Many thanks to Kate Forbes for bringing this important debate to the chamber. As she said, there are many examples of great work being carried out by church-based community groups, and I will mention one or two of them.
For example, in recent years during the winter in Glasgow, a night shelter has provided shelter for people who otherwise would be sleeping outside. That has been organised by Glasgow City Mission and is hosted in the building of the Lodging House Mission—which was an offshoot of the Church of Scotland—but it is helped by many individuals. At first, Glasgow City Council was sceptical as to whether the shelter was needed and whether there really were people sleeping rough in Glasgow but, sadly, in recent winters, there have regularly been 40 homeless folk using it each night who would otherwise have been sleeping outside. I am glad to say that the city council has become much more involved in recent times and has been engaging with those in the shelter—they are mainly men, although there are a few women—to try to get them settled more quickly into proper accommodation.
That is a good example of the public and third sectors working together.
We perhaps have to accept that the public sector will always be a bit cumbersome and bureaucratic, whereas third sector organisations, be they faith-based or otherwise, can be a bit more nimble.
Another example, which is linked to Bethany Christian Trust, is Safe Families for Children, which has a base in the east end of Glasgow. Its basic concept is to help and support families—often those where there is just a single parent—who otherwise would not quite manage to cope on their own. Safe Families for Children can step in before things go as far as fostering or other more permanent and formal options. A single parent who is looking after their children full time can get a few days respite while the children are looked after by another family.
The church that I am involved in, which happens to be a Baptist church, is in Easterhouse in Glasgow. As people might know, that area has changed a lot over the years. The needs have changed and so the church input has changed, too. For example, we used to run a breakfast club because schools were reporting that kids were arriving at school in the morning having had no food. In fact, the only meal that many children had was their school lunch—they had no other food at all. However, Glasgow City Council has started running breakfast clubs in schools, so the need for churches and other groups to do that is not the same.
Easterhouse has changed over the years. When I moved in 27 years ago, the population was almost entirely white and English speaking, but there are now many more people from ethnic minorities. We have a number of folk whose English is pretty limited, so my church has started running English for speakers of other languages classes, often in a more informal way than the colleges can do.
We run a cafe with free tea and coffee and inexpensive food, which is attractive to adults with learning disabilities and their carers. Many of them used to go to the day centres that Glasgow City Council ran until it closed them down, which left folk with nowhere to go. The carers are often on a very limited budget, so they appreciate being able to bring their client somewhere warm and dry for a friendly chat.
I argue that our church is not unusual and that many Christian and other faith-based groups do similar work. However, I wonder whether there is a bit of a bias in some quarters against church-based community groups. That is certainly the feeling of some individuals and churches. In certain circles, the feeling is that the modern way to go is secular and humanist and that all faith-based activity is second rate. However, the motion mentions a “modern, plural Scotland”, and my understanding is that the term “plural” or “pluralistic” means that we are a tolerant society that accepts that there is more than one way of doing things.
For example, if we agree that the aim of food banks is to provide food for people who do not have enough, it should not really matter who supplies the food. I come from a faith background, and I am delighted if a humanist or anyone else supplies that food, but I hope that someone from a more secular background would also be delighted that Christians were doing such work.
I again thank Kate Forbes for bringing the motion to the Parliament for debate.