Five pounds

What would you do with a fiver?

That’s the question recently posed by Awesome Foundation Glasgow, as they handed out bright pink envelopes on Buchanan Street. They hoped the fivers would be put to good use; donated to charity, maybe used to purchase food bank items, or used to buy a hot meal for someone who needed one.

I happened to be in town that day and received one of the envelopes. I already had half a mind on what I’d do with it, and it’s been great to see the updates on social media on what others did with theirs. I decided to embrace the ‘fiver’ aspect rather than the monetary amount itself, and thought I’d buy tea and a hot roll for some of the many homeless people I see every morning as I walk to work. One person a day, Monday to Friday.

The homeless situation in Glasgow, like most other cities, is noticeably on the rise these past few years. I give change when I have it, but if I don’t I still try and make eye contact, still try and acknowledge that this is a fellow human being in front of me. I read an article earlier this year that touched on that, that the interaction can be more valuable than the amount, and can make a real difference to break the sense of isolation that many homeless people feel.

With that in mind I tried to spend a few minutes chatting to each guy (all of them were men) each morning. A couple were younger than me, a couple were older, one was foreign and didn’t have much English, one was from London and had heard that Glasgow was a friendly place.

And each morning as I walked away, heading to a warm office, the privilege of my life struck me, alongwith the horrifying realisation of how easily that could happen, to anyone, to me. A few changes of circumstance is all it would take.

The first morning I chatted to a guy called Darren, it wasn’t for more than a few minutes, but as I headed off he thanked me for talking the time to stop and talk to him. “That’s what ah miss most, you know, just chattin tae someone fur a bit”.

There is every chance I’ll see these guys again in the coming weeks and if I do I’ll stop and say hello. I might buy them a cup of tea, or give them a couple of quid, but the real takeaway from my week wasn’t about money.

Turns out that you don’t need five pounds to make a difference, just five minutes, and we can all spare that.