City church welcomes homeless to board games club

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A historic church has launched a new drop-in board games cafe for homeless people every Monday in a drive to strengthen relationships and spread a little joy.

Reverend Peter Sutton and his volunteers at St Cuthbert’s Church on Lothian Road are on hand to offer a listening ear to those seeking shelter but also to create a safe space where people can socialise and have fun.

Rev Peter Sutton washes people's feet.'''Picture: Neil Hanna

Rev Peter Sutton washes people's feet.'''Picture: Neil Hanna

The church has previously offered outreach services in partnership with the Bethany Christian Trust, but when the homeless charity decided to move its night shelter beds across the city to one location in January, an idea was sparked. The first club launched two weeks ago and around 25 homeless men and women were welcomed through its doors at the second session. The smaller operation has meant that Mr Sutton and his volunteers are more able to connect with people using the service and get to know them better on a more personal level.

Former army officer and ex-Gordonstoun headteacher Mr Sutton, said: “The club is working because of its scale – we can really connect with people.

“We’re telling them that we want to get to know them and to help them.”

Mr Sutton has been at the helm of the church since June last year.

New Homeless Cafe at St. Cuthberts Church, West End''As well as feeding the homeless the church provides board games

New Homeless Cafe at St. Cuthberts Church, West End''As well as feeding the homeless the church provides board games

He added: “St Cuthbert’s is their home for the time that they are here. We’re reacting to a need by reaching out to the local homeless community.”

From 7pm every week, attendees are invited to enjoy home-made soup and filled rolls over a game of dominoes or Connect Four, and sometimes a film screening can be organised for the club.

Later in the evening, orders are placed for takeaway fish and chips, pizzas or burgers, which are all paid for by the church, which also known as the Kirk of Castle Rock.

At 9.15pm, a minibus from Bethany Christian Trust arrives to drive anyone who wants a bed for the night to the Winter Care Shelter in Meadowbank, where they will have a guaranteed place.

The initiative has been embraced by the church’s 400-strong congregation and local businesses, with games, films and food being donated.

On Monday, for Holy Week, local spa businesses donated their time and therapists came down to the club during the session to offer pedicures, while the church provided new socks and shoes in a modern reflection of the tale of Jesus washing his Apostles’ feet.

The club has been so well received that Mr Sutton is hoping to make it a regular fixture, either keeping the drop-in running or tweaking it to best meet the needs of their regular visitors.

He said: “Hearing people speak of the difference we’re making brings a tear to my eye.

“Often people ask me to say a little prayer for their loved ones or friends. We’re not here to force religion onto people, we’re just showing them what our faith means to us.”

The church regularly collaborates with the neighbouring St John’s Episcopal Church on Princes Street to extend an outreach provision.

During the bad weather brought in by “The Beast from the East” storm, the two churches operated drop-in services and provided shelter to the homeless.