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Bringing Holiday Joy: An Interview with the City of Edinburgh Council Concierge

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Highrise homes are being made merry and bright this winter thanks to big-hearted Council worker Billy McGhee.

For the past 35 years, Billy has been employed as a concierge officer in Council blocks, and has dedicated much of his time to decorating the foyers and buildings in Holyrood and Lochview Court for the benefit of the 400+ residents.

With this year likely to be particularly tough for many households because of rising costs, Billy’s annual tradition of bringing the festivities to people’s front doors has grown bigger than ever.

Here, Billy tells us about his work and the response he’s had from tenants.


Making foyers merry and bright

Tell us why you decided to decorate the building?
I wanted to give something back and what better time than Christmas? I’ve always loved this time of year so thought it would be a good idea to decorate the foyers.

Who was involved in planning and pulling this together?
I’ve done this for many years now and it has just kind of grown every year, I’ve donated a lot of the items myself, other items have been donated from residents or saved from landfill.

What sort of reaction have you had from tenants?
They all seem to love it and really appreciate it. People always ask me at the beginning of December “when are the decorations going up?”

What’s your favourite thing about decorating the building?
The smiles from the tenants when they see the decorations and when they hear the Christmas music playing in the foyer, especially the reaction from the younger ones, the elderly and those that live on their own.

We have a lot of families living in the building with some having relatives that live thousands of miles away, it’s great to see them taking pictures and knowing that these have been sent to loved ones and family in different parts of the world.

It can be a lonely time for some of our residents at Christmas so it’s great to see them interact in the foyer, chatting and connecting.


Making foyers merry and bright

Can you tell us a little about your day-to-day role?
My typical day involves making sure the building is clean and safe for residents and visitors, I do have a daily routine but I learned very quickly in this role (35yrs ago) that you need to be flexible in your approach to how you manage your day as there is always something that requires attention or a resident or colleague that needs assistance. This could be anything from assisting residents with day-to-day repairs or sign posting to more specific services depending on their needs, to working with colleagues from other teams and departments to assist with more complex issues or cases.

I think the most challenging part of my role is working with people that are reluctant to ask for or accept help or those that are less considerate towards their neighbours or community. In these instances I’m fortunate to have a good team around me with years of experience to draw on so that in most cases it allows us make a connection and ultimately help.

I see a majority of residents on a daily basis and always stop to say hello, they really appreciate the time even if it is only for a few moments. I think the most rewarding part of my role is being able to help people. Doing something to help however small can make a huge difference to someone’s wellbeing and their quality of life.

Is there anything you’d like to add to the displays?

I’m always looking for more tinsel! You simply can’t have too much tinsel. It doesn’t always last year to year. Anyone with some to spare can drop it in to me at Lochview Court, where it will be warmly received!

Councillor Jane Meagher, the Council’s Housing, Homelessness and Fair Work Convener, said:

“Council concierges have one of the most rewarding and challenging roles in housing, making sure our multistorey blocks are kept safe and clean and often acting as the first port of call for tenants’ needs. Whether they are helping a family with a complex issue they have at home or providing a friendly hello to people who live alone, concierges really do provide an invaluable service which too often goes unnoticed.

“Billy is a fantastic example of one of our unsung heroes. Here we have someone who is going out of his way to bring a smile to tenants’ faces, sourcing his own decorations to create Christmas cheer and a real sense of community, not because it’s his job but because he simply wants to.

“Christmas isn’t always an easy time of year, and a lot of people are facing financial challenges, particularly this winter – which may mean Billy’s decorations are the only Christmas lights some households have this year. Thank you, Billy, for bringing the festivities to everyone’s front door.”

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