Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Scots Wahey!

May 20 2009
Charity aims to double the number of people it reaches within five years The Streetcar character Blanche Dubois said she always relied on the kindness of strangers, but unfortunately for the rest of us it isn't always that easy. So having a common bond through an interest or background can make a real difference, whether it is a case of striking up a conversation or asking for a favour. Scotscare is an organisation with a 400-year tradition of helping people living in London who have a link to Scotland to get themselves back onto their feet. The name, a recent change from the Royal Scottish Corporation, was designed to give a 'does what it says on the tin' feel. "It communicates better what we are about," says chief executive, Willie Docherty. Since Docherty took hold of the reins five years ago, he has tried to encourage the charity to move in a more innovative direction. Having assessed research that shows which people are most likely to fall into patterns of drink and drug abuse or to become homeless, their major target group is now men aged between 25 and 45. "This group isn't a priority for anyone in terms of housing and help, and so they are more likely to be on the streets," Docherty says. The team, which is made up of 17 core people, also aims to help vulnerable elderly and families. However, the Scottish link remains a constant requirement, as it is laid out in the constitution of the charity. "To us that means you have to be Scottish or second generation Scottish," says Docherty. People have to prove this with a birth certificate or passport, but Scotscare will apply for one on someone's behalf. After that, an assessment is made of what the person needs, which could be anything from information on benefits, to help finding accommodation, buying a meal or getting some clothes. If someone genuinely wants to return to their home across the border, the charity will help them buy a ticket back to Scotland, but Docherty says this is by no means the ethos of the charity. "We want to help people maintain themselves in London, but if that doesn't work out for them, then we will help them to return. It's not something we encourage though," he adds. Docherty says he strongly believes that the charity is just as relevant now as it was when first set up in 1603, with James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England. In those days, wealthy Scots put money into a 'Scots box' to help their fellow countrymen. The charity receives an income from a permanent endowment policy, but as the numbers of people seeking help increase, the charity is looking more towards donations to supplement their funds. While the funding might have become more sophisticated, the aim remains the same. "There are 340,000 people living in London with a Scottish connection," he says. "Ten per cent of those will live in deprived circumstances. What we want to do is connect the wealthy Scots with those who are not." The cultural identity of being a Scot in London creates a bond which Docherty and his team are keen to pursue. "Any nationality likes to get together when they are away from home, and the Scots are no different. Relating to others who share your cultural identity can really make a difference," he says. As well as providing essential help with finances and shelter, Scotscare organises several social events with the aim of introducing people to each other and breaking down barriers that keep people isolated. "We are seeking to create a Scottish harmony," says Docherty. "To do that we need to communicate with all the Scots in London." He says that Scotscare is aiming to double the number of people it currently reaches, around 10 per cent of those who he feels need it, within five years. A major obstacle was the integration of Scottish people into the local community. "There are no Scottish enclaves around the city, as there usually are with foreign nationals," he says. "We need to reach more people and make them aware." He admits that the age of the organisation had made them complacent about promoting themselves in the past. "For a long time we expected people to find us," he says. "We've realised that this was not the case. We have changed the name to make it clear to all what we do, and to reach out to more people." As far as Docherty is concerned, the Scottish community in London is more than capable of supporting any of those who are struggling in the city. "Either you need us or we need you," he says. The Scotscare team runs three free lunches a month in various locations around London. The Bloomsbury Church lunch takes place on the second Wednesday each month, about 11.30am. Anyone with a Scottish connection is welcome to turn up.