IT’S said a photograph is worth a thousand words. Occasionally, one haunting image remains with you forever.
The lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan, lying drowned on a Turkish beach, brought home to many people around the world the magnitude of the hardship and danger faced by families fleeing the war in Syria. I believe it was a pivotal, positive turning point in the West’s reaction to the humanitarian crisis unfolding before us.
The fact this human tragedy didn’t occur on our beaches or in our communities shouldn’t mean it is someone else’s problem. At times of such suffering, you must stand up and be counted, regardless of geography.
Over the past few months, councils and housing associations in communities across Scotland have been doing everything they can to help – from collecting donations of money and clothes to the planning for emergency housing.
As Scotland’s largest housing, care and community regeneration organisation, Wheatley Group wanted to play its part. That’s why we didn’t hesitate when Glasgow Cathcart MSP James Dornan asked us to support an aid mission being set up by Glasgow The Caring City. Wheatley’s donation of £5,000 to the charity helped meet the costs of transporting a 40-foot container full of clothes to refugees in the Balkans. The donation is one of several ways the Group and its staff supported one of the largest humanitarian efforts of our lifetime.
Wheatley owns or manages almost 77,000 homes across Scotland and we are one of several partner organisations discussing with the Scottish Government, local authorities and charities the role we can play in housing refugees arriving in the UK.
By working closely with our partners, we can make a significant and lasting difference to those whose lives have been upturned in the face of such acute and incredible danger.
Times of tragedy often bring out the very best in people and we are certainly seeing that at Wheatley. Our 2,500 members of staff across five housing associations - GHA, Dunedin Canmore, Cube, Loretto and West Lothian Housing Partnership - and our two commercial subsidiaries, YourPlace Property Management and Lowther Homes, rallied to the cause. In addition to our financial donation to Glasgow The Caring City, our staff donated literally tons of clothing, shoes and household items.
The response was overwhelming at the various collection points we set up in our offices across the country. People looked out all sorts of items from their own wardrobes and cupboards, as well going into shops and buying new clothes. Our Neighbourhood Environmental Teams collected and delivered thousands of items and hundreds of bags, which were sent on the 2,000-mile journey to the Balkans.
In total, Glasgow The Caring City collected 19 tons of aid from across the city, including winter clothing and hygiene kits, for Serbian refugees.
Reverend Neil Galbraith, founder of Glasgow The Caring City charity, last month presented Wheatley Group with an Ambassador Award for the support and generosity of the organisation and its staff in backing the international relief effort.
Reverend Galbraith said: “The response to our charity’s campaign by Wheatley Group staff was overwhelming. The clothes, shoes, hats and gloves donated by staff filled a 2.5 ton van.”
Of course, magnificent as this type of response is, it is but a small sticking plaster in this global crisis. But it shows we care and it will make a difference, we hope, to hundreds of people with nowhere to turn. It is a start...
• Martin Armstrong, Chief Executive of Wheatley Group