Blog: New premises offer a ‘fresh start’ for Moray charity
Alastair Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Churches Housing Action, comments after opening a new distribution centre for Moray Fresh Start in Elgin.
It is not every day of my working life that someone has said: “You’re the answer to my prayers.” But that’s what happened one evening at a reception in the Scottish Parliament, and the person who had been praying was Marjorie Lawrie. This must have been 2007.
Marjorie was the incredibly energetic press officer for the Church of Scotland Presbytery, and as soon as I heard that I went to talk to her about work we’d recently started in Elgin – to set up what became Moray Fresh Start. Marjorie became the first Chair of the new body, and invited me to the launch on Homeless Sunday in January 2008 – a significant event at the Town Hall, attended by councillors, Richard Lochhead MSP – who I’m delighted to see is with us this morning – and others.
At this time, Moray Fresh Start operated out of an unheated container cabin, doing in a quiet way its vital work of getting household necessities to people who had little or nothing as they moved out of homelessness. It was later to move to Pinefield, where there is still a packing station. It is a delight to be opening the new distribution centre today. It offers luxuries like heat, light and toilet-comforts to hardworking volunteers.
It’s important to remember that the items distributed – given by the generosity of local people – are absolute necessities.
Last time I moved house, I had a furniture van coming along behind me as I opened the door of my new home for the first time. I expect most of you had the same.
But if you’ve been living in temporary accommodation, you don’t have the van – because you don’t have the kit to put in it. And you probably don’t have £500 to go to Argos and get the cutlery, electric kettle, pans, sheets, towels, lightbulbs, toilet roll and all the other things you need as you settle in.
That’s the gap Moray Fresh Start fills.
Who are these people? A huge variety – some will fit the classic stereotype of the homeless person: male, drinks too much, down on his luck and down in the mouth. But most do not. They include families – people who moved here for a job and then lost it – kids who’ve grown up in care or on the fringes of the system – women and their children who have experienced violence in the home. And people who just haven’t coped in our dysfunctional housing system - with its shortages of affordable homes and high rents and mortgage costs in the market sector.
Scottish Churches Housing Action has worked for the last 20 years and more to help people in the churches understand these needs and respond to them. Moray Fresh Start is one of around 26 such projects across Scotland. Some, like New Start Highland along the road in Inverness, have far outgrown the original vision; others like Moray Fresh Start continue, rightly, to fulfil it. This does not go unrecognised: in 2013, Moray Fresh Start was awarded the Queen’s award for Voluntary Service – the voluntary sector’s equivalent of an OBE.
But it is hard work for those who do it: the volunteers, the committee members, the fundraisers, the rota organisers, those who gather the goods, those who get them to the people in need. In a small project like this, with no paid staff, those roles are all done by the same small group, and I salute them. They need all the support we can give. I hope today this event reinforces that message.