Nicola Sturgeon backs Edinburgh scheme to give rough sleepers free books

The First Minister was joined by bestselling crime author Ian Rankin to issue support pleas for Streetreads

Literacy is a huge barrier to breaking out of poverty with reading and writing skills crucial to everything from filling out a job application to opening a bank account.

Reading can also provide rough sleepers a sense of escapism from a harsh existence of facing the elements out on the streets.

That’s why schemes like Streetreads, which offers free books for rough sleepers in Edinburgh, play a crucial role alongside front-line services in helping those on the streets.

The initiative, run by homelessness charity Streetwork, has now attracted the support of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and bestselling crime author Ian Rankin. The pair joined organisers in putting a call-out to literary heavyweights to become ambassadors last week as well as asking members of the public to help distribute books.


Since 1991 The Big Issue has sold more than 200,000,000 copies – helping the most vulnerable in society earn more than £115 million.

Streetreads, which also provides literary classes alongside a network of outlets offering free books, will also offer its service in Glasgow later this year through Streetwork’s sister charity Simon Community Scotland.

Ian Rankin said: “I’ve been a long-time fan of Streetreads and have seen first-hand the great work they do. Books can transport us anywhere, to times and worlds that excite and stimulate. That’s hugely important, no matter who you are or what your circumstances.”

Streetreads founder Rachel Cowan, who started the scheme after meeting a homeless person who was also a keen reader, added: “The impact a book can have on a homeless reader is huge. Our books are given as a gift and are in excellent or even new condition so our readers know they are getting a present which is given with respect and love.”

The initiative is the second time the First Minister has focused her gaze on rough sleeping after upping the Scottish government’s contribution to homelessness charity Social Bite’s Housing First program to £6.5 million during her SNP party conference speech last Wednesday.

Image: Streetreads