Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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I don't know what I'd do without this place

April 15 2011
The Glasgow City Mission serves people from all backgrounds and religions

It might surprise you to learn that the modern glass and chrome building on Glasgow’s Crimea Street houses a centre that originated in 1826. Founded by Glaswegian David Naismith, the Glasgow City Mission (GCM) was set up to pioneer a method of Christian care designed to meet people’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs. GCM was such a success that centres soon spread throughout the UK and, from this model, GCM ultimately extended across the world. Funded privately, largely by Christians sympathetic with its ethos, the Mission has retained its independence throughout the centuries.

And now, with homelessness services across Britain facing an average of 25 per cent funding cuts, according to a Homeless Link survey, and particularly harsh cuts affecting some Glasgow services, organizations funded by independent income could become more important to the city’s homeless population than ever before.

The city may have changed beyond recognition since the centre place was first founded, but for those in dire need of support, food and advice, the Mission has remained an essential lifeline. This is not to say that it has not experienced hard times. Just a few years ago, GCM was housed in a dilapidated building alongside the River Clyde. But with the property market booming in the city, the land was seen as valuable and was snapped up by developers who offered to build the Mission a new home in exchange.

Then boom became bust and, with the swanky building on Crimea Street as yet unfinished, the whole venture was plunged into uncertainty. At the eleventh hour the Scottish Government saved the day, offering funding to finish the building. And by the skin of its teeth, the centre was saved.

Now, with reports of record numbers accessing GCM’s services - “and not just the usual characters,” says centre manager Ewan Clydesdale - The Pavement Scotland popped into the centre to find out exactly how workers and guests are faring in these difficult times.

Clydesdale explained that the impending cuts would affect GCM and its services in some unexpected ways: “One of the blessings is that we’re not funded by the government which has its advantages - we’re independent,” he said. “We have noticed over the past 17 years how much money the Labour government put into homeless issues, such as tackling rough sleeping. However, I expect we might see more established characters who’ve lost their jobs coming through the door; that’ll be a new thing for us.

“We’ve also seen an increase in foreign nationals in recent years which has been a challenge but a nice addition and they are welcomed here. We practice the ethos of 'everyone needs support, everyone needs care'. That is fundamentally what we are about.”

He’s keen to stress that though this may be an organisation founded on a Christian ethos – they are there to serve people from all backgrounds and religions. The centre tries to offer a bit of everything. Dinner is served five times a week, there are showers and a laundry service. The range of workshops includes cookery, IT, English, music and art - as well as prayer groups - and there are plenty of friendly faces on hand to offer advice and support.

Clydesdale explained that the Mission is genuinely concerned about how other homeless services might cope as funding is cut: “If other places are financed through sources which see their funding cut, it worries us that we’ll be expected to pick up the slack,” he says. “We’re just open Monday-Friday, so it does concern me how it’ll go should other places find themselves in trouble. Who will look at those people who use that service?” Last month they extended their opening hours from four to five evenings a week in response to demand. “This week during the evenings, we’ve seen over 100 men coming through our doors. We are always busy,” explains Clydesdale.

Some of those may be new faces, he says, but others are old-timers who have long relied on the centre for support. One long-term service user is 41-year-old Davie, who has been in contact with GCM for over 15 years. He has gone full circle since the time he first walked through its doors, not only using the services but now volunteering to help out as well. “If I didn’t have this place I’d be stuck at home, constantly, looking at four walls and feeling not well but this gives me a lot of structure,” he tells The Pavement.

‘I’ve done a good few courses in here and I’m doing a “life skills” course at the moment. The last one I helped out in and the next one I’m actually running.” Davie feels that he’s benefited a great deal from the art and IT classes he’s been able to take at the centre. “They’ve helped me get into college and have made me feel better about myself,” he says with a smile.‘I wouldn’t know what I would do without this place, honestly I wouldn’t.” Davie is without doubt one of the GCM’s major success stories, but as I look around I can’t help but feel there are many more like him passing through the centre’s doors.

Being an independently run organisation certainly seems to have its advantages, granting the GCM more freedom to do things its own way. Let’s hope that funding will be found to match the increasing demand as cuts cause more and more people to flood through the centre’s doors.