The History of Volunteering with GCP

The history of volunteering at GCP

If you ever want to know about the history of volunteering at the Grassmarket Community Project, Tommy is your man.

Tommy (left) was our first volunteer, helping establish the Woodwork Social Enterprise from this Portakabin in Greyfriars Kirkyard!

History of Volunteering at GCP - Tommy and Richard

Back in 2005

For Tommy, it all began in 2005, when he met the then new Minister of Greyfriars church, GCP’s Chair, Richard Frazer.

Richard had been dreaming of setting up a woodwork social enterprise. As Tommy had a joinery background, coupled with bags of energy and enthusiasm, Richard saw his potential and asked him to work at Greyfriars one day a week. From there, Tommy helped develop GCP’s Woodwork Social Enterprise, as well as the facilities in Candlemaker Row.

Tommy remembers,

On Fridays, I’d travel from West Lothian to work in a Portakabin in the grounds of Greyfriars Kirk. In 2005, the current building was rather derelict, with the upstairs area being really only one room with a stage at the end. It was only used in the Festival.

‘The downstairs space was a community kitchen twice a week and it was chaotic, with people eating sitting alongside others having haircuts, and dogs running around everywhere! We were keen to make it a professional space to really help vulnerable people.’

GCP evolves

As the project took off, Tommy volunteered in the evenings too to get things done. It soon became clear there was a real demand for the service. Richard persuaded Tommy’s employers to second him for a whole year and, by the end of it, Tommy decided to stay on full time. The Grassmarket Community Project had evolved quickly from a meal service, to supporting people more broadly

Tommy explains,

‘We had increasing member referrals. It was a very exciting time. We had introduced new groups such as Art, Men’s and Women’s Groups, Herbal classes and Candlemaking.

‘We could do all of this because we were making money from the Woodwork Social Enterprise. We started to need and attract volunteers to help us do more.’

By 2014, the building was fully renovated to its current condition and the Members Programme continued to develop. Tommy saw all the developments and the growth in volunteer numbers over this period.

Online Coffee Breaks with Tommy

As an employee, Tommy supported volunteers, whilst continuing to volunteer himself. He used to lead GCP’s Saturday Walking Group and travelled around Scotland, talking to community groups about the Project,

‘I love talking about the Grassmarket Community Project. I am so proud to have been a part of it over the years.’ 

Even a move to southern Spain hasn’t stopped Tommy’s volunteering! Throughout the pandemic, he recognised the need for an online Members’ group to help alleviate isolation. The group was so successful Tommy’s Coffee Break continues on zoom twice weekly.

Tommy talks about GCP’s ability to find the skills and build the confidence of Member Volunteers,

‘Most people have something to offer and we can learn from all our Members. That has always been the beauty of the Grassmarket Community Project. Sometimes, when Members join us, they have had a tough time and they can feel worthless, but they have fantastic skills. Volunteering can help them rebuild their confidence.’ 

Memorable Volunteers

Tommy reflects on the many people who have volunteered over the years,

‘Volunteers come to GCP for all reasons and at all times of life. There have been so many volunteers over the years, always great characters. We always tried to have fun and build team spirit, as we were so conscious people were giving up their valuable time. We even had a blackboard in the wood workshop on a Saturday to predict football scores!’

He particularly remembers a Volunteer Member, John, who used to help with Art Group. A talented artist, John drew beautiful drawing birds. Tommy still has John’s framed drawings on his wall at home. He also recalls a Judge who used to volunteer on a Friday, a Church of Scotland minister and, in particular, a wood carver,

‘One day a man turned up at the door and offered to volunteer. He said he was an ecclesiastical wood carver and I was sceptical. It turned out he was one of the best carvers in the UK. He was a lovely, unassuming and annoyingly talented man!  He came down from Dundee twice a week to support GCP and we became friends.’

Tommy comes back to the UK most years to visit his family,

‘Usually, the first thing I do on the way from the airport is drop into GCP to say hello. I love it so much and like to keep my nose in. It is the most rewarding work I have ever done and it still makes me proud to see Members flourishing. Everyone working and volunteering the Grassmarket Community Project is doing a great job.’

A BIG thank you to Tommy for all his support as volunteer and employee – we wouldn’t have been as successful without you!

Volunteer with GCP

The Future of Volunteering with GCP

Kevin, GCP’s award-winning Volunteer Manager talks about the future of volunteering

‘We really want to ensure our community of individual and corporate volunteers are happy, loyal and enjoy supporting us, now and into the future. We are always looking at ways of involving our members as volunteers, when appropriate, to help build their confidence.  

‘I am just so lucky to have this job. I look forward to supporting each and every one of our fabulous volunteers into the future – a BIG thank you for all they do.’ 

Volunteer with us

Whichever way you choose to Volunteer with us, we will make sure your relationship with us is the best fit for you!


The Grassmarket Community Project’s Members Programme relies on the generosity of our customers, funders and donors. Our key funders for this area of our work are Nationwide Community Grants, The Robertson Trust and EVOC/Scottish Government Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund. We thank them for their essential continued support.

Nationwide Building Society Community Grants
The Robertson Trust
EVOC logo
ScotGov Logo
The National Lottery Community Fund - The Grassmarket Community Project

The Grassmarket Community Project’s Volunteer Programme also relies on the generosity of our customers, funders and donors. Our main funder for this area of our work is The Big Lottery Changing Lives programme and we thank them for their essential continued support.