WHO would have thought a sandwich shop would feed the dreams of two homeless men?
Sonny Murray and Billy McCondochie grew up in Glasgow in shattered homes and crawled their way through care homes, prison and homeless units. Their existence was dominated by drink, drugs and violence. But in their mid-30s they both realised it was time to break the spiral.
That is where Social Bite, set up by Josh Littlejohn and his partner and co-founder Alice Thompson, comes in. The sandwich shop chain, with two shops in Edinburgh and now in Glasgow’s St Vincent Street, not only turns profits over to charities, but its recruitment policy guarantees one in four staff are from the ranks of the homeless.
Mr Murray said the Social Bite had turned his life around. “I was turning up at the Social Bite at the end of the day because they give out unsold sandwiches free,” he said. “I loved the idea of the business, how it cares for people and so I asked Alice for a job.
“Clearly I represented a risk, because I was homeless and on a drug detox programme, but she gave me a chance. And because I landed a full-time job I was able to get accommodation.
“My life has changed, thankfully, and thank God because I’ve got a girlfriend with a baby girl on the way in May. It means we can have life together under one roof.”
Mr Murray, who was taken into care as a youngster, ‘fell in with the wrong crowd’, took to drugs, which led to shoplifting to feed the habit, which led to prison, and the loss of his council house. While sleeping rough last year he determined to turn his life around. He has been drug-free for several months.
“The Social Bite took a chance on me,” he said. “Now, I want to progress with them. I love it.”
He added, smiling: “And if my cheesecake is anything to go by, I will be successful.”
Mr McCondachie was taken into care at the age of 13. But his life truly darkened when aged 16 he was slashed twice on the face in a random attack. He became fearful, he turned to alcohol and drugs found himself in prison for a long series of ‘silly’ offences.
“The scarring changed me,” he said. “I lost the plot. And I ended up spending my life sleeping on friends’ couches. But then I heard about the Social Bite from Street Soccer.”
The social inclusion football programme is run by former Rangers player Ally Dawson.
“Street Soccer encouraged me to go for a job with the new Social Bite in Glasgow,” says Mr McCondachie.
“I did, and it’s been fantastic for me. I work as a chef, having learned to cook in prison.”
Surveying the new Glasgow shop, he added; “What’s also great for your self-esteem is I’ve actually been given the keys to open the shop. For the first time in my life I’m being trusted.”
He added: “What I do want is people in the same situation to know there is hope. And the Social Bite has given me that.”