Category Archives: The Rucksack Project

Film Review – Hector, and a spotlight on homelessness

Hector Movie Poster

Quicker than a swirl of a lightsaber, the country has embraced the Dark Side. The hotly anticipated Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens has opened with gross earnings estimated to reach £1.3 billion. So on the weekend of the film’s release, I duly went out to the cinema – but not to see the fate of Han Solo – I went to see the heart-warming Hector, a film about a Glaswegian homeless man.

Hector is the directorial debut of Jake Gavin, known more for his photography skills. But on this showing, a bright film career beckons.

The film has already been hailed by some as the best Christmas movie this season. And this is a film that makes you count your blessings and instills a will to help those less fortunate than yourself. It’s not a shiny, sugary sweet fairytale but a story with a sharp gritty realism and grim settings.


We follow Hector’s journey, and he’s sensitively and expertly played by Peter Mullan. The Glaswegian actor is known for playing some down-right nasty characters. I only saw him in Sunset Song, just a few nights previous – where he was Chris Guthrie’s brutal father, a heinous hateful man with a heart full of demons. But here as Hector, Mullan shows an understanding and a softer touch. With a worn face, grey beard and with sometimes twinkly blue eyes, I would actually like to see him play a modern day Father Christmas in some kind of alternative festive story. But as Hector, he’s a man who’s been dealt a hard hand from life, and his back story unravels during his journey from Glasgow to a London homeless shelter to attend an annual Christmas dinner.

Hector Movie

The film is a stark reminder that for some people life cruelly snatches away those things we hold dear, and the phrase “there but for the grace of god, go I” springs to mind.

Hector and two of his homeless friends, joined by a dog called Braveheart, are sleeping where they can, in doorways, in toilets and under cardboard. There’s the everyday practicalities of being homeless, trying to keep clean, keep charge of your worldly possessions (thugs mug Hector and try to steal from him), and get access to medical help.

Then we join Hector on his journey. He’s suffering from ill-health, limping and using medication to keep pain at bay. There’s lots of motorway shots, as he hitches lifts, and we see the kindness of strangers. The high-vis jackets that “fall off the back of a lorry” and into the hands of the homeless, the church who gives him shelter and the cafes who feed him.

There’s the down points, as Hector tries to reconcile with his estranged family, after he “gave up on life” and disappeared for 15 years, and there’s also the fate and desperation of his homeless friends, Dougie played by Laurie Ventry and the young 18-year-old Hazel, played by Natalie Gavin.


When he gets to the London shelter we meet Sara, who works there, played by Sarah Solemani. She appears like an angel, a wonderfully kind, non-judgemental and humane character.


At the shelter we see various sides of homelessness, from the young boy, to a drop-out priest and an injured soldier, to the chancer-like Jimbo – played by Keith Allen – who turns in a good job in this role.

We don’t know their back story, but we still wonder what led them to where they are, and what their fate will be.

The men are treated with care and respect and receive the things we take for granted. Hot water, clean clothes, a bed and a hot meal. And I defy the hardest heart not to break down when a male choir sings a rendition of Abide with Me, to the men who sit quietly with their own thoughts.

This is a sensitively put together film which puts the plight of homelessness to the fore and challenges some perhaps pre-conceived perceptions.

It will also make you want to help others and I hope it leads to some charities receiving more help. There’s lots of great organisations around the country.

The Christmas appeal from  Glasgow City Mission has the tagline “Love Changes Everything” and you can donate £7 to give a homeless person a Christmas meal, while £22 will feed and support a homeless person for a month.

Social Bite is a great social enterprise café who help homeless people. Read more about them here –  Social Bite

and there’s still time to buy into the Social Bite Itison deal, it runs until 22nd December. Donate £5 to help feed a homeless person at Christmas and also help refugees in Europe.–3

I also love the good work of the Rucksack Project, where the Glasgow arm of this is organised by Lorna McLean. Thousands of rucksacks have been donated and delivered to help those in need.

See more at The Rucksack Project Glasgow who help many charities around the city and surrounding areas including the Simon Community Scotland

If only we could brandish a lightsaber and solve the world’s problems, in this universe and in any universe, no-one should be sleeping on the streets.

Peter Mullan interviewed by The Independent had this to say:

Your new film ‘Hector’ was out last week; ‘Star Wars’ was out this Thursday. That’s big competition. Why should we see ‘Hector’?

When it started off, Star Wars was about the little people taking on the Death Star and now it is the Death Star. So go and see little independent movies in protest against the Death Star. If you really want to help Luke Skywalker, go see Hector.

Read the full interview here: Peter Mullan interview – The Independent


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Filed under Charities, Charity, Film Reviews, Films, Glasgow Film Theatre, Scotland, The Rucksack Project

The Rucksack Project and The Invisibles

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.

Rucksack Project

Rucksack Project – Police Notice

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 Website

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.

People helping to sort through items at Glasgow's Rucksack Project

People helping to sort through items at Glasgow’s Rucksack Project

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.

The Rucksack Project

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.

The Rucksack Project

Lorna McLean – Glasgow Rucksack Project with some of the rucksacks

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:

The Invisibles

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.

STV News on The Invisibles T in the Park Project

The Invisibles logo

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.

The Rucksack Project Glasgow Facebook Page

Image taken from  The Rucksack Project

Image taken from
The Rucksack Project


Filed under Charities, Glasgow, Scotland, T in the Park, The Invisibles, The Rucksack Project