EVERY Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday night, the Hielanman’s Umbrella in Glasgow comes to life.

Homeless Project Scotland feeds hundreds of people a week on the streets of Scotland’s biggest city.

It manages to do so because of the generosity of volunteers, local businesses and the public, and with the cost of living rising, it has seen an increase in demand for its services.

Those who run the charity are now trying to find indoor premises in the city centre so that the charity can help even more people.

Homeless Project Scotland started in October 2019 when Colin McInnes and Fraser Riddell took to the streets one evening and handed out sandwiches, soup and biscuits. There was so much demand that they decided to come back again.

The thing snowballed and they started giving out hot snacks from a refurbished trailer. When the pandemic hit, they had to change their tactics, leading them to deliver meals to homeless shelters across the country.

Now they have 1,800 volunteer applications waiting to be processed. They give out, on average, more than 130,000 meals a year and have a 24-hour helpline for people in need.

The charity has no staff members and is run completely by volunteers.

HeraldScotland: Service users queue up before the kitchen opens (Photo by Gordon Terris)Service users queue up before the kitchen opens (Photo by Gordon Terris)

Valiant volunteers

AS Friday night descended upon Glasgow, the city centre started to buzz with excitement, with people heading out for dinner, drinks and other activities.

But under the Hielanman’s Umbrella, a different kind of energy is palpable. Volunteers at Homeless Project Scotland, some of whom had been at the premises since morning, made the final preparations ahead of that night’s food distribution.

Before the night had even started, one of the volunteers, Tina, was approached by a couple seeking temporary accommodation for the night. She quickly went into the premises and sorted everything for the couple.

The early arrivals milled about the premises, which is filled with food items, toiletries, clothes, pots and pans. It is next to the Grant Arms on Glasgow’s Argyle Street and has a small warehouse area, an office and a small kitchen.

In the warehouse, more than 10 pots filled with assorted food sat on a large table, along with donations of sandwiches, doughnuts and salads.

The final items were being cooked in the kitchen as some of the volunteers sorted the donations into individual bags.

Much of the food is donated from local food outlets. A particularly large amount comes from Greggs, with independent businesses Tantrum Doughnuts and Sprigg also making regular donations.

HeraldScotland: Diane Duffy started volunteering with the charity earlier this year (Photo by Gordon Terris)Diane Duffy started volunteering with the charity earlier this year (Photo by Gordon Terris)

Vital donations

ALL this food is collected earlier by volunteers, either by foot or in a newly-bought refrigerated van. Some items are bought by the charity, funded by cash donations from the public.

At 7pm, the operation came to life as the volunteers brought the tables out into the street, started up the portable gas cookers, and lifted the pots of food on top of them.

On the menu was spaghetti meatballs and vegetable and chicken curries, some of which had been donated by local Chinese restaurants, and many other dishes.

Diane Duffy, from Rutherglen, served soup. She started volunteering earlier this year. “The queues are getting bigger,” she said. “There’s quite a lot of children as well. Some people get embarrassed [about using the service].”

What was striking was the number of young people giving up their Friday night to volunteer. Some got involved through their school with others taking part through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme. The youngest was eight-year-old Josh, who helped his gran, Isabella, put doughnuts into individual bags.

Kiera Cameron, 21, a student from the east end of Glasgow, started volunteering with Homeless Project Scotland nearly two years ago.

She got involved through her work at a supermarket which donated food to the charity and worked initially with the street team, which goes around the city telling homeless people about the kitchen.

“I just got hooked from there,” she said. “I just saw the work that they do and how much it means to people. When you speak to people that are here, they just love it.”

A queue started to form soon after the volunteers began setting up. By 8pm, there were 30 people waiting. Among them was a young couple with a small child.

“This is what we’re seeing in Scotland in 2022,” said Colin McInnes. “Babies in prams at soup kitchens. It does my nut in.”

Mr McInnes, who is a full-time carer, was recently invited to the Queen’s Summer Garden Party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh for his work at Homeless Project Scotland. He said: “It was very pleasant for people who would like to wine and dine, but I couldn’t wait to get out of my suit and get back to the soup kitchen to serve people. Cucumber and mint sandwiches are not to my taste.

“I would like it if Prince Charles would come down here, roll up his sleeves, and serve some soup.”

HeraldScotland: Kiera Cameron sets up before the kitchen opens (Photo by Gordon Terris)Kiera Cameron sets up before the kitchen opens (Photo by Gordon Terris)

Appetite to assist

THE soup kitchen has regulars who come every week and have built up a good relationship with the volunteers.

One of these is Henry Sime, from Paisley. He said: “I’ve been coming here for quite a while. I like it, it’s nice.

“If we didn’t have this soup kitchen, people would be homeless.”

Another regular is Patricia Khor, 72, who is originally from Malaysia but lives in Paisley.

“Everybody is very nice and friendly and they are good cooks as well,” she said. “It’s good for less fortunate people.

“People come here for company as well. I come for the social aspect.”

Just after 8.30pm, the food was ready and the soup kitchen opened.

Service users were treated to tupperware boxes full of any food they would like, and could also grab a hot drink.

But this wasn’t all that was on offer. There was a foodbank and toiletries, clothes and sim cards are given out for those who need it. There was also a barber giving free haircuts and volunteers were available there to signpost to other services.

The barber, Danny, 21, is originally from Bearsden but now lives in Drumchapel. He comes down every Friday after work to provide free haircuts.

“I’m working early on a Saturday so I don’t do much on Friday, so it’s nice to come down,” he said.

“I enjoy it. You meet a lot of nice people, there’s good people that I volunteer with.

“In this economic climate, everything’s getting more expensive. It can be 10, 15 or 20 quid for a haircut and that could be someone’s electricity or food for a few days.

“Everyone likes getting their hair cut. They leave happy and they get to have a conversation with somebody who’s trying to listen to them."

Owen Docherty, originally from Barrhead, is currently living in temporary accommodation and made use of Danny’s services.

“I feel cleaner when my hair’s cut,” he said. “It makes me feel better.”

HeraldScotland: Danny gives Owen Docherty a haircut (Photo by Gordon Terris)Danny gives Owen Docherty a haircut (Photo by Gordon Terris)

Supermarket sweep

AT the foodbank, all of the produce which had been donated from supermarkets and food outlets was available for users to pick up.

“Colin’s motto is that you can take as much as you can carry,” said Ms Cameron.

“We just want to get rid of as much food as possible. Most of the stuff at the foodbank is going to be thrown out, so it’s just amazing that we’ve got it together to give to people.”

However, it isn’t always that simple.

When one man was asked if he would like any vegetables, he replied: “I haven’t got anything to cook them on.”

The volunteers were all good-natured, and had a clear desire to help others. Some of them volunteer three times a week. This has created a strong community, and although they are helping people who are in dire straits, they all seem to enjoy themselves.

It’s not all plain sailing, though. Volunteers are often subject to abuse, with Mr McInnes admitting that he had been spat at earlier in the week.

In fact, early on one volunteer had her hair pulled by a young man who was becoming increasingly aggressive. The stewards (also volunteers) stepped in and the police were quickly on the scene.

Once the food was gone, the volunteers took the pots and tables back into the premises and cleared up the mess. Some of them were there until midnight washing the pots.

HeraldScotland: The charity hopes to have an indoor premises soon (Photo by Gordon Terris)The charity hopes to have an indoor premises soon (Photo by Gordon Terris)

Raising the roof

IT could soon be all change for Homeless Project Scotland, however, as Mr McInnes hopes that Glasgow City Council will help the charity find a new indoor venue in the city centre.

He said: “Our main goal at the moment is to get a building where we can bring everybody indoors. We’re serving 200 to 220 people every night in the soup kitchen. They’re standing in the rain, they’re facing situations of anti-social behaviour, and they’re at risk by queuing up for food.

“So what we’re trying to do is bring people indoors to a 24-hour welfare centre. Sit them down and they can get their dinner, they can watch the telly, they can chat and get help and support.”

As the cost-of-living crisis continues, it is likely that Homeless Project Scotland will see demand increase even further. When it does, it may need assistance to keep up its work.

One thing is definite, though – there will be plenty of volunteers willing to help those less fortunate than themselves.