Serve Scotland

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 12th September 2017.

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Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

I congratulate Kate Forbes on securing this debate highlighting the excellent work that is carried out by the Serve Scotland coalition, which is a coalition of church-based community organisations that look at the needs of their local communities and provide services for them.

Ahead of the debate, Serve Scotland provided me with a list of the organisations that it is involved with that are working in the Highlands and Islands. Although I was aware of them all, reading the list I was struck by the fact that every age group is covered by one project or another. There are projects working with people from the very youngest to the very oldest people in our society.

In my region, street pastors are a common sight—from the city streets of Inverness to small towns. Kate Forbes and Graeme Dey mentioned that they are normally tucked up in bed when the street pastors are working, but I have seen street pastors working on cold, wet nights, helping people who are perhaps the worse for wear, and stopping to have a chat with people who are perhaps not clear about what they are going to do next. Sometimes, they must feel like tourist guides in the summer, because people ask them where they should go and what they should do, but they are a lifeline to people who find themselves in difficult situations. They work with other organisations—voluntary and statutory—to help people, and their presence also makes people feel safer. I have felt much safer when I have been walking home and have seen a street pastor, because I know that I am not on my own on the street. The street pastors are very hands on.

Other organisations have developed to offer a range of services. Kate Forbes talked about Blythswood Care. This might give away my age, but I remember when Blythswood Care started. Where I grew up, a local minister called Jackie Ross, who was also very active in the community, saw the plight of Romanians and decided to send practical help. A number of other people got involved by collecting goods and shipping them to Romania; I remember a great community effort to collect useful items that could be sent. I recently spoke to a friend who was one of the volunteer drivers, and he regaled me with stories of those times—some hilariously funny and some terrifying. It is hard to imagine now how difficult and trying those times were, but the volunteers brought much-needed help and practical support to the people for whom they catered.

Blythswood Care continued to work in Romania and extended beyond it to other parts of the world, but it is now better known at home for its work providing food banks locally. I am pretty sure that the founders never foresaw the circumstances in which the need that they catered for abroad would manifest itself on their own doorstep. That is something that we all wish was not required, but Blythswood Care now provides much-needed assistance at home as well as abroad. It employs 125 people and has in excess of 1,000 volunteers to provide those services. Although I truly wish that people did not need their help, many people owe their lives to them.

The debate highlights the practical impact of members of the Christian community who cater for need in their communities and beyond—often to people who do not share their religious belief. That does not matter, as long as they can help. Those organisations depend on volunteers who give of their own free time to help others. It is right that Parliament pays tribute to their work.