I congratulate Kate Forbes on securing this important debate to highlight the work of Serve Scotland. I thank all the volunteers who are here in the public gallery and, more important, I thank them and all Serve Scotland’s volunteers for the time that they give. The Government appreciates their efforts.
Kate Forbes has told me that people whom Serve Scotland supports often go on to volunteer. That is a tribute to the volunteers and to the organisation as a whole. In my experience as a constituency MSP, I have found that folk who have benefited from others volunteering often take on the role of volunteer, and long may that continue.
I thank Shirley Berry, who was at the Serve Scotland stall earlier today, for the leaflet that shows the projects in my patch of Aberdeen, many of which I am aware of. Like other members during the debate, I have nothing but praise for the Aberdeen street pastors, who do an amazing job in my city. I am always struck by how church organisations rally round. The living well project cafe that I recently attended at Ferryhill church is another prime example of people doing good things.
Our country has a strong sense of social justice, and faith communities, including Christian communities, play a key part in that. Often, they are among the first to speak up for social justice and against poverty and inequality and to set up charities or projects to take practical steps to make a difference. We still see that today, and their role is vital.
I pay tribute to the range of projects that Serve Scotland covers. It provides, on average, 10 million hours of volunteering and paid work annually across Scotland, which is a truly remarkable achievement. Its approach to engagement with communities nurtures and encourages the historical and theological concept of selflessness and encourages loving one’s neighbour—words of faith put into action. The work of projects supports local organisations to grow effectively in their work of providing services in areas of poverty and debt advice, homelessness, addiction, refugee support, food banks and night shelters, as well as the many other areas that we have covered in the debate.
Partnering with organisations that adopt a faith-based but not faith-biased approach allows Serve Scotland to use best practice from existing projects to respond to the pressing and particular needs of local communities. I am sure that we all agree that the power of volunteers provides tremendous strength to the work in communities across our country. Those helpers and volunteers are taking positive action and giving their time up for others—not for fanfare or reward but because it is right and because of the rewards that volunteering brings them. That is the golden thread that runs throughout our families and communities; it gives pace and innovation to change and makes a difference every day.
We continue to face challenging economic circumstances and, unfortunately, people continue to live in poverty in Scotland. With further UK Government welfare cuts due to bite deeper, and with the roll-out of universal credit and certain policies due to push more families into poverty, the reality is that such work will continue to be important in reacting to local need.
A fairer and more equal Scotland is at the heart of the Government’s ambitions. Last year, the fairer Scotland action plan included the key message that it will take all of us to build a fairer Scotland. However, we are clear that our actions need to go hand in hand with those of community-based organisations, among others. Serve Scotland is an important part of those efforts and actively works to achieve equality for all by alleviating food poverty and building more connected communities day in and day out. That kindness and compassion is helping to improve the lives of people all over Scotland.
Glasgow’s and Dundee’s local Serve networks are unique, with many churches—including the independent churches and Christian organisations—involved in community projects. The networks create bridges between councils and faith groups, and the richness is that volunteers can attend and share their experiences directly with council representatives.
The networks contribute to greater interfaith dialogue. The launch event for Scottish interfaith week, which this year is taking place in Dundee, creates an opportunity for different faith communities to connect and engage in dialogue to foster mutual understanding and acceptance. The focus this year is on creativity and the arts. Scottish interfaith week will commence on Sunday 12 November and end on Sunday 19 November. It is an opportunity for people of all faiths and none to highlight their way of life, whether it be through artwork, architecture, music or dance.
We have heard from many members about the role that Serve Scotland has played in helping refugees and newcomers to our country. Serve Scotland’s contribution in that regard is clear. Scotland has a strong reputation as a country that welcomes people of all nationalities and faiths, including those who are seeking refuge and asylum from war and terror elsewhere. I pay tribute to the response of faith organisations and communities in supporting refugees who have come to Scotland. Our nation’s values are clearly apparent in the humanity that has been displayed to those who are most in need. People who have fled persecution, war, rape and displacement have found a warm welcome in Scotland, and the way in which our communities have responded has played a big part in that. I am immensely proud that, under the Syrian resettlement programme, we have received around 1,850 Syrian refugees since 2015. Serve Scotland and other similar organisations should be proud of their endeavours in making folk welcome here.
It is powerful to hear that more local networks will be developing in the coming months. Faith groups and community organisations such as Serve Scotland will continue to play a vital part in creating the Scotland that we all want to see. Modern Scotland is a strong multifaith and multicultural society, and I believe that our fundamental commitment to diversity and our celebration of difference will help to make this country a better place for everyone.
Finally, I thank all the folks who have volunteered for Serve Scotland—more power to their elbows.
Meeting closed at 18:17.