This is a late blog but it’s important, inspiring and relevant. It also highlights how social media can create a movement.
I found the Rucksack Project via a friend’s Facebook page. It made me curious and I checked it out. The idea was simple. Buy/find/donate an old rucksack – fill it with some essential items and bring it to a designated drop off point. It was being organised by Lorna McLean from Stepps near Glasgow.
There was a list of items and the drop off point was in Glasgow just before Christmas 2013. The rucksacks were then to distributed to homeless people around Glasgow. If you couldn’t make the day’s drop off point, there were plenty alternatives.
In this day and age, no one should be living on the streets without shelter, food or basic facilities. I also believe it’s much easier to end up in these situations than a lot of people may think. A case of “there but for the Grace of God go I”.
And although I worry about people sleeping rough, I also feel powerless. I buy a Big Issue and put some money in someone’s hat, but surely I can do more?
Someone who did more was Matthew White from Bristol. The story of how he founded the Rucksack Project can be found on the link below.
The Rucksack Project has grown steadily, with 2013 showing huge amounts of success, helped by social media. And 2013 was the first appearance of the project in Glasgow after Lorna decided to organise it. She had no idea how successful it was going to become and where it would lead.
So along with my usual Christmas shopping I added items such as a sleeping bag and a warm fleece. I duly packed my rucksack and when I got to the drop off point on December 22nd, I was amazed by the amount of rucksacks and the steady throng of people that kept appearing throughout the day. Inside the drop off point, located in a small tenement building, there was a room full of rucksacks. In another room a group of people sorted through extra items such as hats, socks and shoes. There were even tins of dog food brought in for people’s pets.
With not a Scrooge in sight, the true spirit of Christmas was captured in that building.Two friendly policemen also stopped by and joined in.
Lorna and her team then had the task of making sure the rucksacks found their new owners. There was an amazing 4000 plus bags waiting to be delivered. The team lost count in the end.
Because the response was so overwhelming and unexpected, the reach was widened and even more people were helped.
I contacted Lorna after the event and met up with her to speak about the project. I could see the overwhelming results and although there are successful Rucksack Projects running all through the UK, with a few others in Scotland (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Falkirk etc), the response to the project in Glasgow surpassed them all.
Why? I asked Lorna. She just laughed, shrugged her shoulders and said she knew she would get a great response in Glasgow, but even she didn’t anticipate just how successful it would be.
In the lead up to Christmas, the rucksacks were taking over her house, as her home also became a drop off point. At one point she could hardly get up her stairs.
Matthew White, the founder of the Rucksack Project noted with interest the success in Glasgow. Although Lorna doesn’t have an answer, I suspect it may be partly down to Lorna herself. She has a good network and she is a lovely and welcoming person. And social media seemed to really take off around the project in Glasgow.
Other homeless charities have now also been speaking to Lorna, including the Glasgow Simon Community, Glasgow’s Marie Trust and the Glasgow City Mission.
The Marie Trust highlighted that help can be extended not only to the homeless but to the many other people in need. The increasing numbers visiting food banks demonstrate how vulnerable some people are becoming.
Then along came T in The Park and another excellent idea, again noticed via social media. Again the idea was simple – instead of leaving your sleeping bag at the campsite donate it to a homeless person.
This idea was run by an organisation called The Invisibles fronted by Dermot Hill, a railway maintenance man, who had often witnessed the plight of the homeless around railways.
Read their statement here:
All in they collected around 1,100 sleeping bags, 500 from T in the Park revelers, around 75 from another collection point and 500 were also donated by Tangerine Fields, a private company who set up tents at T in the Park.
Now Lorna says The Rucksack Project and The Invisibles are talking about meeting to discuss perhaps working together on some projects. And another Rucksack Project is also planned for this December.
All of the above highlights the possibilities. Social media makes connecting and promoting easy. If you have an idea you can create a movement and inspire others. Sometimes we need people like Matthew White, Lorna McLean and Dermot Hill to take up the baton and guide us there, but we can all join them.
One story from Lorna McLean stayed with me. During the Christmas drop-in day, a lady appeared with a bag to donate, but she clutched it tight to her, reluctant to let it go. Eventually she handed it over and explained it was her own bag which she used when she was homeless. Now she was passing it to someone else who needed it, to help them through a difficult stage. At one point perhaps that bag was her life. Now she was handing it over. Her life now back on track, maybe she was able to close that chapter but it was evident it was an experience that would always remain with her.
Image taken from
The Rucksack Project