Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh. Itâ€™s after midnight, minus six degrees, and 8000 people are staking out a space and bedding down for the night.
Emma Gillies, and her friend, Louise Bramhall, are two of them. Wrapped up in their thermals, hats pulled down low, theyâ€™ve heard the concert, listened to John Cleese read a bedtime story and are ready for a few hours sleepÂ under the orange plastic bags handed out in case of rain.
But this impromptu campsite is no ordinary festival. Itâ€™s a national sleep out, arranged by Social Bite, to raise awareness about, and funds to address, the devastating issue of homelessness.
Emma got involved precisely for these reasons. â€˜People ask the value of sleeping out,â€™ she says. â€˜Itâ€™s about empathy, putting yourself in the place of a homeless person even for a few hours. Yes, we can look forward to a warm bed tomorrow, but Sleep In The Park made us think far more deeply about what life would be like if the home comforts werenâ€™t there. This isnâ€™t just a few thousand people sleeping-out, itâ€™s a social movement.â€™ And she goes on to point out how the event has drawn attention to the incredibly valuable work Social Bite are already doing throughout Scotland.
Social Bite was launched in 2012 by Josh Littlejohn MBE and Alice Thompson. Itâ€™s a company committed to eradicating homelessness in Scotland. In Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, their cafes and restaurant provide freshly made food from local produce, 1 in 4 Social Bite staff were formerly homeless. 100% of their profits go into helping social problems, for example feeding those who are homeless, and external charity support. The Social Bite academy helps homeless people find accommodation, offering training and then work, giving them the chance to turn their lives around.
Overall, Sleep In The Park has raised around Â£3.6 million; Emma and Louise alone raised over Â£2000. â€˜Of course itâ€™s about the money,â€™ Emma says, â€˜But more than that, itâ€™s about hope â€“ so many people coming together makes a huge statement that says â€œwe careâ€ and weâ€™re prepared to act.â€™
Emmaâ€™s hope is that many more people will continue to support the movement: by using the Social Bite cafes and the restaurant, buy â€˜paying it forwardâ€™ with a meal for a homeless person â€“ and simply by recognising that a homeless person is exactly that.
For more information, or to find out how you can donate a drink or a meal this Christmas â€“ or any time of the year â€“ please go to: www.social-bite.co.uk