FOR hundreds of years, the Merchants House in Glasgow has quietly and kindly supported those in need.

The organisation, one of the city’s biggest charitable institutions, distributes around £700,000 every year.

Its website is full of grateful testimonials from groups and individuals, which highlight the vast range of good causes it supports with much-appreciated grants.

The £10,000 to Finding Your Feet, for example, to boost the charity’s efforts to address the emotional impact of amputation; the £2000 for Music in Hospitals & Care (MiHC), which will help the group bring live music to 100 more people in care homes in Glasgow; and the £28,000 for a minibus to help veterans and their families at Erskine get out and about.

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But the funding pot at the Merchants House, boosted by the building’s recent reinvention as an elegant wedding and event venue, is only half the story.

“We were keen to look at ways of leveraging the skills, experience and contacts we have here, to look at the bigger picture,” explains current Lord Dean, Ian Dickson.

“We receive many requests for funding every year, and all are considered thoroughly - there are so many good causes out there that we are delighted to support.

“But in recent years, rather than simply handing out grants, we have become keen to have an impact on social issues – to actually tackle areas of social need.”

He adds: “And homelessness is Glasgow’s most visible social need.”

Addressing the link between mental health and homelessness is key, says Ian.

“It is a source of extreme personal disquiet to see so many people sleeping on the streets of our city, and having to cope with the life that goes with that,” he explains.

“It is hard to hear the stories – people who would rather sleep on the streets than risk being vulnerable somewhere else, and those who are suspicious of offers of help, because they have been treated badly and let down before.

“So we decided to team up with the charity Social Bite, who are already having a huge impact on homelessness through a range of initiatives, to try and tackle the problem from a different angle.”

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The result is a £200,000 Social Impact Partnership with Social Bite, the charity and social enterprise fighting to eradicate homelessness from Scotland.

The Merchants House is donating £100,000 each year for the next two years to help homeless people sleeping rough in Glasgow, many of them with mental health and employability issues, into permanent housing and employment.

Just a few months in, it is already having an impact.

Alice Thompson, co-founder of Social Bite and 2018 Evening Times Scotswoman of the Year finalist, explains: “Merchant’s House has been an incredible partner in some of our most crucial work.

“The £200,000 is supporting our Housing First programme, which pioneers a new housing policy focussing on giving those who have been chronically homeless for a long time a permanent home quickly, alongside individual support.”

Alice points out that some key shelters, relied upon by many rough sleepers, have closed down.

She adds: “So far we have housed 56 people, 29 of whom are in Glasgow.

“Our focus is on prioritising people in the very worst circumstances, who are sleeping on the cold, wet streets of Scotland.

“This means that 29 people who were once sleeping rough in Glasgow are now in a permanent home of their own and receiving the kind of crucial support which is missing from our current housing system.

“This support is what makes the Housing First policy so effective, and so sustainable for the tenants. It makes an enormous difference in helping to make someone’s life more manageable and prevents them from falling back into the cycle of homelessness.”

Social Bite is working in partnership with the Scottish Government on Housing First, as Alice explains.

“We will continue to house people over the next 12 to 18 months until all 830 homes have been filled with people who need security and support the most.”

Ian Dickson believes the Housing First Initiative represents a “paradigm shift” in how homelessness is addressed.

“We want to work with a range of partners on this – the charities, like Turning Point and the Simon Community, who know the city’s homelessness problem inside out; Loretto and the Salvation Army; the Scottish Government and other organisations like the Chamber of Commerce.


“A home and a job are key in tackling this issue, and the social need is critical. We want to take a leading role in Glasgow.”