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Heavy Sound bus
Photograph: Heavy Sound

The community-centre-on-wheels changing lives across Scotland

Inmates at an Edinburgh prison are doing up buses that bring help and resources to those who need it

Chiara Wilkinson
Written by
Chiara Wilkinson

Three years ago, a disused single-decker bus was bought for £1. The whole vehicle was gutted before being transformed into a community-centre-on-wheels – complete with music studio, kitchen and hair salon – by inmates at a Scottish prison.

Fast forward to 2022, and the bus is now fully embedded in communities across Edinburgh and the Lothians. ‘During the pandemic it literally became a lifeline for vulnerable people,’ says Niven Rennie, director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit. ‘It reached people who need it most, offering vital support and a safe place for young people.’

Now, the groups behind the project – community interest company Heavy Sound and the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit – are on a mission to get another bus on the road. ‘People have responded to the first bus really well – there’s a big demand from the schools and the community,’ says Linda Bendle, head of business development and operations at Heavy Sound, which works to improve the wellbeing of young people through music education and outreach work.

At the start of this year, an out-of-service double-decker bus was donated. Once again, it has been transformed by long-term prisoners from HMP Edinburgh as part of an initiative helping to build relationships with inmates and offer them an opportunity to give back to the community. ‘We stripped the inside of the bus and took all the seats out – it was hard [work] but very worthwhile,’ says Sam*, one of the prisoners involved. ‘It has been very therapeutic, helps relieve stress and gives me a focus.’

A lot of services exist in isolation. They don’t go out to people – they expect people to go to them

Once it’s ready, the bus will travel across Scotland, visiting different communities of young people and adults involved in the criminal justice system. ‘We’ll have lots of services on board, like support with housing and benefits, as well as bike maintenance and music activities,’ says Bendle. ‘We’ll also be around for people who just want a cup of tea and chat. We always have lived-experience mentors on board who have been through the criminal justice system, who mentor the young people we work with.’

As well as being kitted out with music equipment to help young people get into DJing, sound production, radio and songwriting, it will also be used as an additional classroom at schools and community centres to help to engage girls with computer science and explore alternative ways for young people to get into work.

Another aspect of the project is help with addiction and recovery, with the potential to eventually provide support on board. ‘There are so many gaps that we’ve identified over the years of people being unable to access the help that they need – whether that’s young people or families or older people,’ says Bendle. ‘A lot of services exist in isolation. They don’t go out to people – they expect people to go to them. A lot of people are struggling to engage with the right help.’

It shouldn’t have to exist, but the work that Heavy Sound is doing is vital – especially in the current climate. ‘The cost-of-living crisis is already beginning to badly hit people in the communities we work with,’ says Bendle. ‘We tend to offer winter support, and try to raise money to help people with electricity top-ups and gas meters, as well as Christmas presents for young people.’

Heavy Sound are hoping that the new bus will be on the road by the start of next year, and are looking to raise £2,000 to support their work. Find out more and donate to the fundraiser here.

*Not his real name.

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