By Meg Montague
It is a Friday evening in Glasgow and the temperature has dropped below freezing. But despite the cold, a team of dedicated volunteers from Homeless Project Scotland continue to set up their weekly soup kitchen under the Heilanman’s Umbrella on Argyle Street. They are unknowingly preparing for what will be their “busiest night ever”.
“It’s clear that more and more people are needing to use our service. I’ve never seen it as busy as this,” says Colin McInnes, the co-founder of the charity. “It’s good that people know we’re here to help and support them, but I wish they didn’t need us.”
Over the course of half an hour, over 130 people join a socially-distanced queue waiting to be served a make-shift Burns’ supper. 400 portions of haggis, neeps and tatties, steak pie, and potato and leek soup are prepared behind perplex screens and handed over to the service-users.
Most of those in the queue are homeless, dressed in an assortment of thick layers with backpacks full of their possessions. However, one casually-dressed man is wearing what looks like a company lanyard.
“The pandemic has left a lot of people needing extra help,” Colin adds. “We don’t just serve homeless people, it’s anyone who feels they need our help. No questions asked.”
The work of the soup kitchen has attracted a wide range of volunteers. A few of them first came along to help as part of a school committee six weeks ago, and have been coming back ever since.
“It’s so rewarding in so many ways,” says Shanley, one of the high schoolers. “You know you’re helping people, and it’s that immediate thing – you see how it helps [the service-users].”
“You can donate to charities, but with this you’re actually helping,” adds Lucy. “You can see exactly what you’re doing and the difference you’re making.”
Homeless Project Scotland was founded in October 2019, and then gained charity status in June 2020. Throughout the pandemic they have been delivering essentials – including food, toiletries and masks – to homeless and vulnerable people across central Scotland, and every Friday evening they supply hot meals to anyone who might be in need of one.
One service-user says: “[Without the charity] I don’t know where I would be in life, because you don’t know from one day to the next day – you don’t know where you’re going to get your next meal from.”
As the soup kitchen starts to wind down, Margaret Docherty – one of the charity’s trustees – says: “I think that was our busiest night ever.”
Margaret originally started out as a volunteer in February 2020, and is now an integral part of the running of the soup kitchen. She adds: “It’s just great seeing everyone coming along on a Friday night and having a good, hot, nutritious meal.
“It’s just seeing everyone coming together, it’s a really fantastic atmosphere…I can’t say enough how it’s all about people, and people helping one another.”