A retailer whose parish was listed as one of the five most deprived in Scotland has partnered with the council to provide accommodation for homeless families.
Asif Akhtar, who runs Premier Smeaton Stores in East Lothian, is welcoming families in over Christmas and has even planted a Christmas tree for them to enjoy.
“We invested our entire life savings into converting a derelict building into three-bedroom houses that could be used as temporary accommodation for homeless families,” Mr Akhtar said. “It’s much better for them than staying in a B&B, and we still get a minimal rent.”
The retailer bought the derelict building opposite his store to prevent it being turned into a rival store. He first leased it as a pub, but when this generated anti-social behaviour he closed it down.
“We had this empty building, which can create problems of its own,” he said. To find a solution, he approached a local councillor who held advice sessions in his store. She suggested using the building to tackle one of the area’s most pressing problems: rising homelessness.
Renovations were completed a few months ago, and the houses have so far been occupied by four families. Tenants are now also able to appreciate a Christmas tree, bought by Mr Akhtar and planted in November by the council, which stands on the green that stretches between his store and the new houses across the road.
“The council have hooked it up to the streetlights, so it lights up when they do,” Mr Akhtar added.
Mr Akhtar’s Christmas generosity is legendary in the local area. Last year, he cut back on Christmas presents for his children in order to buy a regular customer who had lost his legs to cancer a £5,000 electric wheelchair. The story went viral in the local press, and for weeks afterwards, flowers poured into his store.
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