Not content with fighting to end homelessness in Scotland, Social Bite has set its sights on ending it worldwide!
In seven years, the Social Bite team has built a movement on the notion of kindness, simultaneously bringing the issue of homelessness into mainstream consciousness. Now, not content with only changing Scotland for the better, they want to take that kindness message global, leading the rest of the world in the fight to end homelessness everywhere, forever.
Josh Littlejohn and Alice Thompson founded their social enterprise in 2012 – opening a small sandwich shop in the heart of Scotland’s capital city. Their original business model was as simple as it was kind: take all their profits and give them away to worthwhile causes.
Seven years later, the organisation has achieved some incredible successes – as well as raised millions of pounds – as they continue to find exciting and innovative new ways to combat homelessness in Scotland.
A night in their shoes
In December 2017, they held their first ‘Sleep in the Park’ event – encouraging people from all walks of life to sleep out under the stars and raise money and awareness of homelessness. The response was incredible, with more than 8,000 brave souls coming together in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens to raise an astonishing £4 million in the process.
In year two, the Social Bite gang upped the ante – holding ‘Sleep in the Park’ events in four major Scottish cities: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen. Once again, the kind and generous people of Scotland rose to meet this new challenge, with a massive 10,000 people taking part in the events and raising another £4 million along the way.
Having conquered the hearts, minds and wallets of Scotland’s people, Social Bite were left with a slight conundrum moving into year three – how to take it to another level. The answer was bold, brave and even a little ballsy, announcing ‘The World’s Big Sleep Out’.
This new global event will see more than 50,000 people take part in a ‘Sleep Out’ in 50 cities around the world – hoping to raise $50 million in the process. From Edinburgh to Los Angeles, Brisbane, Manilla & Hong Kong, this Scottish social enterprise are planting their flag in some of the world’s most iconic cities.
That’s not all?!
While some might sit back and bask in the glow of these incredible achievements, Josh, Alice and the team are constantly looking for the next big opportunity – channelling an incredible sense of determination to keep pushing towards their ultimate goal. One particular example of this is the Social Bite Village.
The Social Bite Village is an extremely innovative set-up, where up to 20 individuals affected by homelessness can live in a highly supported community in Edinburgh. As well as offering a place to call home, the village also provides an opportunity for these individuals to build an independent life, eventually moving them into permanent accommodation and helping them develop the skills necessary to make that move ‘stick’.
Mary is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter who lives in Edinburgh. Most Tuesday evenings you’ll find her rehearsing and fine-tuning some of her songs, getting ready for her next performance. But while Mary’s talents become all too obvious after hearing just a couple of notes, what isn’t as obvious is that she is also a wonderful example of the amazing work being done at the Social Bite Village.
We got the chance to chat with Mary about her experiences, how they’ve shaped her life and how the kindness and support of enterprises like Social Bite have had such a positive impact.
- Can you tell us a little about how you became homeless and how you found out about Social Bite.
I left a difficult relationship I was in for my own sanity. For almost three years, I lived with different family members – a sofa here, a spare room there. Having mental health issues on top of this certainly wasn't easy – but I'm so thankful to each and every one of them for giving me a roof over my head. It wasn't that I hadn't tried to get somewhere of my own, there just wasn't any temporary accommodation available and I had my dog with me.
I actually heard about Social Bite when it first started up, because I used to work for a homeless charity – I’ve also been a customer at Social Bite café.
- How has Social Bite and the Social Bite Village affected your life?
What it’s given me is the space and support I needed, especially at that time in my life – it gave me hope.
[In the Village] you get to encourage each other to do whatever it is that they really want to do, be it working, studying or getting help. There’s also a lot of giving, even if you don't have much, to make sure that someone else benefits from it, like a coat or keyboard stand – you appreciate what you have, not what you don't have.
- Tell us a bit more about the Social Bite community and how it was living in the village.
I remember fondly the day I went to see the village for the first time. As soon as I walked through the Hub doors, I knew it was a good place to stay. Sharing a house with someone else wasn't an issue for me and hopefully not for them – my room was my sanctuary.
You could be involved in as much or as little as you wanted, there was cooking, gardening, yoga, walk the daily mile, movie nights, games and books. But when everyone has their own issues sometimes you just need to be left alone and that was also welcome.
It's also a relief when you do stay at the village because you know you don't have to leave until you get your own house. I stayed at the village for five months and I've made some incredible friends who helped me when I was low. They made you laugh when you were sad, or brought you dinner if you were ill. You looked out for each other and supported each other – which they did, especially with my singing.
- Social Bite has given you the opportunity to look forward to a brighter future – so what do you think the future holds for you?
My music is my future! I get to write about my feelings, emotions, memories, anything really. If I can make people feel what I sing that can't be a bad thing, though seemingly I make people cry…
I know I'll also continue to get mentally and physically stronger so I can do more live performances like last year’s Sleep in the Park. The welcome and response I received was incredible, so who knows, maybe I’ll even do a show at the Edinburgh Festival. Watch this space…
Scotland’s social enterprise revolution
Mary is just one example of the amazing work organisations like Social Bite are doing throughout the country. Today in Scotland, there are more than 6000 social enterprises, all working towards their own set of unique and worthy ambitions. We asked Mary what she thought about the Social Bite revolution going global, and she was so excited to watch the next stage in this journey
“I wish we didn't have homelessness, anywhere... but I think it's incredible that Josh's vision of helping end homelessness has gone global. I am proud to be Scottish and even more proud again that Scotland is leading the way with Social Bite – it will be quite an achievement come 7 December”.
It’s clear that Scotland has taken the theme of kindness to heart, building on our long-held reputation for being warm, inclusive, welcoming and kind. Looking forward, our country – just like the Social Bite team and the thousands of other organisations – are not prepared to take their foot off the gas, as we aim our sights on making Scotland and the rest of the world a better place.