Foundation Director Joins Homeless Street Cycles Patrol
Thu 21st December 2017
Foundation Director Connal Cochrane recently joined the Simon Community Scotland's Street Cycles Patrol to see first hand the project the Foundation is supporting this season. Read Connal's moving blog below to find out how the new initiative is helping people in our city.
"I have always taken a keen interest in the projects, people and causes supported by the Rangers Charity Foundation, so it was great to have the opportunity to spend a morning with the Simon Community Scotland’s new Street Cycles project, part of which is being funded as a result of our Big Ibrox Sleep Outs.
The Simon Community Scotland’s Street Cycles project is the UK’s first pedal-powered homeless outreach service and is due to begin operating in February. A committed group of around 15 volunteers are currently undertaking a thorough training process so that by February pairs of volunteers can begin regularly following predetermined patrol routes and interacting with any rough sleepers and vulnerable people they encounter – all using specially branded bespoke bikes.
During a typical Street Cycles shift, the volunteers will be able to significantly increase the area of the city covered by the Simon Community’s homeless outreach service. They will be able to provide information and advice on the street, link those who need more support to experienced Street Team staff, deliver essential supplies to rough sleepers and engage more with local businesses and communities. On a Tuesday morning just a week before Christmas I was able to see at first hand just what a big difference this service is going to make.
I arranged to meet Keir McCluskey, Project Leader for Street Cycles, at 9.30am at the Simon Community’s warehouse in the city’s east end. As well as being the new base for the Street Cycles project the warehouse also acts as a vital store and distribution point for the incredible number of donated clothes, sleeping bags, food and other items which the Simon Community needs to be able to assist people affected by homelessness.
Over a quick coffee, Keir outlined the progress being made in the training of volunteers for the new service and showed me the area of the warehouse where the new bikes will be stored and maintained. We then packed four paniers on each of the two bikes for today’s patrol with Keir with pot noodles, mince pies, hot water, flasks of tea and coffee and warm hats, gloves and hand warmers. A high vis Simon Community Scotland branded waterproof jacket and cycle helmet completed our preparations and we set off on a three hour patrol via the City Centre, Finnieston, Partick, Byres Road, Great Western Road, Sauchiehall Street and back to base.
During our patrol one of the first obvious things to contend with was the traffic and being able to safely navigate a road network where cycle lanes and more protected cycle paths are very few and far between! I took the opportunity to discuss the work of the Simon Community in more detail, particularly in relation to their street outreach services and how the Street Cycles project will hopefully be able to reach rough sleepers who may be located outside the current outreach service’s patrol area.
Keir and I stopped to speak to and engage with six people during our morning patrol, three women and three men. We parked our bikes a short distance away before Keir introduced himself and then me and asked if they needed any support - and when it was appropriate, tried to highlight other services offered by the Simon Community along with providing a card with a free phone number.
It is hard to know from all the short conversations we had what exactly has made each of their situations so vulnerable and desperate. One woman had recently been in hospital, had a terminally ill mother, children staying elsewhere and a partner who was in jail. She said she begged in order to have enough money to buy overnight accommodation and to keep her valuables securely stored and was very grateful for a hot cup of coffee and the offer to take two pot noodles so that she could have something to eat in the evening.
The second person was a man who was sleeping rough nearby and again grateful to have a hot drink and was comfortable to shake our hands and chat about his situation. We then encountered a very gaunt looking young man sitting inside a sleeping bag who said he was able to stay with his Mum at the moment but that his Mum struggled to have enough and said he was begging to have enough for them over Christmas. I organised a hot cup of coffee whilst Keir was able to provide a new warm woollen hat for him.
Almost every person we encountered on the street welcomed a coffee and three sugars. We quickly ran out of the packets of sugar we had packed and I offered to go into Greggs on Sauchiehall Street, across the street from where we were speaking to a woman who may have come from central Europe.
I explained what I was doing and asked for a few sachets of sugar. Thanks to the immediate kindness from their member of staff I came back out onto the street with a full box of sugar containing hundreds of sachets and a handful of new coffee stirrers. It was this spontaneous gesture and the supportive conversations we had with a few people during this patrol that gave me a small glimpse of the positive community engagement that I feel sure this new project is going to bring for the Simon Community.
The woman we spoke to on Sauchiehall Street, as hundreds of Christmas shoppers passed by, seemed determined to sleep on the street until at least the New Year despite offers to seek further support. I found it very hard to think about the circumstances that may have brought her to be sleeping out in the open at this time of year, despite some of the verbal abuse she says she has received and her obvious vulnerability.
We gave her the free phone number to call and I am sure that Keir will let his colleagues in the Street Team know about this and other conversations we had with people during our patrol so that any support, for those happy to accept it, can be directed for people in the most coordinated way possible.
Having spent an evening in the Winter Night Shelter two years ago with Glasgow City Mission, joined the Simon Community’s Street Team for an evening last year and joined a Street Cycles patrol this week, I feel disheartened and heartened at the same time. Disheartened that people’s lives can be so broken and that so many are finding themselves on the streets of our city, but heartened too, because of the excellent work being undertaken by our local charity partners and not forgetting the wonderful dedication and generosity of our own supporters without whom our Big Ibrox Sleep Outs wouldn’t be able to make such a powerful difference.
Thanks to Keir for inviting me along for Tuesday patrol and best wishes to everyone in the Street Cycles team as they prepare to roll out this new outreach service."
If you would like to find out more about our partnership with the Simon Community Scotland, click here.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Simon Community Scotland’s Street Cycles initiative, click here.