Over 70 people prepared for a cold February night for #BigSleepout19 to help us to give homeless and vulnerable adults in Leamington, Warwick & Kenilworth the chance of a better future.
Families and individuals who find themselves homeless are faced with the question
Where will I sleep tonight?
If this sounds daunting to you, imagine how people who find themselves in this frightening situation feel when the reality of their predicament sets in….
Our sleepout took place for just one night on Friday 8th February 2019, but many face this every day.
Our charity is about local people helping local people in need. We give people support and opportunities to help people feel better about themselves, be more active in the community and get back into work.
Experiences from last year's sleepout
Poor naked wretches wheresoever you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Defend you from seasons such as these?
Since learning King Lear at school, there has been many a cold winter’s night when I have tucked into my cosy bed with these words in my mind. So when the opportunity came to help raise funds for Helping Hands (a local homeless charity) by spending a night on the streets I thought, “well, it’s only one night, how bad can it be?”
Speaking to the other participants on the night, everyone seems to have their own, often very personal, reason for joining in. Many are taking part on their own…a young girl, an old man but also a lady and her brother with learning difficulties and groups of middle aged people enjoying a challenge (and a drink or two, medicinal of course).
Around 10pm, after enjoying some uplifting entertainment and inspirational talks we exit the church and are hit with a breath taking wall of icy air. This is it. It is time to begin.
As the inhabitants of our cardboard shanty town settle in for a cold night, we too retire to our ramshackle shelter of cardboard and dismantled survival bags. We watch as one elderly man builds and crawls into his cardboard tunnel. To our left the sister giggles as she patiently helps her struggling and groaning brother into his sleeping bag. Good Samaritans walk around checking others are OK for the night. The feeling of community is strong.
So it seems New York isn’t the only city that never sleeps. The night time noises of the town are loud and incessant; The shouts and cheers of the Friday night fun brigade, the boy racers, the sirens, the taxi beeping its horn as a group of girls run screaming across the road, a freight train passing through and an almost constant and unidentifiable electrical hum. But we’re lucky, we have a belly full of hot food and can close our eyes safe in the knowledge that we have someone on watch. Still we sleep lightly and in fleeting moments.
Dawn comes and everyone begins to stir as the services of the town whir into action…the bin lorry, the buses, the street sweepers, the gritters, the delivery vans all with their role to play. I lie here exhausted and damp with dew wondering what the point of getting up would be. I suppose this is where the words of the charity’s founder, Lianne, make the most sense. “Helping Hands strives to provide a sense of hope and purpose…a reason to get up in the morning.”
As I gather my things together and head for my warm, dry home and the embrace of my husband and two boys, I thank my lucky stars that I can call my one night on the streets a great challenge and not a lifetime of isolation, fear, endurance and hopelessness.
Helping Hands Community Project was set up to help people in need in Leamington, Warwick & Kenilworth. They provide individuals and families with food, clothes & furniture donated by the local community. They also run an evening outreach to the homeless & offer daytime support and education to enable change in their lives. To donate please go to: https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/helpinghandscommunityproject
I like my bed, always have done, but Friday night was different. Leaving home and taking the chilly walk to the centre of Leamington gave me time to think about the night ahead. I could have taken the car rather than walk the couple of miles from home but it didn’t feel right to be honest. If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it right. Tonight I was going to take on one of the very first challenges that I scribbled down in my note book back at the end of 2016 when the idea of the 56 challenge was born.
How could I get people on my side and persuade them to part with some hard earned cash? I needed to get at least a flavour of what it’s like to spend a night on the streets. As I made my way along the leafy streets of my home town, it felt somehow different and I was apprehensive. Carrying a rucksack and a bit of stubble on my chin, I sensed that people we looking at me different, almost through me. The temperature over the last few days had been dropping so I knew that it was going to be a cold one, but how cold, I would soon find out. Finding my pitch for the night, I built myself a little den out of cardboard and a bit of plastic sheet and then I watched the clock, I watched the band, I wondered around with all I had in a rucksack. That came strange to me, not having a base, somewhere to leave my stuff. I felt very nomadic and lonely. The early evening was OK, listening to the stories of real people who make a difference, the local community copper, a Homeless lady and a volunteer who had lost her son to the streets. I checked the time, just after midnight and time try and get some sleep. I had been putting off the inevitable, the time when I had to bed down for the night and see if my shelter would keep me warn.
The streets were noisy; Friday night is party night in most towns. The sirens, the shouting, the general chatter seemed very loud with my head on the ground. I was very uneasy and wanted my own bed but I had a long day ahead of me so needed to at least attempt to get some rest and burying my head in my sleeping bag in an attempt to shut out the world, I managed a few minutes sleep, maybe an hour and then the cold. My cardboard box was going soft, attracting the moisture from the damp grass and the temperature was dropping and I was wide awake. Still noisy and flashing blue lights reflecting of the buildings around me added to the tension. I checked the time, dawn was still hours away and then I needed the loo. Another dimension to the night, I need to leave my warm sleeping back and head off to find the toilet. People were still walking around, groups of people chatted and party goers staggered around in endless circles. Then didn’t see me, I was invisible and I got the feeling of what the nights are like, only a flavour and I didn’t like it. I headed back and attempted to get a little more sleep, not sure I did, but at around 5am, I gave in and sat for an hour and watch the world go by.
I was never so glad to see the dawn…..
To read more about Steve’s challenges, take a look at https://steveatherton.wordpress.com/