Church members bring silent nights to city centre homeless hostel

Fredie Evans
Fredie Evans is a resident of Cunningham House, a short-stay, supported hostel run by the Church of Scotland’s social care arm CrossReach. The new curtains are behind him in photo.

Residents at a homeless hostel in one of Edinburgh's liveliest streets are sleeping much better at night thanks to big hearted Church of Scotland members.

St Giles Cathedral's Neighbourhood Group held a series of charity events and raised £7,300 to buy special sound absorbing curtains for Cunningham House in the Cowgate to drown out noise made by people spilling out of pubs and clubs in the early hours of the morning.

David Marsland, the 23-bed unit's managing co-ordinator, said the so-called acoustic curtains were making a "real difference" to people who live in 15 en-suite rooms that overlook the street.

He added that most residents were struggling to overcome serious alcohol and substance misuse problems to try and get their lives back on track and lack of sleep was the last thing they needed.

Simon Bolam, convener of the St Giles Cathedral Neighbourhood Group, said: "It must be bad enough when you are homeless, but it must be substantially worse, after you do get some accommodation, when you can't get to sleep until 4am because of the noise from all the pubs and clubs immediately outside your window.

"When we heard about this appalling situation, the St Giles' community decided that this was a situation that needed urgent action.

"As a result the Neighbourhood Group, over a relatively short period of time, organised various events, including one supported by the author Alexander McColl Smith, to raise some £7,300 so that Cunningham House could introduce specially manufactured acoustic and fireproof curtains into the relevant bedrooms.

"We were therefore delighted to be told by the residents that the previously noisiest room are now the quietest.

"This was a great result for us as well – we got an enormous kick out of being able to help our neighbours in the Cowgate in such a positive way."

Fredie Evans, 51, who has lived at Cunningham House, a short-stay, supported hostel run by the Church of Scotland's social care arm CrossReach for six months, said the new curtains had made a big difference to resident's lives.

"People who live here really appreciate that these curtains have been put up to try and help them get as good a night's sleep as possible," he added.

"The Cowgate is a busy street and they help blank out the noise and street light.

"The more we rest at night the better we function during the day."

Mr Marsland said he and his staff were enormously grateful to the neighbourhood group.

"The Cowgate is a great location for all the services that we need but it is a noisy place at night, especially at the weekends and during the Edinburgh Festival when pubs are open until 4am-5am," he added.

"When people are facing crisis in their lives and are trying to get themselves back together, a lack of sleep when they have meetings with social workers and nurses does not help.

"The curtains have been very helpful for clients who have noticed a real difference."

Crossreach operates 13 services across Scotland, supported by more than 100 staff, in places including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Angus and the Western Isles which directly or indirectly address the root causes of homelessness.

It can be triggered by family breakdown, unemployment, eviction or even intimidation.

Vic Walker, head of service for homelessness and substance misuse at CrossReach, said it was great to see community and faith groups like St Giles Cathedral taking a "very real interest in our work and giving sacrificially to make a difference".

"When self-esteem gets low it may seem like no-one cares," he added.

"We all need to play our part in helping others when they are vulnerable and in need of support and encouragement.

"People can often wait a long time for specialist help to become available and we hope that the integration of Health and Social Care services across Scotland will improve this.

"We believe that people experiencing homelessness should be quickly able to access good affordable accommodation and go on to achieve their potential in life."