Into the 2020s

As Duncan Cuthill completes his 6th year with Edinburgh City Mission, he reflects on the growth of the Mission and God’s incredible provision throughout.

Published July 2023.

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2020 started with us on our knees!

Our vision is to help create a mission movement across Edinburgh and the surrounding area by being a catalyst for new outreach activities through praying with, and partnering, local churches. We hope to grow our outreach team by 30+ “Mission Strengtheners”.

However, for years, Edinburgh City Mission has struggled financially.

At the start of 2020, I was two and a half years into my role as the new CEO and had made various changes such as creating a new mission statement (“stimulating and strengthening the church’s mission in Edinburgh”), finding a new location in Polwarth for us to move our office to, growing our outreach team, developing new community projects, and launching a new logo and website so that we could communicate our work more effectively. Our church-based Foodbank+ network (previously Basics Banks) was getting busier every year and so it was helpful to have a bigger team, but year after year we were running a deficit of about £90,000 and our reserves were quickly disappearing. We needed a miracle!

Just before the 2020s started, we initiated City Vision, a monthly prayer meeting which rotates round different churches across the city, and we started Open Table monthly prayer meetings for anyone working in a Christian charity in Edinburgh. These prayer meetings laid the groundwork for what God was going to do this decade. The growth that God has given has been sustained through our commitment to the church, prayer and unity.

“I believe with all my heart that the city will be transformed by a prayerful, strong, vibrant and growing City Mission which is ‘stimulating and strengthening the church’s mission in Edinburgh.’”

These are the words that I wrote for my part of the “Meet the Team” section of our website when I started as CEO in July 2017. This quote has remained unchanged for 6 years because I still believe it! I came into my new role with a clear sense of calling – it is my dream job. And God had given me a clear vision: for the City Mission to pray for and help Edinburgh churches love and support people in their local communities – to love our neighbours.

By January 2020 we had a lot in place to begin to make this dream a reality but we needed resources, we needed funding.

Psalm 4 verse 3 says that: “The Lord hears when we call to him.” It takes faith to believe that. Praying is an act of faith. We were praying for – and had faith for – a miracle!

In February 2020, it was suggested to us that we absorb an Edinburgh-based refugee agency called Edinburgh Churches for Sanctuary into the City Mission. We offered to do so on what turned out to be the very same day as Edinburgh Churches for Sanctuary was closing! We named this new project “Salaam” which means “Welcome” and “Hello” in Arabic, much like the Hebrew word “Shalom”. One of our team who was working in two of our partner Foodbanks took on the role of supporting refugees and asylum seekers in Edinburgh. Expanding our outreach into this vital area was a step of faith.

In March 2020, everything changed.

The World Health Organisation declared that Covid-19 was a pandemic and the UK went into lockdown. In the first week of lockdown, we started a second Edinburgh City Mission Soul Food meal in partnership with Soul Food Edinburgh and Carrubbers Christian Centre, served as “grab and go” meals in line with the Covid-restrictions; we opened The Storehouse, a new food storage and distribution centre in Sighthill; we launched a Facebook fundraising campaign to raise £15,000 to buy “top-up” food to be distributed to our foodbanks; and we began to spend £800 a week on food and other essentials, which we’ve continued to do ever since. Simultaneously, our income started to increase from a variety of sources: more one-off donations from individuals; more people became Mission Enablers (monthly donors supporting our work); we received more funding from Trusts, Foundations and the City of Edinburgh Council; and two churches made one-off donations to help us face the challenges of growing food insecurity.

Later in 2020, we entered into a new partnership with Citizens Advice Edinburgh, providing advice and support for people who were affected by the serious impact of fuel poverty; we opened a Clothesbank+ in partnership with Central Church in Tollcross; and we launched Nations, a new project where we stimulate and strengthen the work of ethnic minority and foreign language fellowships, supporting non-native English-speaking churches in and around Edinburgh, as well as listening to other people’s stories through A Place at The Table, interviews with people from other cultures who are living here.

2020 is probably a bit of a blur for most of us now – it certainly is for me.

Amazingly, our income increased so much in 2020 that we ended the year in surplus! Although it was an incredibly difficult year, it was really exciting to see God answer our prayers and enable us to support many more people across the city.

In 2021, everything sped up!

Here is a very brief summary of what happened in Edinburgh City Mission in 2021: The Care Van went out over 600 times; we continued to serve 130 – 150 meals a week at our two Soul Food meals; the Foodbank+ network got much busier, providing food support for over 4,000 people; our Salaam team, supporting refugees and asylum seekers, grew – just in time for us to be able to provide support (together with six local churches) to Afghan refugees who arrived from Kabul in the autumn; An Open Hand, a birthday toy delivery service, was launched in partnership with Greenbank Church; a new shed was bought for our allotment in Craigentinny; scoping work started for Two’s Company, a befriending scheme for older people, in partnership with Linking Lives UK; and our first Peaced Together crafts course for women was launched.

In 2021, we continued to “stimulate and strengthen the church’s mission in Edinburgh” despite the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we sharpened our focus to reflect the concern that Jesus showed for the most disadvantaged members of the community and the growing breadth of our ministries. We all have challenges to overcome, but life is particularly difficult for people who are experiencing deprivation (The Care Van, Foodbank+ network, Clothesbank+, Soul Food meals and An Open Hand), exclusion (Salaam and Nations) and/or isolation (Salaam and Two’s Company).

2022 – The Growing Team

In 2022, we grew our outreach team in response to the cost of living crisis and the arrival of new refugees to the city; we launched a new website to communicate our vision and activities more attractively and clearly; we passed over one of our Soul Food meals to the host church, Carrubbers Christian Centre, having stimulated mission by initiating the meal in March 2020; we created a new Storehouse and Food Van Coordinator role and bought a new Food Van called “Hope on the Move” for deliveries to our Foodbank+ network and remaining Soul Food meal at the Methodist Church; we continued to spend £800 a week on top-up food and other essentials for our Foodbank+ network and Soul Food meal; we launched Two’s Company, a befriending scheme for older people, in partnership with Linking Lives UK; we relaunched our Gap Year scheme; and we moved into a new office in Dalry to accommodate our larger team.

2023 – Gathering Pace

This year we have seen a huge increase in referrals to our foodbanks with nearly 1000 referral agents now referring people into our network. We received a large grant from Edinburgh Council to enable us to help foodbank guests struggling with fuel poverty. We focussed on human trafficking at our annual Restless for Mission conference and organised a follow-up training event with SOHTIS (Survivors of Human Trafficking in Scotland).  In January, we launched a new conversational English cafe in partnership with a couple of churches and Community Catalyst prayer meetings for church-attached community workers.

We are: continuing to grow our team with three new people joining our Food+ team this year; we have partnered with Wayfarer arts group, promoting regular artists’ gatherings that Wayfarer are hosting in Edinburgh; we are about to launch Kids Matter, a parenting course for families on low incomes; and we are launching a men’s walking group.

Looking Ahead

I’m thankful to God for Edinburgh City Mission’s growth in the 2020s: in particular, for the high calibre of people in our team, the  commitment of the volunteers who are involved in our partner projects, the breadth of outreach activities that we are now providing, the increase in our partnerships across and around the city, and the increase in our income. We are stepping out in faith again this year, increasing our team and planning to spend an additional £100,000 beyond what we spent in 2022, praying that God supplies our needs through the generosity of individual donors, churches and Trusts. Please get in touch with us if you would like to learn more about our impact or partner with us by becoming a Mission Enabler monthly donor.

Our vision is to help create a mission movement across Edinburgh and the surrounding area by being a catalyst for new outreach activities through praying with, and partnering, local churches, “to stimulate and strengthen mission in Edinburgh.”

Every year we encourage new church-based outreach projects through our annual conference, Restless for Mission. We want to find the dreamers in the city and come alongside them (or you!), to pray and work with them and help turn vision into reality.  Our theme in 2024 will be “Loving our Neighbours.”

In our city, for our city.

We are continually looking for ways to help churches love their neighbours, especially those who are experiencing deprivation, exclusion and/or isolation, which in turn will lead to these individuals flourishing, communities thriving and God being glorified.

Our hope and prayer is that we will see more people become followers of Jesus and have their lives transformed through Him and our work. Please join with us in praying for this!

Duncan Cuthill, Chief Executive


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