Social Bite unveils plans for Scotland's first '˜homeless village'

HIS work with the Capital's homeless has already won the backing of Hollywood stars George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 24th November 2016, 12:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 29th November 2016, 10:27 am
Josh Littlejohn has announced a new project to build Scotlands first homeless village . Picture: Contributed
Josh Littlejohn has announced a new project to build Scotlands first homeless village . Picture: Contributed

But for Social Bite co-founder Josh Littlejohn that’s just the beginning – and now the 30-year-old social entrepreneur has unveiled plans for his next big project.

Not content with heading up five sandwich shops, as well as new restaurant Home, Josh has set his sights on a new challenge – building Scotland’s very first homeless village.

The settlement, which will be based on Granton’s waterfront just off West Shore Road, will comprise ten purpose-built homes to provide a safe living environment for up to 20 homeless people each year.

Work is set to get under way early next year and the Social Bite team is hoping the village’s very first residents could be moving in as early as next summer.

For Josh, who launched Social Bite with Alice Thompson in 2012, the idea behind the village is to break the “vicious cycle” faced by by those who are homeless.

He said: “For the last four-and-a-half years I have spent a lot of time with homeless people and a lot of them have become friends and colleagues.

“One thing I have learned is there’s this terrible misconception that they made bad decisions and became homeless, whereas the reality is they have been dealt terrible cards since a young age.

“Most have grown up in the care system, had harrowing childhoods and become homeless as teenagers – you realise it wasn’t their fault, they were just dealt that destiny.

“If we had a different destiny it’s our job to change that and give them a route back into mainstream society. Hopefully people will get behind that.”

Residents in the Social Bite Village will be people who are currently living in mostly unsupported temporary accommodation, shelters and B&Bs.

Each homeless person will be able to stay in the village for around 12 to 15 months, during which time they will be able to access other support such as employment advice and counselling.

“The Social Bite Village plan hopes to create a full circle solution to the issue of homelessness – from housing to support to employment,” Josh explained.

“In doing so we hope to alter the course of some of Scotland’s most vulnerable people for the better – swapping a destiny of poverty and exclusion for one of compassionate support and inclusion.

“I’m not for a minute saying that Social Bite alone will eradicate homelessness or anywhere close to that.

“But we can create a blueprint.

“Working alongside other homelessness charities, we can help end the vicious cycle of homelessness for the individuals we work with.”

Josh said this cycle can happen when the homeless are not properly prepared for permanent accommodation, for example not knowing how to cook or budget, and can soon find themselves overwhelmed and back on the streets.

But it is hoped this won’t be a problem for those who have lived at the new village, as Social Bite will have its own support workers on site full-time as a constant point of contact.

Partner charities Edinburgh Cyrenians and Streetwork will also be getting involved, with Cyrenians set to assist in the operation of a vegetable garden, chicken coop and furniture workshop.

While the village will not be open to anyone with serious addiction problems, Streetwork will be on hand to help with counselling, addiction therapy and budgeting.

The houses themselves will be based on the highly-insulated modular “NestHouse” developed by Jonathan Avery and his Linlithgow company Tiny House Scotland.

Each eco-friendly unit costs around £30,000 to construct and will comprise two bedrooms, a shared bathroom, a lounge area and small food preparation space.

Now the Social Bite team is calling on the public for help with the launch of a £500,000 fundraising campaign to bring the project to life.

It currently costs the city council around £47 per night to put someone up in homeless accommodation, adding up to £17,155 a year per person.

While residents will each claim £7500 a year in housing benefit to ‘“pay” their rent, Josh said he hoped the village would be able to save the city council almost £200,000 a year.

Cllr Joan Griffiths, the city council’s housing vice-convenor, said: “Tackling homelessness remains a priority for the council and we work closely with our third sector partners to provide services for people who are homeless.

“Josh and the Social Bite team do so much good work for homeless people across the city already and we look forward to working with them on their plans going forward.”

Ben Macpherson, Edinburgh Northern and Leith MSP, said he hoped the village would be a “catalyst for wider change” both in North Edinburgh and beyond.

He said: “Social Bite makes a big difference every day and the Social Bite Village initiative will expand on that success.

“I am delighted that it will be based in Granton, making a positive impact locally and providing comprehensive support for around 20 of the city’s most vulnerable citizens. I’ve been assisting Josh with the village project for a few months now and it’s great to see it really moving forward.

“I hope that the village helps spur greater interest and development in the Granton waterfront area, which has huge potential.”

As well as the city council – which will help Social Bite find residents – work on the village has also been planned in partnership with the EDI group.

The houses, whose construction will be assisted by housebuilders Mactaggart and Mickel, will be completely transportable in case relocation is required. Social Bite is currently in discussion with the council about the future of the Granton site.

Cllr Gavin Barrie, chair of the EDI group, said: “The proposals put forward by Social Bite will have a meaningful and positive impact on those using the Social Bite Village.”

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