The annual ‘Sleep Out’ charity event attracted 114 rough sleepers to Marsh Car Park, a nice increase on the 70 that took part the previous year. The event started at 7pm, with our ‘team’ arriving in a variety of large ski-jackets, thick coats and my secret weapon – diving thermals under everything. With a weather forecast only predicting a 7C night with no rain, combined with a gazebo that was dishing out hot tea, coffee and sweets, it was already shaping up to give us what we thought was going to be a fairly straight-forward experience.
Before we could go about getting ourselves tucked up for the night, The Benjamin Foundation took us by groups inside for a presentation about the youth homeless situation, their work and the over 100 people they are currently supporting. We also saw a video entitled ‘Can We Afford The Cuts’, a short film produced by The Benjamin Foundation, which you can watch here:
As instructed, I had brought some cardboard to put my sleeping bag on, to act as an insulating layer between that and the concrete that would otherwise mercilessly suck heat from it. There was also some paper ‘Sleep Out’ bags, which I simply used as another layer between that and my sleeping bag. In case of rain, I had a waterproof bag which itself contained a dozen or so other bags and bin liners, so I could waterproof myself if necessary.
As anyone that knows me well could tell you, among my few innate talents in life is being able to fall asleep quickly and deeply. Brightly lit, noisy room or jumbo jet, it probably takes me less than 10 minutes to fall asleep.
It took me over an hour to drop off and with the exception of team mate, Graham, I think I was one of the first. Despite being in the safety of Marsh Car Park, surrounded by over 100 other people, I think my mind was still subconsciously reacting to any irregular sounds. I would hate to think how difficult it would have been actually sleeping on the street on a Friday night with lines of drunk people coming out of pubs and clubs all throughout the evening. Before I dropped off, I could constantly hear the rustling of sleeping bags as people tossed and turned to try and get comfortable, either sleeping on their back or trying to find a position on their sides that didn’t make a limb go numb.
1:30am. 2:45am. 3:30am. 5am. These are times I remember waking up and looking at my watch. To put it lightly, I had a poor night’s sleep. One of those nights where you’re not even sure you’ve been asleep sometimes but the hours are going by. What really surprised me despite having on thermals, a t-shirt, a jumper, a hoody, a coat, a scarf, hat and gloves, I was still chilled to the bone by 3am! At this point I had crawled inside the Sleep Out paper bag as my own sleep bag zip had popped open during the night letting in a ‘nice cool breeze’.
I eventually opted to get up at around 6:30am and I felt awful. A different type of cold that you rarely experience and takes hours to feel like you’ve warmed up from. That was just it too, I had the luxury of going home to have a warm shower, clean my teeth and have a nap inside in the afternoon. I saw lots of people limping around in the morning, the hard floor sleeping obviously having taken its toll on them.
After the event, I collected some of the thoughts and reflections from our group that took part:
Mark Thair from Reef Recruitment:
“It made me realise how many hours in the day there are for homeless people… If I was genuinely homeless I would have been moved on within minutes if I had tried to sleep in the relative safety of Marsh’s car park. I was wide awake at 5.30am in the morning. I would then have had to spend a whole day until at least 8.00pm with nowhere to go, nowhere to wash or go to the loo, no one to talk to and no safe haven at all. It is very difficult to drag oneself back out of this situation because to access anything at all you need an address etc. and you need to be able to present yourself well… No wonder many people turn to alcohol or other substances to take the edge off everything! We all make judgements each time we walk past someone on the street – mostly the wrong judgement!”
Nick Applin from NickApplin.com
“Since we did the sleep out, I’ve had people ask me what it was like to take part in this event? I tell them that they should do it. It opens your eyes for just a few hours to what it’s like sleeping rough and being homeless. Even in a controlled environment it’s pretty horrible and made me realise how incredibly fortunate I am to live how I do.”
Graham Luck from Gaskin-Read
“Sleeping out is tougher than expected. Thermals, a 4-season sleeping bag and a ready supply of hot drinks kept me warm. Good company kept me sane and safe. The disturbed night’s sleep and bad back from sleeping on tarmac were countered by a 12 hour sleep on a proper mattress the next night. Of course I wouldn’t have any of that if I was actually homeless. The one thing I would retain is my new superpower. Sat in the street, waiting for a lift to the event, hood up against the elements and cardboard strapped to my rucksack – every passerby looked away. I became invisible.”
Andrea Smith from Clapham & Collinge:
“The sleep out was such a humbling and emotional experience. There was a real sense of community in the early part of the evening, but ultimately once you were in your sleeping bag you were very much on your own. I was very fortunate to know I had family and friends supporting me and that certainly got me through the night, never before has my bed looked as warm and welcoming as it did Saturday morning. How someone living on the streets finds the motivation to get up and start a productive day after spending a night on the streets I have no idea. The sleep out experience will stay with me for some time to come I have no doubt.”
Also taking part as part of our group, I’d like to say thanks and well done to:
- David Tuthill & Katie Fenn from Colemans Opticians
- Nathan Ferguson from Rock Solid Graphics
- Everyone at Clapham & Collinge
Our final tally from our combined sponsorship pages gives a grand total of £3,227.27 (with Gift Aid) raised. Great work!