CEOs camp out to help build village for homeless people

Paul Hilton, CEO at ESPC, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this morning
Paul Hilton, CEO at ESPC, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this morning

The CEOs of businesses across Scotland took to the streets last night to join a host of influential people sleeping out to raise money to build a homeless village in Edinburgh.

More than 250 Scots from politics, business and sport, including Sir Chris Hoy, braved the elements camped out overnight in Charlotte Square to raise £500,000 for the project.

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

All participants were fundraising for the Social Bite village project which aims to house up to 20 homeless people in a purpose-built, safe living environment for about 12 months each, from summer 2017.

The sleepout has been organised by Josh Littlejohn, founder of Social Bite and Home restaurant, both social enterprises which help the homeless.

Speaking before serving breakfast, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Tackling homelessness is a priority for the Scottish Government and we collaborate closely with local government and a range of national and local partners to work towards ensuring everyone has access to a warm and safe place to stay.

“Social Bite has done incredible work to help homeless people in Scotland by giving them the opportunity to work in their cafes and restaurants. The money raised from this event will go towards their ground-breaking new homeless village which will help break the cycle of homelessness. I look forward to meeting all those taking part in the sleepout and hearing of their experience.”

Sir Chris Hoy said: “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.”

Among the CEOs to take part was Paul Hilton from ESPC and Homes for Good managing director, Susan Aktemel.

“ESPC as a business helps to find people homes and as individuals, we want to ensure we can support our community as much as we can, and we regularly undertake fundraising for charities. For this reason, I wanted to help raise awareness of homelessness,” said Paul Hilton.

“It was tougher than I thought it would be. It was a real eye-opener, literally, as I didn’t sleep very well. There were quite a few people huddled together, and there were a few more anti-social people like me who found their own little space by themselves.

“But it really does make you appreciate it – one night is ok, but trying to get comfortable, and doing that every single night, would be very tough. And the other thing is that when it rains, you get wet. We had plastic bags over our sleeping bags, but even then, the water gets inside, and you can feel it getting into your bones.

“It was a mild night, but if we were doing that in sub-zero, it would be real hardship. To help us appreciate it we had a Q & A session with three guys who had previously been homeless, and they were talking quite honestly about it and how difficult it is, and the cycle it creates with not being able to get into employment, so it was very thought-provoking.”

Susan Aktemel added: “We see people on the streets daily who don’t have a home or a safe place to sleep and can’t even begin to imagine how that must feel. By sleeping out, even for one night, I hope that we can put ourselves in their shoes, while at the same time raising important funds to kick-start the construction of the village and go some way towards making a difference.

“Social Bite has done a tremendous job in pulling this event together, on top of their normal business and plans for the village project. I take my hat off to their creativity and dedication. This is an extremely worthwhile cause and I’m delighted to have been asked to be a part of it.”

Around £40,000 worth of camping equipment donated by Tresspass was given to participants upon entering the site which included a ground sheet, sleeping bag and a survival bag.

After the event all equipment will be donated to homeless people in Scotland. Work is expected to begin on the village early next year, with the first residents moving in by the summer.

It will be run by Social Bite with the EDI Group and the City of Edinburgh Council.

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