Category Archives: Inspiring Stories

Inspiring Stories from Simon Community Scotland

Listening with Kindness

Listening with kindness

#SpacesForListening

#SpacesForListening is about human connection and mutual support. Led by our colleagues Claire and Melissa, we have been experimenting with #SpacesForListening in our team. People are at the heart of all we do and this format aligns strongly with our commitment to compassion and relational leadership development. 

Claire and Melissa recently contributed to this blog. It is introduced by the instigators of #SpacesForListening, Charlie Jones and Brigid Russell, and was originally featured on Medium.

We need to create spaces for the real conversations in our workplaces. But how? Isn’t that a bit risky? What if people get upset? Don’t we need specialist training for something like this?

Let’s be clear at the outset. We aren’t dismissing the value of professional expertise, of course there is a time and a place for this. But most of the time, do we need an expert who is ‘qualified’ to host a space to have supportive conversations? Surely for most of us, most of the time, what we need is to feel heard; the chance to have a supportive conversation with a peer or group of peers.

What if we create spaces which are for everyone, and anyone, and make them ‘safe enough’ with a light structure? We can each make an informed choice to take part, and then choose to say what we like, or pass if we do not want to say anything. We can meet in a spirit of generosity, giving each other equality of time for listening. We can listen, without trying to jump in to ‘fix’ the other person.

We meet as people in #SpacesForListening with no job titles or hierarchical formality. We hear our commonalities, and we have the space to be curious and respectful about our differences. We feel connected through listening to each other, knowing and trusting that it is helpful to be able to tell some of our story without interruption. To tell our stories in our own words, unedited, and free of jargon.

You are not alone

In our blog in November 2020 we wrote that the spirit of #SpacesForListening has been to get on with it, keep it simple, and create a place which feels welcoming for people to come together. It’s been uplifting to connect with people around the UK and beyond who are putting #SpacesForListening into practice in their own contexts. We are delighted to introduce this guest blog about the impact of creating spaces for listening within Simon Community Scotland.

For the people who need to seek support from Simon Community Scotland the doors are always open. There are no ‘criteria’ for entry, it’s not scary or formal, there’s no hierarchy or judgment. As #SpacesForListening ripples out in an open and organic way, it is about letting go and trusting that there are so many people out there who get it — who get the point of listening to each other in the spirit of generosity, humanity, and community. It won’t be for everybody, and that’s OK too. It’s the risk we take, and it’s a risk well worth taking as this example from the Simon Community Scotland illustrates beautifully. It’s the risk of being human.

#SpacesForListening caught me off guard. I didn’t know what to expect when I first entered the space. It showed me how much emotional baggage I was carrying around with me without even knowing. What I found the most refreshing, the most impactful, was that no one was there to try and ‘fix’ anything. A truly unique experience, one which has had a lasting impact on me both personally and professionally. The power of being heard and the simplicity in just listening to others without expectation was exceptionally and unexpectedly life-changing…”
#SpacesForListening Participant at Simon Community Scotland

Over to Claire & Melissa …

Introducing #SpacesForListening within Simon Community Scotland has come at a time where we, as a sector, as a society, and as individuals, have been faced with a set of extremes.

COVID-19 has brought into sharp relief the inequalities which exist within communities and no more so than for those experiencing homelessness. COVID-19, the immediate effects and the wider repercussions of lock-down measures and the stay at home message, have impacted on the people who use our services and our staff teams in ways we couldn’t have anticipated this time last year.

Compassion, understanding, and kindness in our systems and towards one another have never been more needed. Yet, while these may seem obvious, and are very often assumed, too often these principles can be missed or overlooked in times of crisis when our attention is so focused on what needs to be done. At a time when the focus was on securing safety for others, were we paying attention to the importance of creating safety for ourselves?

#SpacesForListening is helping us take time to care for each other
#SpacesForListening is helping us take time to care for each other

While many people were told to stay home, in Simon Community Scotland our world got a lot busier. Our staff teams, like so many others on the front line, have continued to support people experiencing homelessness, worked with partners to ensure people experiencing rough sleeping were safe and housed, and continued to provide services on the front line, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The now popular phrase of ‘we are all in the same storm, but in different boats’ rings very true within our organisation.

The relentless negative news and information which has dominated our feeds and our consciousness has often brought with it feelings of anxiety over what else is yet to come. However, while social media can often be criticised for polarising us, during the pandemic and through times of increased social isolation and loneliness it has offered vital connection, sharing, and community.

No more so than through #SpacesForListening.

Connecting through Twitter and being invited into a space with Brigid and Charlie was driven through curiosity around what #SpacesForListening was all about. Being invited to join a group of strangers to simply listen was initially quite daunting. Yet, the results were rather extraordinary. Listening is something we all think we know how to do, but it wasn’t until the time was protected, and the noise was quietened, did it become apparent how little listening we actually do to and for one another. And how powerful it can be to simply listen to one another, and to be heard. There is a real kindness in it, a connection, and a relief.

This must be the place

So far we have facilitated eight #SpacesForListening within Simon Community Scotland — and the early feedback from our staff highlights the potential this simple, structured space has in offering much needed breathing space.

At first, we wondered whether they would work — was it the anonymity that provided the magic? Was it that it was facilitated by Brigid or Charlie? Was there something specialist about it we would struggle to replicate internally? Was it too much of a risk to invite people to share their experiences during the pandemic? Our questions were answered during the first session.

Spaces for Listening was not like any other group support, training, or therapeutic session I have ever taken part in. There was nothing contrived about it, no hidden design or ulterior motive, no analysis or attempt to ‘solve’ each other, just an open safe space to fill with your thoughts — the result was really quite powerful”.
#SpacesForListening Participant at Simon Community Scotland

Within Simon Community we live by the philosophy — make it easy, make it right, and make it happen. And that is what we did. We offered a space for people to voluntarily enter into as adults, we provided information to ensure they knew what they were signing up for, and we left the door open to link in with support if they needed it. We made it safe enough, as safe as any of us can hope for. We prioritised connection and kindness. Facilitating #SpacesForListening internally has its own unique power. We have a shared understanding as colleagues, a commonality; we are — in many ways — in the same boat.

The overwhelming power that is naturally created by eight people listening to each other blows my mind every time. Such a simple but organic concept is helping to heal hearts. Emotions that are normally hidden are allowed to be exposed and we are all allowed to be real”.
#SpacesForListening Participant at Simon Community Scotland
Simon Community colleagues being playful with our #OneTeam hashtag!

The past 10 months have tested our resilience in ways no one could have expected, it has been dominated by stories of loss and fear and change. Yet our staff have continued to turn up, continued to deliver excellence, and continued to provide support and care for people experiencing homelessness day in and day out. What #SpacesForListening has offered us, as an organisation, is a space to be vulnerable, to show that it has been really hard, and to find a bit of common humanity and connection. It offers more than a well-being intervention, it builds on the type of organisation we want to be. With kindness, compassion, and connection at the centre for both our staff and for the people we support.

SpacesForListening gave me a place where I could breathe. It let me be ‘off duty’ from life and work for a while and just be me, and that felt good”.
#SpacesForListening Participant at Simon Community Scotland
Self care isn't selfish

It has allowed us to level the playing field — we are all people, all with our own lives inside and outside of work regardless of what our role is within the organisation. In order to perform our roles well, it’s essential we bring our whole selves to work as relationships are central to what we do. Showing kindness, compassion, and understanding is the foundation of our practice. #SpacesForListening has shown us how important it is to give to ourselves too. It has invited people to listen to each other with kindness, and to be heard. And what we have learned in the last couple of months is that, actually, sometimes, that is what we need most.


Thank you to Claire & Melissa and all their colleagues in Simon Community Scotland for sharing so generously their experiences of #SpacesForListening with us. We are keen to share more about the experiences of #SpacesForListening as they ripple out farther and wider — and we invite the people who are putting spaces into practice in their own context to keep in touch with us. You can find us on Twitter @charlie_psych @brigidrussell51 @clongmuir88

See more about spaces for listening in participants’ own words by searching #SpacesForListening on Twitter.


#GiveHope - #GiveHope – How your Christmas kindness is bringing comfort, joy and hope to the people we support this winter

#GiveHope – How your Christmas kindness is bringing comfort, joy and hope to the people we support this winter

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present the biggest challenge we have ever faced. While emergency accommodation has greatly reduced rough sleeping, more people are facing life in temporary hotel rooms and short term places and seeking help to get back on their feet. And thousands more are potentially on the brink of homlessness as they struggle to meet housing costs.

We want everyone to know that they matter, that we care and that we’re here to help them prevent and recover from any risk or experience of homelessness. 

In December we launched a new JustGiving appeal asking again for you to donate what you could to #GiveHope to others 

We can’t thank you enough for your generosity. From children whose parents we have helped, parents whose children we have helped, performers who held virtual fundraisers, pensioners who gave up their winter fuel payments, companies, schools, and kind-hearted strangers, every single gift helped to make things better for the people we support. Here are just a few of your heart-warming messages:

Thank you so much for the work you do to help people who are homeless. Particular thanks to the person who gave me advice when I was concerned for the welfare of someone sleeping rough near my house.
I want to give some of my Christmas money to your great charity. My daddy had a friend called Simon who died this year. (Angus, Aged 7)
You do amazing things guys, keep it up. From King’s Park Primary School.
Merry Christmas From Stephen & The Team at First Trust.
We are lucky to have a home of our own and wish everyone could have the same. Now more than ever we need to help as many as we can. 
This is on behalf of my dad, he is very active in the community and only wanted a donation for his Christmas present!!
For the last three years, Kayla who is 8 years old has asked us, her godparents, not to buy her a Christmas present but give to a charity that looks after the homeless and their dogs.
Just giving what I can as without organisations like yours I might be still on the streets but probably dead. Keep up the great work.
Thank you for being there to support my son when I couldn’t.
In memory of Martin and thank you to the Glasgow Street Team for the help and kindness you gave him.
Just a token for a great cause in lieu of sending Christmas cards this year.

Here are just a few of the many ways your gifts are helping people in extremely difficult circumstances on the road to recovery from homelessness and the harms it brings

Sheila*, a young mother recovering from addiction was distraught and feeling hopeless because she couldn’t afford a Christmas present to show her 6 year old daughter that she loves her. The Access Hub in Glasgow used the #GiveHope fund to help her buy a LOL Doll, a Toy Car, colouring books and pens, and sweets and gift wrapped them all. The gift has rekindled the relationship between mum and daughter and Sheila is buzzing with determination for herself and her daughter to continue in her recovery journey, moving onto supported accommodation.   The recovery centre manager has told her she will be welcome to work for them in future and Sheila has set herself the goal of volunteering, on the path to a job.

Simon* approached The Access Hub after his relationship broke down and he found himself with nowhere to go. He had the chance of a job, but no workwear, nor cash to get there. We used the #GiveHope fund to kit him out with work gear, a bus pass, his rent deposit and a months rent to get him on his feet and stay off the street.

Vulnerable women arrived at our Rapid Access after a period of rough sleeping with little but the clothes they were wearing. Your donations meant that we could provide not only the basics such as underwear, pyjamas, and warm winter clothing, but also a few little luxuries including make-up, moisturiser, perfume, books, chocolate and £10 Primark vouchers. The difference this made was plain to see. They felt genuinely welcome and cared for. As one said: ‘This is the best Christmas I’ve had in a number of years and it’s a Christmas I’ll not forget in a long time.’

Every single gift we make on your behalf is linked directly with the individually tailored support and care we deliver

Thanks to your compassion we continue to #GiveHope to people at risk of or experiencing homelessness and drive long term recovery from the harms it brings.

*Names have been changed. Photo credit: Kira auf der Heide.

Some of our North Lanarkshire staff outside a supported accommodation service. #OneTeam

Saving lives in North Lanarkshire

#FromTheFrontline 

One of the really sad things around COVID is the pressure it is placing on people. For those who are experiencing addictions this pressure has really increased. 

Challenges facing people

With huge variations in drug supply, more harmful options have become the norm during COVID for people living with addictions. Additionally, many of the protective factors – like access to treatment and social connections – have become less readily available. This creates all sorts of challenges for many of the people we support and for how we care for them.  

What we do every day 

In North Lanarkshire – as in all our services – we stick by people so they can journey out of homelessness. It starts with each person. We show up with humanity and understanding – connecting where people are at, being on their side, being attentive, bringing warmth. This is our beating heart. 

What does our support look like for those who are struggling with drug addictions? 

We have been embedding a harm reduction approach in how we offer support. This means we are getting really skilled at strengthening protective factors and also responding quickly at moments of crisis and increased risk

Here are some examples from our North Lanarkshire service: 

Each Monday, staff at one of our accommodation services host a weekly Breakfast Café promoting recovery and wellbeing. The week’s topics are selected to be relevant to the people living in the service at the time. Guests come along to share their first hand experiences of recovery or speak about services that are available to our residents. 

Weekly Breakfast Club at one of our North Lanarkshire accommodation services.
Weekly Breakfast Club at one of our North Lanarkshire accommodation services.

Speaking about the Breakfast Café, our Service Leader, Sam Fingland says: 

The guys really enjoy this. It’s a way of getting together – get a bit of breakfast, informally communicate with the staff and their peers, and be able to link in with others they might not otherwise meet or connect with. This is something that was born out of the pandemic, and will continue as a way of supporting people from within the service.”
Sam Fingland, Service Lead

Creating engaging activities is another protective factor that also reminds people what is possible. Physical wellbeing activities can be infectious. Our 5km challenge in one of our North Lanarkshire services is currently having great benefits for both residents and staff alike!

When we see someone come into the service under the influence of a substance, we check on them every 15minutes to ensure they’re ok. This can involve sitting with people for many hours. We do this because each person matters. If someone experiences a drug overdose, we are trained in administering Naloxone so we can prevent their death.

The team in North Lanarkshire have also been developing a life saving digital health solution that alerts staff when someone is overdosing. The team worked with service users and partners to develop this system that uses radar and mattress sensors to monitor vital signs. This helps us prevent tragic loss of life. We are proud to have won SCVO’s 2020 Demonstrating Digital Award for this work. 

These are just some of the ways we save lives every day. 

Why this matters

Each and every person matters. We want the people we support to know this: “You matter enough for us to save your life and help make it better.” The struggles people face are not the whole story. People are amazing and we believe in each person we support. We want them to also see the possibility and potential we see.

What makes this possible?

People are at the heart of everything we do and we recruit people to our team who share our values. Being trauma informed is not enough for us – our ambition is to be trauma skilled. This means that not only do we understand how trauma can impact people, but we are also skilled at relating to people in ways that help recovery. It is heartbreaking for us that all too often those who’ve experienced the trauma of homelessness and addiction are treated harshly or even dismissed. We bring warmth, humanity and persistence to how we engage with people. 

As Peter McLachlan, one of our North Lanarkshire Service Leads says: 

How we meet people matters. We don’t bring judgement in how we treat people and improve lives. We meet people where they are at. Our words are a powerful tool. Everyday small things matter, like asking ‘How are you today?” 
Peter McLachlan, Service Lead

We are so proud that this approach and our commitment to people earned us the title of Scotland’s ‘Charity of the Year 2020’. #Humanity #MakingThingHappen #WhatWeDoEveryDay


To learn more about our services in North Lanarkshire, visit Our Services section.

A fantastic initiative and a much needed resource centre for people experiencing homelessness in Glasgow

We’re very lucky to have amazing Simon Community Scotland ambassadors who are passionate about the work we do and will support us in any way they can. Lorraine McIntosh and Ricky Ross from Deacon Blue officially opened the Access Hub at the end of September. 

After cutting the ribbon Lorraine made a short speech which really hit home with all of us “It’s a real privilege and a great honour for Ricky and I to be here to celebrate the opening of the Access Hub. This Hub is a fantastic initiative from Simon Community Scotland and a much needed resource centre for people experiencing homelessness in Glasgow.

Living in Glasgow I, and most folk I know, have been saddened and frustrated at the amount of people who seemed to have nowhere to call home but the streets of our city.

This Access Hub is the latest step in not only improving figures for homelessness but for eradicating it

Homelessness, as I’m sure you all know, is a complex issue which has a devastating impact on those who experience it. Working as ambassadors with Simon Community over the last year or so we have both been amazed and encouraged by the work we’ve witnessed. This Access Hub is the latest step in not only improving figures for homelessness but for eradicating it.”

Lorraine continued “It’s taken several years and a huge commitment, but today the people of Glasgow can celebrate some good news and be proud that, here, our most needy citizens can access help and support by walking in off the street. Here there is everything from legal advice, monthly sessions with the DWP, health care for not only themselves but their beloved dogs, counselling, story telling…the list is long and impressive.

Interior of the Access Hub

The people of Glasgow can celebrate some good news and be proud that, here, our most needy citizens can access help and support by walking in off the street

Living through these difficult times when all our lives have been affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic, it has been amazing to see that when it comes to solving the problem of homelessness, where there’s a will there’s a way. During this time rough sleeping in Glasgow has almost disappeared. Our challenge now is to make it a priority that these people are not forgotten about and that their right to a safe place to live is not ignored.

We all know the way we treat the most vulnerable amongst us says something about who we are as a society and the creation of this Hub says we want homelessness in our city to be a thing of the past. The Access Hub is an important step forward in making that a reality.

So, thank you to everyone who has worked to get us here today and thank you all for coming. This is a place we should all be very proud to have in our city.”

Lorraine MacIntosh and Ricky Ross from Deacon Blue inside the Access Hub
The people we met during the COVID-19 lockdown

We’re marking World Homelessness Day 2020 by introducing you to some people we met during the COVID-19 lockdown

World Homelessness Day was born when aid workers from around the world started talking about people experiencing homelessness in their countries – with an emphasis on giving hands-on aid that was sensitive to local needs, while being aware of the global problem.

Today, we want to help raise awareness in our own community by sharing our Homeless in COVID photography project and introducing you to some of the people we met during lockdown.

Pawel from Poland
Pawel from Poland

The Homeless in COVID project came into being when professional photographer Iain McLean started volunteering with us at our Warehouse in April. Iain wanted to work with a charity during the COVID-19 pandemic to show the work they were doing. This turned into a set of photographs showing the people we work with, with the intention of challenging the common perception of homelessness.

Iain told us “Simon Community Scotland were fairly local to me and I was already aware of them and the work they do, so I contacted Hugh Hill (Director of Services and Development) and put my idea to him. Happily he agreed – in my experience it is rare to be given the opportunity to work with an organisation who encourage you to pursue a creative idea. A refreshing experience! 

I initially did some volunteering in the warehouse – sorting clothes and helping load and unload food deliveries – all the while taking some casual portraits and recording the events. This seemed to go well. We then visited the Ibis Hotel where I met more Simon Community staff and had a look around. Once I’d established some good relationships I was then given access to other services to meet and photograph both staff and service users.”

Catherine from Scotland
Catherine from Scotland

Iain began to build up a bank of images to demonstrate the work of SCS but alongside this he started work on the project that became Homeless in COVID. Iain worked to gain the trust and consent of everyone he photographed and found that his perception of people who experience homelessness was being challenged – the more people he met, the more he realised that anyone could be affected. It was really just down to circumstance. 

He told us that “I had never worked with people experiencing homelessness before but it was a profound and moving experience. My expectations were probably the same as most people’s, namely that I’d be meeting down-at-heel people with substance and/or mental health problems. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve met travellers, religious people, immigrants, refugees, professional people, young and old, all races and genders. Many of them victims of circumstance.”

Iain wanted to create a set of portraits challenging the common perception of what someone experiencing homeless should look like. As well as the portraits, items were photographed in the hand of the sitter, with the hand being a metaphor for hope and openness as well as being symbolic of the COVID crisis – hand cleanliness etc. 

Mohamed from Morocco
Mohamed from Morocco

Iain said “I felt the portraits needed more than just a short explanation of the person and their circumstances so used the idea of ‘comfort’ during this troubled time to give the work some extra depth. The white background was a deliberate act to take the person away from any cliched location and to present them as a dignified, empowered person. A blank canvas.”

Graham from England
Graham from England

Our service users were delighted when they saw their images, both on the camera and in print. Most kept their print but one person asked Iain to send it to his mother in the South of England “I can’t express how happy I was to receive the photos of my son. It was so kind of you to go to the trouble of sending them. I was greatly relieved to see him looking both well and well turned out and I must say in good spirits too. I was glad to get your positive observations of my son. Thank you so much for your kindness.”

We were so pleased to be able to exhibit Iain’s photos as we launched our new multi-agency Access Hub in Glasgow. This new innovative service – in a beautiful, custom-designed venue – is all about making it much easier for people to get the support they need. To mark the occasion we also produced a newspaper featuring the portraits and some of the stories behind them.

See what you think of Iain’s project and the newspaper we created.

Photography by Iain McLean.