Earlier this week I attended a charity showing of “White Christmas” – a warm, dry and seasonal way to raise money for Cyrenians. And a good time was had by all.
On Saturday evening I will be also at a fundraiser but this time it will be cold and possibly wet – though given the line-up (Liam Gallagher, Deacon Blue, Amy MacDonald, Frightened Rabbit, John Cleese, Bob Geldoff and lots of others) Social Bite’s “Sleep in the Park” should still be a good time, even if a lot more uncomfortable.
Cyrenians are supporting Sleep in the Park because we think it’s a great way to raise cash and to raise awareness but also because we have been asked to run the Social Bite Village which will be one of the beneficiaries of the Sleep Out. We’re delighted to have appointed Kathy Hoyle, a long time Cyrenians staff member as manager of the village. She will bring her years of experience and compassion to building the community which will be the bedrock of the village, the relationships upon which the journey of each resident will be built.
Of course, despite any discomfort folk experience on Saturday evening, no-one would suggest it’s comparable to sleeping rough, which is a tough reality for literally hundreds of people each year in Edinburgh. The sense of utter isolation and crushing, soul destroying exclusion felt by those who bed down in shop doorways, back alleys, graveyards and many other places of limited shelter and no warmth each night has to be experienced to be understood. The journey from sleeping rough to a place of hope isn’t just one of changing material circumstances. It is a journey of the soul.
I spoke recently with one man who’d spent time sleeping rough. Now happily married and working in a job of some responsibility, he told me only a handful of folk know about his time on the streets. Even his partner’s family don’t know. For him, the stigma remains long after the event. He said: “I know it’s how I think others will see me, whereas they probably wouldn’t at all – but I don’t ever want to return to how I felt about myself at time in my life”.
Cyrenians were asked to take on the Social Bite Village because we have 50 years’ experience of creating communities where people can take that journey of the soul from tough reality to hope and change. What we have learnt in that 50 years is that it takes time; it’s a journey of many more tiny footsteps than giant leaps. Each person’s journey is different, and even when the material circumstances change, it’s not over. Cyrenians Residential Communities for young people regularly have visits from former community residents who have otherwise turned their lives around, but when they feel those old emotions coming on, they pop by just for a chat and to know we are still there.
Saturday will be brilliant. I am really looking forward to it. A huge thank you must go to all 7000 plus folk who have raised money for the privilege of sleeping out on a December evening and to Social Bite for their extraordinary capacity to organise such an event. Without them, what we are setting out to do in the village just could not happen. What we know is the journeys we will travel with those who become residents of the village will last not for one night or one week or one month, but for a lifetime. For they may begin with a night under the stars but they are journeys of the soul and the self.