Josh Littlejohn is the founder of Social Bite, a social enterprise that’s dedicated to helping end homelessness in Scotland.
His revolution against Scotland’s homeless problem all started with the opening of a sandwich shop in the heart of Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh – a place he viewed as the ideal starting point. Josh says that he believes that Scotland's compassion and generosity has been key to their success and that whenever they needed help or support, it didnt take much for people from all walks of life to come through for them.
“We were just […] trying to do some good and we ended up meeting this young homeless guy called Pete. We got chatting to him and asked him the story of how he became homeless and one day he came into the shop and plucked up the courage to ask if he could have a job. We figured that the whole point of us being here is to try and do something good, so we gave him a job in the kitchen”.
Josh’s initial strategy for the business was simple: make as much profit as possible and hand it to charity. He admits that back in those early days, the specific aim of tackling the homeless problem in Scotland wasn’t necessarily in his plans.
This became a key part of the business and today 25% of Social Bite staff are people who are homeless or have experienced homelessness. Another important building block of the Social Bite mission was the introduction of a ‘Pay it Forward’ scheme, where people can buy an item of food or drink for a homeless person. The purchase gets written on a post-it note in the cafe and a homeless person can come in and exchange it for the relevant item.
“That [idea] evolved from the first shop on Rose Street, but it's now at a stage where, across our five shops, we distribute over a hundred thousand items of food and hot drinks every single year – it's a really large scale food distribution service”.
Josh’s success with the Social Bite cafes wasn’t the end of his campaign; in fact, he was only just getting started. In 2016, he joined forces with local council bosses to build an innovative, low-cost, supervised, safe living environment. The scheme will support homeless people for a period of up to 12 months, helping them get back on the ladder and off the streets!
“Social Bite village is a model where we use vacant council owned land and build really beautiful prefabricated houses. At any one time we're gonna have twenty people who were homeless living in a supported community environment. We help them find their feet, we help them with links to the local college and to local employers and ultimately we support them back into a mainstream tenancy”.
Most recently, Josh’s amazing work has continued in the form of a landmark event called ‘Sleep in the Park’. Thousands of people from all walks of life were invited to spend a night sleeping out under the stars in Edinburgh to raise money and awareness for homelessness. Despite turning out to be the coldest night of the year – minus 6° C – 8,000 people showed up to the event, raising an incredible £4 million in one night.
“I think Scotland is on a journey to providing help and hope […] there's so much commitment from all walks of life; from the government, from local authorities, from the private sector, from charities and importantly, from the general public. I think we've got a unique opportunity to make a big statement to the rest of the world that we are a country that looks after the most vulnerable people among us”.