The Big Hoose providing big help to poverty-stricken families across Perth and Kinross

Still in its infancy, the Big Hoose project provides a life line to struggling families and builds on a model originally developed in Fife and now replicated in Dundee as well as Perth and Kinross.

Following a devastating national poverty survey in 2019 which revealed that 2.6 out of every 6 children in Fife were living in poverty, the Big Hoose was born. The brainchild of The Cottage Family Centre, who have been helping families across the region for decades, the concept was simple. With rampant inflation driving up the cost of fuel, food and everyday consumer items, thousands of families were struggling to afford even basic items. At the same time, large consumer retailers were sending tonnes of unwanted goods to landfill due to shortages of space in their warehouses. The Big Hoose is about making these wasted household goods available free of charge to the people that need them the most, distributed via local third sector partners and statutory government departments.

The first Big Hoose hub was set up in Fife in 2022 and in its first year, distributed over a hundred thousand goods to 42,000 families. By the end of last year, this had risen to a staggering million plus goods to 118,500 families. The project received a major boost when former Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath MP Gordon Brown, a patron of the Cottage Family Centre, became involved. Mr Brown grew up in Kirkcaldy in the 1950’s and saw first hand the devasting effects of child poverty. Through his connections, Mr Brown brokered a deal with global retailer Amazon. At that point Amazon were sending over £10 million pounds of goods to landfill, representing a huge environmental and PR cost for the organisation.  Releasing the significant ESG benefit, Amazon are now one of the primary suppliers to the Big Hoose. 26 other retail partners have also signed up including Scotmid, Co-op, Asda and Fishers laundry.

In 2023, the first Big Hoose was set up in Dundee through the Dundee Bairns Charity and later in the year, the first hub was opened on Shore Road in Perth, managed by PKAVS. In its first 5 months, the Perth branch has distributed over 18,000 items to more than 800 families and over 1,400 children. The Perth hub has received funding from several organisations, including grants from the Gannochy Trust to fund running costs, a storage and distribution unit from Perth and Kinross Council and the lease of a van from the Tayside Health Fund.

The Perth branch work with a range of local referral partners who distribute the goods direct to families. These include the Aberdour Childrens Group, Homestarts, Perthshire Welfare Society, Fairview School, Families Empowering Communities, as well as social workers and health visitors.

Paul Paterson, Big Hoose coordinator said: “I joined PKAVS last year specifically to get involved in The Big Hoose. The job sold itself and to get the chance to improve people’s lives is an honour.

Working with local referral partners we can reach the families that need our support the most. Unlike a food bank, we are not open to the public and we find this works better for all sides. There is a certain stigma to using these kinds of services. Understandably some people may feel ashamed or embarrassed and won’t use a multibank or food centre as a result. Because our goods are distributed through partners that work directly with families, those barriers don’t exist. Over the next few years, we look forward to helping more families as we continue to invest and grow our capability across the region.”

Gordon Brown was quoted in the Perthshire Advertiser saying: “We want to do everything we can to help low-income families in Perth and Kinross make ends meet. I’m delighted that Perth and Kinross is the latest community to start a multibank in Scotland and I applaud the work of PKAVS, the Gannochy Trust and Perth and Kinross Council in taking the project forward. In the last year alone, the project has distributed over 1 million goods across Scotland.”

The future certainly looks bright for the Big Hoose. At the end of last year, the first centre opened in Wigan to serve Greater Manchester and even more recently a new hub opened in Swansea in southwest Wales. With so many warehouses and distribution hubs across the UK, large retailers need Big Hoose centres nearby to send their waste products to. The project therefore has huge growth potential, and this small project that started from a warehouse in Fife, could become one of the UK’s biggest multibank concerns.