The Grassmarket Community Project supports vulnerable adults who are referred or who self-refer through a range of engagement, physical, training, therapeutic and employability services and activities.
GCP delivers dozens of free activities and services each week for its members from its bright, welcoming hub, centre situated in the shadow of Edinburgh castle in the city’s old town.
From photography to walking groups, science discussions to writing classes, women’s groups to benefit support workshops, there are activities for anyone and everyone, all delivered by unpaid volunteers with a professional background.
The key to GCP’s success is to keep the cost of accessing activities as low as possible, and using them as a gateway to helping people access vital services, according to chief executive Jonny Kinross: “It starts with the fact that the activities are free, or very very cheap. That removes that barrier completely. People can see very quickly that it’s a very diverse community and that there’s no stigma attached with accessing services here.”
There are six social enterprises situated within GCP – a café, an events space, a wood workshop, a tartan textiles enterprise and two canteens on other premises. GCP also takes a social firm approach to its employment – 60% of the staff employed and 80% of the volunteers across the social enterprises face multiple barriers to work and have support needs.
This network of social enterprises gives GCP the flexibility to provide a comprehensive array of support, from providing a soup kitchen service, advice and support, counselling, groupwork, art activities, physical exercise, IT training and cooking classes, all the way through to offering part- or full-time volunteering opportunities, apprenticeships and paid work.
Jonny stresses that the bright, airy, welcoming feel of the building was very much part of the architect’s brief when designing GCP, to imbue members with a sense of self-worth.
“Critically the relationship between a building and someone’s wellbeing is that it should reflect something really positive – it should feel bright, spacious, well-maintained, clean.
“What’s very important for people who have low self-esteem or who don’t think highly of themselves for whatever reason, is that sense of deserving. We want them to think that they’re entitled to and they deserve the best quality services, the best quality building.
“They’re going to look after me because they look after the building, but also that this is going to be a part of my future. This bright future.”
The bulk of GCP’s revenue streams come from six distinct social enterprises which all fall under the GCP umbrella. Three of the six enjoy making healthy profits, which can be used to subsidise the activities of other ventures.
Crucially, though, all six of the social enterprises are used as a vehicle for training, engagement and life changing – employing and training people who would otherwise not be working or engaged in positive activity.
The Grassmarket Centre has a large, bright function room with modern facilities which generates healthy income by charging competitively for higher end events, while the café dovetails nicely with local walking tours, bringing in a constant stream of visitors and tourists to maximise profits.
The wood workshop refurbishes reclaimed material which can be sold on for profits, while the Greyfriars Tartan workshop produces a range of hand-crafted tartan gifts, including purses, wallets, stuffed Scottie dogs and cushions.
Over the course of a single year, over 340 members enrolled for GCP programmes and opportunities for vulnerable adults, with over 1,500 classes and activities delivered. Of these classes, a third involved training in work-related skills in one of the six social enterprises.
The centre delivered over 8,000 free meals, with 1,548 of these delivered to people roughsleeping or homeless, while 17 overnight stays allowed 47 people to enjoy a healthy, peaceful break with ongoing support.
Despite members typically being far away from the traditional labour market, 21 members entered employment, 14 secured college placements or full-time training, and 17 started volunteering.
GCP also sold over 1,000 pay-it-forward meals for people who are homeless.
I really think that the GCP and social enterprise’s approach is so good because you’re tapping into that social capital, and those people who are delivering those activities are there because they want to be there, because they choose to be there, and that sends a really good, really positive message to people that have very low self-esteem.