Social Bite Recognised with Prestigious Geographical Award

The Perth-based Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) presented their prestigious Livingstone Medal to Josh Littlejohn and Alice Thompson last night, the co-founders of Social Bite, for their contribution to tackling homelessness and raising the profile of the issue in Scotland.

 Founded in 2012, Social Bite began life as a small sandwich chain in Edinburgh. But it was no ordinary sandwich chain – as customers bought their food they could “pay forward” a meal for a homeless person to collect later. It was good food for a good cause.

 From these humble but thoughtful beginnings, Social Bite has gone from strength to strength, focussing the national spotlight on this important social issue, one meal at a time.

 Today, the charitable enterprise comprises a high-end restaurant in Edinburgh with the same “pay it forward” ethos as the sandwich shops. And a large proportion of their staff are now made up of people who have, in the past, directly experienced homelessness. Social Bite has also developed a supported village in Edinburgh to allow 20 homeless people each year to find their feet and begin a journey back into society. And, of course, it also runs regular “Sleep Outs” in cities across Scotland to fund their charitable aims – with the next major “Sleep Out” taking place in just four weekend’s time in four cities across Scotland.

 But, perhaps most importantly, with their high-profile events and support from the likes of George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio, Social Bite has well and truly moved homelessness up the political agenda in Scotland – raising awareness of the issue, changing attitudes and forcing a national response to this age old problem.

 To celebrate the achievements of Alice and Josh, the RSGS offered the pair their highest accolade – the Livingstone Medal, named in Honour of David Livingstone, the famed missionary who worked to address inequality and injustice in parts of Africa during the 19thCentury. And since the award was bequeathed in 1901, it has developed an incredible heritage of its own.

 Alice and Josh will be added to an illustrious list of previous Livingstone Medallists including Roald Amundsen, Ernest Shackleton, Edmund Hillary, Neil Armstrong and, more recently, Wangari Maathai, Annie Lennox and Mary Robinson.

 Commenting on the award, Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the RSGS said:

 “Over the past 6 years, Social Bite has helped improve the fortunes of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Through the offer of free food, training, jobs and accommodation they have helped break the cycle of exclusion faced by many homeless people, and done it in a way which provides respect and protects their dignity. 

 “Through the continued success of Social Bite, Josh and Alice have done much to promote national solutions to homelessness and forced us all to reconsider our own – and our society’s – response to this on-going issue.”

 Unfortunately, Alice was unable to accept the award in person at the RSGS headquarters in Perth due to ill health. Nevertheless, Alice was able to send her thanks ahead of the event:

“To be awarded the RSGS Livingstone Medal is an incredible honour – and one I could have never predicted 6 years ago when at 3am we realised we had not yet programmed the till in order to open the first Social Bite store at 6am! 

 “It’s particularly special to be recognised as the lesser known, younger and female Co-Founder of Social Bite – it means an awful lot to me to have been included in this award. I want to thank the RSGS from the bottom of my heart for this incredible recognition. Though we, of course, don't do the work we do for awards it truly leaves a profound feeling of unity and support to receive such a prestigious medal.” 

 Alice has just completed the first “Wee Sleep Out” where almost 5,000 young people across Scotland spent a night on the streets to raise money and awareness for homelessness in the country – and on a very cold night indeed. 

 Alister Hendrie, Vice Chair of the RSGS presented the award to Josh. He commented:

 “Alice and Josh embody the spirit of David Livingstone: a spirit of kindness, compassion and proactive, real-world solutions. It’s staggering to hear that Social Bite distributes 100,000 meals to homeless people in Scotland each year. And this, surely, demonstrates the best in Scotland, and the best in humanity.”

Image: Josh Littlejohn receiving his award at the Perth-based headquarters of the RSGS

Abigail Shepherd