A piece in today’s Times:
Britain’s most successful Olympian in backing a charity seeking to repeat the success of its Edinburgh village for homeless people by setting up similar projects in Glasgow and London.
Sir Chris Hoy will lead Break the Cycle, a 60-mile charity bike ride between Glasgow and Edinburgh in September to raise £1 million toward the expansion of Social Bite’s “housing first” initiative.
Hoy, 44, won six Olympic cycling gold medals, is a long term supporter of the charity, which he said looked to tackle the “root cause” of a problem and make significant difference.
“The last few months have been tougher than ever for homeless people,” he said. “It is a complex issue, there is not a one-size fits all approach, but Social Bite has a track record of achieving its targets.”
Social Bite began as a social enterprise in 2012, employing homeless people in a community kitchen and a small chain of sandwich shops. Its ethos was to provide work, and help staff with housing, welfare and health issues.
In 2018, in partnership with the Cyrenians, it created the Social Bite village at Granton in Edinburgh, where 20 vulnerable residents live in ten two-bedroom prefabricated houses. A community centre in the village is an essential element of social life helping residents find their feet, offering group activities, such as art therapy, and practical help with benefits claims.
Most have slept rough or spent time in hostels or bed and breakfast accommodation, and some have experienced problems including addiction, time in care, mental health issues or domestic violence.
Josh Littlejohn, the co-founder of Social Bite, said potential sites for a homeless village had been identified across London by the engineering company Arup. “We have started conversation with a number of London boroughs and a council on the south coast of England is speaking to us,” Littlejohn said.
Since the Edinburgh village opened, 39 people have moved on to permanent housing, and a recent survey of residents found 79 percent reported an improved sense of wellbeing.
The alternatives to the homeless village were “fairly terrible” hostels and bed and breakfast accommodation, Littlejohn added.
“People compare the accommodation they used to have to open prison,” he said. “It felt important that we plant a flag and say that our ambition is to replicate this, particularly coming out of the pandemic, where a number of people in temporary homeless accommodation is at a record level.”
According to Shelter, 253,000 people were living in temporary accommodation in December in England, the highest figure for 14 years. The latest statistics for Scotland showed that homelessness in Scotland had risen by four per cent in the 12 months before the pandemic began, with 31,333 households assessed as homeless.
The Edinburgh village is funded by charity events and donations, with 100 businesses giving materials and time.
Social Bite’s celebrity supporters have included the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who visited the Edinburgh sandwich shop in 2018, and a succession of celebrities who have helped raise money, including George Clooney, Leonardo Di Caprio and Bob Geldof.
Hoy is a long term supporter and has taken part in four annual sleep-out events to raise funds.
Break the Cycle will be limited to 1,000 riders and will beginning at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow, ending at Social Bite village in Granton. Each participant will be asked to raise £1,000 in order to take part.
Hoy said with clear roads and a trailing wind, the 60-mile route could take as little as two and a half hours, though speed was not important on the day. “It’s not about getting everybody lycra-ed up and setting a new PB,” he said. “If someone is thinking, ‘I’ve got a bike in the shed but I’m not done it for a couple of years and I’m a bit out of shape’— this is for them.”
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