Asking our customers how we can help is part of our People First approach. After taking soundings from the Craigmillar community in Edinburgh, we agreed to provide a physical space in the heart of the community for a local hub that has become home to a clothing charity, a community charity and a digital access point.  It is also a thriving venue for events and provides youth work drop-ins as well as support for young mums.

Finding employment can be challenging, so one of the first organisations we offered free office space to at the Hub was Grassroots Clothing, a Scottish charity providing help and free-to-keep interview clothing to men in need. Dressing appropriately for interviews can make the difference between success and failure, not because of the outfit alone, but because of the impact good clothes and a helping hand from trained staff can have on an interviewee’s confidence. This charity is seeing some great results from their work.

For people on low incomes, accessing affordable food is becoming harder amid rising living costs. With funding from Places Impact Community Investment Fund, we have helped to address this by partnering with Community Renewal to establish The Hays Community Pantry at the Hub. It launched in May this year and gives local residents access to healthy, affordable food as well as providing volunteer opportunities.

Dawn Pocklington who lives nearby with her partner and five-year-old son is just one of many happy customers. She told us: “The Pantry is brilliant. I work as a carer, and I started using it about three weeks ago after friends recommended it to me. I have brought along the lady I care for too, and I really look forward to my visits. The produce is good quality and is affordable, and all the staff are friendly.

“It’s a huge help to me as it means I can pay my way with our household expenses, taking some of the financial pressure off my partner. I can pick up stuff from all the main supermarkets and even came away with a beautiful bunch of flowers which brightened up the house.. I prioritise picking up food that my son likes and there’s always plenty of choices.”

Forces veteran William Semple is one of Scotland’s most decorated soldiers. He left a Barnardo’s home at 17 to join the army. During his 22 years with the Second Battalion, Parachute Regiment, he witnessed major conflicts in Belfast in 1974, the Falklands in 1982, the Gulf in 1991, finally protecting UN food convoys in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the three years leading up to his retirement as company sergeant major in 1995.

William, who lives alone, believes the Pantry is the most wonderful thing and wants to spread the word. He said: “My neighbour recommended the Pantry to me, and I’ve been using it almost since it was set up. I’m now living on my pension and I wouldn’t go anywhere else. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am, and I would urge anyone to come along. You meet people who are friendly, kind, and respectful, and leave with bargains you won’t get anywhere else. There’s free fruit and veg available. These are the things people need these days, especially children.

“For me, I can now regularly enjoy things I used to have as a treat like red salmon and stewed steak. Whatever I spend at The Pantry I always make it up to the even number for the kitty to help them buy more food when stocks are low. Word is spreading in the community and queues are growing. It’s such a wonderful thing and its success is such a heart-warming story after everything we’ve been through.”

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