Community Befriending
Preventing Homelessness


Rowan Alba’s CARDS service was designed in 2010 as a way of supporting people assessed by City of Edinburgh Council as suitable for living at our Home for Life at Thorntree Street, but were unable to gain access due to capacity. By providing these people with regular social interaction in their own homes CARDS became an effective homelessness prevention service where supportive communities have helped people with addictions and in recovery live an enriched life. This safety net has allowed some of the most vulnerable in our communities to maintain a settled lifestyle.

Preventing homelessness through a thriving volunteer community

Since its inception CARDS has grown to have over 70 active volunteers, each supporting a community member one-to-one. A growing number of CARDS volunteers have previously received support from CARDS themselves. CARDS has gathered the unique life skills and insights from these ‘peer’ volunteers and brought them into the training, development and ongoing support and supervision that is available to all CARDS volunteers. For ‘non peer’ volunteers this knowledge is a vital way for them to learn about selfcare, appropriate sharing and the debilitating effects of stigma.

CARDS has developed enduring relationships with universities who point their students towards volunteering for CARDS as a way of gaining real world of understanding of how social factors, Government policy and healthcare inequalities can affect people who are suffering from addiction and social isolation. However, the CARDS volunteer community has a broad base which also includes retirees and professionals.

Mark Ireland, Volunteer Edinburgh Inspiring Volunteer of the Year 2022

The matching approach

The strength of CARDS centres on the one-to-one relationship between service user and volunteer. CARDS uses a carefully designed process to bring them together based on their relevant needs and interests. While it might seem obvious that age, gender and other demographics might be the most important guiding factors in matching, this is often not the case. CARDS has become expert in understanding the drive and motivation of their clients and volunteers when entering a befriending relationship and making matches that work well. Before any meetings take place one-to-one, volunteers visit clients with a CARDS staff member as supervision.

Inspiring partnerships

CARDS has built a range of partnerships which both directly supports its service users and volunteers and foster strategic opportunities for collaboration across the Health and Social Care sector in Edinburgh.

NHS Lothian

CARDS has staff team members based at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and NHS Lothian Penumbra Milestone. These team members make contact with patients while at the facilities, gathering insights from both the patient and clinical staff in order to facilitate CARDS volunteer support when the person returns to their home.

National Galleries of Scotland

CARDS provides safe and engaging activities for its community members that give them a chance to make new connections and experiences outside their home. National Galleries of Scotland have provided CARDS with the venue to create a space which allows their community members to share their experiences in an inspiring, welcoming environment.

Edinburgh Headway Group

CARDS has worked with Edinburgh Headway to develop the Power of Partnerships group. Local community health and social care organisations who share a commitment to improve lives for marginalised individuals in Edinburgh use art techniques to improve collaborative opportunities for each organisations’ clients and volunteers.

Routes to refferal

There are 3 main routes through which people come to CARDS for support.


This is the most common route to CARDS and includes Third Sector services, GPs and Health Clinics. Approximately 50%* of all referrals to CARDS come through this route.

Penumbra Milestone

Run in partnership between NHS Scotland and Penumbra, this alcohol-free, short-stay facility provides care and rehabilitation for people with ARBD (Alcohol Related Brain Damage) who no longer require medical intervention, but who are not ready to go directly home. Approximately 25%* of people referred to CARDS come through this route.


This includes the Psychological Medicine Department, Alcohol Liaison Service and Occupational Therapy Department at The Royal Infirmary Edinburgh. This route accounts for approximately 25%* of all referrals to CARDS.

*These percentages are based on 2021-22 figures and are intended for illustration purposes only. Please contact CARDS directly for up-to-date information on referrals.

While each of these routes brings people who have distinct journeys, CARDS person-centred approach means they treat every person as an individual without pre-judgement. CARDS unique approach also recognises that many people may be in a cycle of addiction, hospitalisation, and rehabilitation. This is known an ‘pinballing’ between services. With this knowledge, CARDS never turns it’s back on people who have been supported by them in the past, even if they have been out of contact for a lengthy period. At the heart of CARDS is real, human relationships and they honour that commitment by always providing compassionate advice and support for anyone who has needed them in their life, at any point.

Since CARDS has had a Link Worker based in The Royal Infirmary Edinburgh the scale of the need for the befriending support that CARDS offers has been made clear by NHS staff. It has been estimated that at least 3 individuals per week admitted to Accident and Emergency would benefit from CARDS support. In response to this need, Rowan Alba has recently made a High Risk Referral Route available. Rowan Alba and CARDS are also exploring funding options to place volunteers in the hospital to support people during their stay.

Meet our team

Our team at CARDS has a huge amount of experience, both professional and lived. They are here for you, without conditions or judgement. They will use their knowledge to find a volunteer who is personally right for you.

Tracey Stewart

Service leader

David Milne

Peer Support Manager

Michaela Devlin

Community Development & Outreach Worker

Priya Patel

NHS Hospital Link Worker

Kiera Russell

Community Volunteer Co-ordinator

Catherine Menta

NHS Lothian ARBD After Care Co-Ordinator