cyrenians CEO Ewan Aitken

Cyrenians CEO Ewan Aitken

I was really heartened by the response, not just to pictures of my face being hidden, but to the support Cyrenians and so many other charities have received this week.

It seems not just the spirit of Christmas but the spirit of giving – whatever we believe – is still alive and well. My thanks go to everyone who supported not just Cyrenians on #givingtuesday but everyone who took part, whoever they supported.

Of course #givingtuesday is just one day out of 365 and as generous as folk have been, the need for support for charities is a 365 day-a-year phenomena. In our city 21 per cent of children live in poverty; 70 per cent of those children are in families with someone in work.

READ MORE: ‘All of a sudden I had nothing’: Councillor speaks of her homelessness

At least 150 people will sleep rough tonight and more than 2,000 people are in some form of temporary housing, including 600 in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

These are just some of the numbers in the area of work in which Cyrenians is involved. There are charities who work to tackle a huge range of ever-growing needs across every aspect of life.

Finding ways of asking for support from the public in a sustainable and authentic way is a major challenge, which requires sensitivity and thoughtfulness so supporters know and feel their money is being well spent.

The challenge is that some of the support which is required now will still take a long time to have an effect. Cyrenians have been contracted to run the ‘Social Bite Village’, which some of the money raised at next week’s “sleep-out in the park” will go towards funding.

READ MORE: Sleep in the Park hits £500,000 target in less than a month

We are privileged to bring 50 years of experience to this innovative new venture. What we know from that 50 years is that for some folk facing tough realities, change takes a long time. If you have been in difficult place for ten years and you are in that place because of what happened in your childhood, it might take ten years for you to get out of it.

One of our street outreach team told me of how she was sitting on a bench one day, listening to a man who had been sleeping rough for years whom she had been journeying with for a year.

Despite huge challenges and her help often being rejected, she has never given up on him. He has found this really difficult. “You are making me angry,” he told her. “Why?” she asked. “I can’t express it,” he replied “Try me,” she said. Eventually he burst out: “I’m angry because you never give up on me so you are making me see things could be different and it’s scary.”

The journey from his tough reality is a long one. It takes time and persistence and an understanding that those words were a big leap for him even if they seem a tiny step for others. #Givingtuesday is an amazing event but we need your help to be on that park bench everyday of the year so we can journey with those in the toughest of places, taking the tiniest of steps to a new reality of their own making. And that’s the best possible gift of all.