Social Bite entrepreneur and college principal awarded honorary degrees
The woman who persuaded the celebrated actor George Clooney to come to Edinburgh for lunch has received an honorary degree from Queen Margaret University (QMU) today (6th July).
Alice Thompson, co-founder of the social enterprise, Social Bite, received the Degree of Doctor of the University, Honoris Causa at the QMU graduation ceremony. She was joined by Ann Southwood, former Principal and Chief Executive Officer at Newbattle Abbey College, who was presented with the Degree of Doctor of Education, Honoris Causa. Both women celebrated their achievements alongside 800 students and their families at an impressive ceremony in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall.
Along with co-founder Josh Littlejohn, Alice Thompson is well known for establishing Social Bite, the social enterprise and campaigning organisation that is transforming the lives of homeless people. A former QMU Events Management student, Alice Thompson, and her colleague Josh, have achieved so much through Social Bite in a relatively short space of time. Both are still in their mid 20s, but already the dynamic duo have established five social enterprise cafes throughout Scotland, a high end Edinburgh restaurant that feeds homeless people and other diners, and a pay it forward system where customers can buy food in advance for homeless people. The team also ran ‘Sleep in the Park’, the world’s largest sleep-out, which took place in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens in December 2017.
With the £3.6 million raised from Sleep in the Park, this year, Alice and Josh launched the Social Bite Village, eleven purpose-built homes for the homeless located in Granton, Edinburgh. The new homes are beautifully designed timber-built compact homes, cosy and thoughtfully equipped – creating an alternative to the sub-standard and ineffective temporary accommodation solutions that are the norm. Through developing this housing model, she and Josh are fundamentally challenging current approaches to tackling homelessness by advocating a ‘Housing First’ approach. Rather than making extremely vulnerable people sleep rough or in hostels or B&Bs, the Housing First system gives people a secure home and then puts in place a support structure to help them sustain their tenancy and re-integrate into society. By providing a package of accommodation, clinical support and employment at the Social Bite Village, Alice and Josh aim to break the cycle of homelessness. The Social Bite Village is part of their ‘800 Homes’ campaign through which they aim to take a minimum of 800 rough sleepers out of homelessness in the next 18 months.
In addition to her many achievements, Alice has also found time to host George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Prince Harry and the now Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, at Social Bite cafes. When 8000 participants slept out in sub zero conditions during Sleep in the Park, they were treated to a bedtime story from John Cleese, breakfast rolls served by the First Minister and her team, and music from stars including Liam Gallagher. Indeed, Alice’s flare for PR has helped to bring Social Bite to the attention of the masses.
Ann Southwood has had a long and distinguished career in careers guidance, then further education, culminating in her role as Principal and Chief Executive Officer at Newbattle Abbey College, which she took up in the year 2000. This year, on her retiral from Newbattle, she was recognised as the longest serving principal of a further education college in Scotland
Newbattle Abbey College is a residential adult education college, situated on the outskirts of Dalkeith, which offers adults with few or no qualifications the opportunity of a transformative learning experience within a historic heritage site. The historical building and peaceful setting make it a unique place to learn for people who are returning to education to study full time or take part in the College’s short course programme. Newbattle has inspired many people to return to education and transform their lives, from a number of MSP’s to George Mackay Brown, the Orkney poet and author.
Ann was instrumental in ensuring that the original vision for the college continues to be delivered, extending that vision to include individuals whose family circumstances would normally have excluded them from further study. Thanks to Ann’s determination, Newbattle Abbey College is now recognised as the national provider of adult education, and it has recently launched the hugely respected Adult Education Awards that are now raising the profile of adult education throughout the UK. Given that only 45% of the college’s funding comes from public funds, it is a testimony to Ann’s leadership that the college is now in a strong financial position, and continues to grow its provision to meet both regional and national needs.
Ann has nurtured links with all four Edinburgh universities, the strongest of which is with QMU.
Under Ann’s leadership, Newbattle has worked with QMU to develop different pathways into University, including the creation of an HNC Social Sciences, which allows students to be recognised as associate students of QMU and, on successful completion, to transfer seamlessly into level two of the University’s social sciences degrees. Demand for the programme quickly led to the growth of associate student numbers, to acclaim from politicians and policy-makers.
Professor Petra Wend, Principal of Queen Margaret University, said:
"We are delighted that, today, our students have the opportunity to learn about the careers of the social entrepreneur, Alice Thompson, and education specialist, Ann Southwood, and to be inspired by their achievements."
She continued: “Alice took a risk, by taking a break from her studies to start an internship. This decision led to her collaboration with Josh - with Social Bite launching when Alice was just 21 years of age. Her story helps to demonstrate what is achievable when people combine raw enthusiasm, flexibility, partnership and a deep-felt social conscience. Her work fits perfectly with QMU’s commitment to social justice and our drive to support social enterprises.
“Ann’s role in achieving financial stability for Newbattle Abbey College and establishing its place in the Scottish educational landscape over the last seventeen years has been exemplary. Her drive to support adult learners, regardless of background, to achieve their potential through college and university education, fits with QMU’s commitment to widening access and equality of opportunity.”
Notes to Editor
Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
- Our vision is to be a university of ideas and influence. Our mission is to foster intellectual capital with both a theoretical and practical focus, giving students and staff the confidence to make a real difference to the world around them.
Queen Margaret specialises in professional education and research that informs the development of policy and practice in health, drama & creative arts, media & social science and business & enterprise. We are known not only for excellent, relevant teaching, research and knowledge exchange but also for the care and respect we give our students, staff and partners. As a thriving campus university we strive to create a community without borders, helping to improve people's lives locally, nationally and internationally. We are ambitious and enterprising, and, in everything we do, we are committed to social justice.
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