Peter Sutton has been reverend at St Cuthbert’s Parish Church for just over a year and has overseen a radical shift in focus on the homeless community.
The church began hosting a winter homeless club which has caught the attention of many local businesses who have pledged their support to the cause.
With Edinburgh in the midst of a homeless crisis and the church having a number of people sleeping in the grounds each night, the minister has taken inspiration from Social Bite’s homeless village in Granton and told the Evening News he’d love to replicate something similar in the shadow of the historic church.
He said: “I’d love to bring a terrace of those Scandinavian houses as emergency accommodation just on the lane leading to the church. We could offer people help, come here for five or six nights and then the agencies could come meet them and decide where to go.
“It would be great to have Cuthbert’s Close or Cuthbert’s Crescent – a group of six homes for emergency accommodation. That is a dream and it is something we would like to do in the future.”
Rev Sutton also helped introduce a new drop-in board games cafe called Alvin’s – named after a homeless St Cuthbert’s regular who died in January.
After a night of fun, food and drink each week, a minibus from Bethany Christian Trust arrives to drive anyone who wants a bed for the night to the Winter Care Shelter in Meadowbank.
The initiative has caught the imagination of local businesses with the Caledonian Hotel sending its masseurs while firms such as Nando’s and Gourmet Burger Kitchen provide food.
Rev Sutton said: “Our 15 volunteers decided to do something slightly different. Now local businesses have got involved.
“For me this is a great way for the church to be relevant with people wanting to get involved. They see a relevance to what we do in the community and that is what it’s all about. The church isn’t all about just what happens on a Sunday.
“I’ll wash the feet as a minister then the spa team from the Caledonian come down to massage their feet, backs and shoulders. It’s a beautiful thing that takes place.”
Rev Sutton said around four people per night sleep in the graveyard at St Cuthbert’s while others have been sleeping rough at the Old Calton Burial Ground. He believes installing ten two-bedroom nesthouses like at the Granton village could be vital to the homeless accessing the services they crucially need.
He added: “We realise we can’t do this ourselves. We need to find a niche to support each other and I feel we can crack this together.”