Housing

How George Clooney 'transformed' Scottish charity Social Bite's fight against homelessness

Visits by George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and the Princess of Wales catapulted Social Bite into the limelight

Josh Littlejohn smiling as he greets George Clooney at Social Bite’s cafe on Rose Street

Josh Littlejohn greets George Clooney at Social Bite’s cafe on Rose Street, Edinburgh. Image: WENN Rights Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

George Clooney “had no airs and graces” when visited Social Bite cafe, a homelessness charity and social enterprise in Edinburgh – but according to its founder, his presence there was “transformative”.

Josh Littlejohn started Social Bite as a small cafe in Edinburgh in 2012 with the simple aim of donating profits to charity. It has since developed into a movement to end homelessness – a charity and social business that provides homes, jobs, food and support to empower people to transform their own lives.

Social Bite’s profile was hugely boosted when the humble cafe attracted high-profile support – playing host to George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Malala Yousafzai, the Princess of Wales and others.

“Everyone was dumbfounded as to how on earth this little cafe was making friends in Hollywood, but it was transformative for us,” Littlejohn told The Big Issue in this week’s Letter To My Younger Self.

George Clooney was the first of the huge celebrities to visit. In his role as co-founder of human rights charity Clooney Foundation for Justice, the former ER actor was speaking at Littlejohn’s Scottish Business Awards in 2015. With typical brass neck, Littlejohn asked if the superstar would stop by Social Bite on his way to the event.

“We were told he’d love to,” said Littlejohn. Clooney was as unaffected and generous with his time as the cafe crew had hoped.

“We really had good fun with George Clooney. Above all, he was really funny, he has a really good sense of humour,” remembered Littlejohn. “Obviously the cafes are staffed by people from all backgrounds including homeless people, and he was so giving with his time. He had no airs and graces, he was taking selfies with everyone.

“He was just a super-lovely guy and really unfazed by all of the craziness, the media attention and all that. I put that down to the fact that he didn’t become famous until he was in his thirties. So he was fully formed by the time he became famous and now he just seems to enjoy it and takes the whole thing in his stride.”

Littlejohn – who in 2018 also built the Social Bite village, which provides accommodation and support for homeless people in Edinburgh – said his life has been full of ‘pinch me’ moments since he became a social entrepreneur.

“I think the 16-year-old me would be pretty happy with my life. It was always my ambition to make a difference,” he added.

“I was fortunate getting on that path when I was young, before I had a family or a mortgage, when I had no responsibilities. I think the minute you have a mortgage to pay it’s a hell of a lot more difficult to take those risks. In my book I’ve written a dedication for my wife and my 11-month-old son, and I made a bit of a wish for my son. I thought about that alignment with my younger self and I wrote to him, ‘I hope you become yourself’.”

Read Josh Littlejohn’s full Letter To My Younger Self only in The Big Issue, on sale until Sunday 17 September.

The Big Issue magazine exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work, buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today. Or give a gift subscription. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available from the App Store or Google Play.

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