Social Bite Village to provide UK-wide homeless blueprint

Villages for homeless people are set to begin appearing in other parts of the UK following the success of a Scottish prototype which opened in Edinburgh less than six months ago.

Social Bite homeless village. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Social Bite homeless village. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The Social Bite Village in Granton welcomed its first residents in July and is already almost at capacity, with 17 homeless people now staying there while they await permanent accommodation.

The first of its kind in Scotland, the village is made up of 11 newly built cottage-style houses and a community hub where residents socialise and meet support workers to help them move forward and reclaim their lives.

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The project was created by the charity Social Bite, which runs five cafés across Scotland where members of the public can buy fresh food which is then served to homeless people.

Charity co-founder Josh 
Littlejohn said at least five residents had already secured paid employment, while a further five had enrolled on courses at nearby Edinburgh College or the Open University.

One resident has started taking Spanish lessons, while members of the community are also encouraged to take part in yoga classes twice a week and complete a “daily mile” to keep fit.

Mr Littlejohn said the “true test” of the project would come when residents started to move into their own flats, but the charity is already speaking to other cities about recreating it around the UK.

Representatives from Aberdeen, Manchester and Sheffield have been in contact with a view to using the village as “blueprint” for further projects, he told The Scotsman.

One resident is Alistair Harris, 24, who was left homeless in July after a family breakdown.

He came into contact with Social Bite after a staff member at one of its cafés spotted him on the streets.

“Once I told her my story and what I wanted help with, she helped me through it all,” he said.

“There’s a lot of trust that needs to be put in, because a lot of people say they want to change but never do.”

Just three days after he became homeless Social Bite found him a room in a B&B, and less than a month later he moved into the village, where he has now been living for two months.

“I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to do it,” he said.

“When I first got told about the village, I thought it was pretty cool – amazing. After two weeks I started volunteering in gardening. Everyone seems to get on, they’re really nice.

“We watch TV together and make food, go for a lot of long walks.

“Before Social Bite, I had nothing – no ID, no bank account. All I need now is a house.”

Charity workers from the Cyrenians are on site 24 hours a day to help residents get back on their feet, with most expecting to stay for between a year and 18 months while they wait for a house.

Kathy Hoyle, who has been the manager of the village since it opened, said most residents had come from a “tense” or “threatening” atmosphere and appreciated the peace it offered.

“The two words that mainly come out are ‘relief’ and ‘relaxed’,” she said.

“[Before they arrive] they’ve not really known where they’re going to be that night or how long they’re going to stay.

“This just gives them a little bit of time to relax and breathe, realise that we trust them and they don’t always have to be on their guard.”