Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Hundreds of prominent Scots sleep out for homeless charity

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Media captionHomelessness: Some people do walk by and judge

Sir Chris Hoy and hundreds of other prominent Scots have slept out in Edinburgh to help a homeless charity.

The group spent the night in the city's Charlotte Square in aid of the Social Bite Village project.

The scheme aims to raise £500,000 to build 10 small homes in Granton that would offer a safe environment for 20 people for a 12-month period.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon helped to serve breakfast to those who took part.

The group sleeping out included business leader Sir Andrew Cubie and hairdresser Jennifer Cheyne.

They bedded down in Charlotte Square at 19:00 on Thursday and finished their challenge at 07:00.

Luxury items

There was an upbeat atmosphere at the event with people drinking mulled wine and eating mince pies while musicians played on a stage.

There were also clean toilets for those taking part and many had brought luxury items including make-up.

People were wearing Santa hats, drinking warm drinks and having a dram while sitting on the grass and there was a positive atmosphere.

Security guards kept watch at the gates to the grassed area of the square where the event was taking place while first aiders were on hand in case of emergencies.

Image copyright Chris Hoy
Image caption Sir Chris Hoy was one of those who took part in the sleep-out
Image caption The sleeping bags were laid out in Charlotte Square

One of the participants, Alex Barr, of PR company The Big Partnership, said: "I think it is really important that people don't regard themselves as sleeping rough tonight because they absolutely are not.

"They have been provided with really good sleeping bags and bivvy bags.

"We've got mulled wine and mince pies.

"It is really important that when people are raising funds for it that they are not pretending that they are doing what the homeless people are doing because I am going back to a warm bed, they're not."

Image caption Different musicians were playing at the event
Image caption Mags said she sleeps in doorways and parks

Near the event on George Street BBC Scotland spoke to homeless woman, Mags.

The 40-year-old said: "Sometimes I get frightened, it depends who is about, if it's busy or quiet.

"There are quite a lot of homeless people and quite a lot sleeping in doorways at night.

"I'm not the first in this situation and I wont be the last.

"I was in hostels years ago but if you're vulnerable you can get led astray by people who are taking drugs or drinking.

"Tonight I will probably sleep in a doorway or a park."

Key role

Ms Sturgeon said: "Participants in last night's sleepout have experienced just a taste of what it is like for some of our most marginalised people. Tonight, I expect they will gladly return to their beds, but also in the knowledge they're fundraising for those who don't have that opportunity.

"The Scottish government remains committed to ensuring everyone has a warm and safe place to stay. However, homelessness is a much more complex situation than the want of shelter, and we're working with local authorities and a range of other partners to tackle it at all stages.

"Social Bite is playing a key role - giving people the work experience and confidence to help them on their way to a more stable and secure quality of life. The homeless village will be another vital step in helping people out of homelessness in the long term, and I hope the money raised from this event will make a considerable contribution towards making it a reality."

Image caption Nicola Sturgeon served breakfast to those who took part in the event

Social Bite started as a sandwich shop on Rose Street in Edinburgh in August 2012 and has now grown to five shops in Scotland.

It also runs two large staff canteens in the city, a central production kitchen in Livingston and one of the country's leading independent corporate catering businesses.

The company employs more than 100 people, with a quarter of these drawn from "homeless and excluded backgrounds".

Social Bite has attracted support from Hollywood stars George Clooney and Leonardo Di Caprio, who have visited its projects in Edinburgh.

Social Bite co-founder Josh Littlejohn said: "There's a beautiful symmetry that the country's most wealthy and influential people are braving the freezing cold for one night to help fund a long-term solution to homelessness.

"The Social Bite Village will tackle the problem of homelessness full circle by putting roofs over people's heads, a supportive environment around them and giving links to employment opportunities.

"It's incredibly humbling to see so many influential names getting behind the project and if there are more who want to join us, we want to hear about it."

Six-time Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy added: "It takes a lot to get me to give up my bed but the Social Bite Village is an extremely worthwhile cause.

"Social Bite is being bold in trying to show how the cycle of homelessness can be broken, by giving people support and stability, and that's something that I'm keen to back.

"Sleeping rough for one night might just be a small gesture but the money raised will go to kick-start the fundraising for this extraordinary project."

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