Serve Scotland

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

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Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

I, too, thank Kate Forbes for her motion and for securing the debate. I also congratulate Serve Scotland on its establishment and the work that it does. It is fitting that the debate comes on the back of last week’s members’ business debate on the Boys Brigade juniors 100th anniversary.

As I say regularly in the chamber, my constituency sits in part of Scotland’s old industrial heartland. Unfortunately it has—this fate has befallen many such areas—fallen into deprivation. Although we are all working towards changing that, the community still struggles. However, out of that adversity—as is always the case—springs good. The church and faith groups are very much leading that work.

Since I became an MSP last year, I have learned first-hand exactly how much work is going on. I could not possibly mention in the three minutes that I have left everybody who has contacted me or whom I have had contact with in my constituency who is involved in church-based community groups, so if anyone is watching this I ask them, please, not to be offended if I do not mention them.

I will mention a few of the organisations in the time that I have, starting with Teen Challenge’s project in Coatbridge, which is a team of volunteers from churches within my constituency. Its bus ministry is a place where vulnerable people with addictions can meet for a couple of hours for food, company, advice and support. Addiction support workers are on hand to support people who are in the beginning stages of recovery. Upwards of 40 people can attend the individual sessions, which take place outside the high-rise flats at Jackson Court. I mention that area specifically because it was recently placed in the top 10 of the Scottish index of multiple deprivation. The church groups, having noticed that information, responded to it. I have been to the bus ministry a couple of times and witnessed its work.

Another example is the helping hands soup kitchen. In 1996, the Society of St Vincent De Paul in Coatbridge realised that the town needed a soup kitchen. The purpose is to relieve the need, the hardship and the distress of people by offering practical assistance—especially by providing a meal of hot soup or sandwiches free of charge. The soup kitchen is open 361 nights of the year. The main service users are young men and women with alcohol or drug addiction issues. The volunteers come from churches throughout Coatbridge.

I will touch on the Conforti Institute, which is a global interreligious and intercultural organisation that promotes integral liberation. I am proud that that global organisation is based in Coatbridge. Its work includes a volunteer prison ministry and faith-rooted social justice activism. It also operates a food bank in the town. In 2016, the food bank supported 1,389 adults, 924 children and 338 pets.

I will stick to food banks—a topic that other members have mentioned. The Basics Food Bank for Lanarkshire, which is based in Coatbridge, is run by the Coatbridge Baptist church. I understand that 51 per cent of all referrals are benefit and/or state-welfare related. In August 2017 alone it gave out 148 food parcels, of which 48 went to families and 100 to individuals.

I want to mention the Coatbridge community orchard, which was set up initially through the Hope church in Coatbridge, which is involved in a range of other activities. The orchard helps a lot of people who are struggling with addiction issues to come together to find and to use other skills. I attended the opening of the orchard and am proud to have planted a tree.

There are so many more organisations that I could mention, including the Chryston parish church, which provides a clothes bank, and the go between project in Townhead, which provides a job club.

I will end with a point similar to that which was made by Ross Greer. Where would Coatbridge and Chryston be without those organisations? It has taken my becoming an MSP to realise the full extent of their work, and it is my job to speak in debates such as this one, and to promote the good work that they do and to do everything that I can as the local MSP to help them to continue. I leave it at that, Presiding Officer.