Sponsored Virtual Sleepout
Where will you sleep?
Thank you to everyone who joined us or donated for #TheBigFamilySummerSleepout! on Saturday 13 June.
We had families enjoying a summer adventure – getting into the garden, building a den, and sleeping out to raise funds for Helping Hands Community Project. We were joined by Wasps Rugby players, lightning and rain for a night under the stars for a fantastic cause.
You are welcome to donate what you can to raise funds to help vulnerable people in our local community!
Dare you brave the night?
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.
In the days before I took part in Helping Hands’ Big Sleepout19 last Friday (an annual event to highlight homelessness and raise money to support the charity’s work), friends asked why I was doing it. I think my main answer to that question was “for awareness”, not just awareness of how Helping Hands supports the visible homeless people in Leamington, Warwick and Kenilworth, but awareness of how they build relationships with all kinds of vulnerable people, helping them to a better future. (To be honest, another answer to the question “Why did you take part in the Big Sleepout19?” is because my daughter Aishling was doing it, and she was committed to driving hundreds of miles back to Leamington from a work commitment, sleeping out in the cold on a concrete floor, and then driving back to work the next day! How could I not join her?!)
I got to know Helping Hands – their CEO, Lianne Kirkman, in particular – a year or so ago and Leading Edge now supports the charity. To cut a long story short, I knew I wanted to do something to help, and Lianne opened my eyes to the very real problem of homelessness, how it goes much deeper and is much more complex than the visible homeless sleeping in Leamington doorways.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is at the very heart of enabling people to move from homelessness to a better future, and Helping Hands has always been so clear on its ethos of “a hand up, not a hand out”. Their regular Soup Kitchen is a lifeline for many. But it’s the work experience they arrange, the House to Home service, and the hugely important practical and emotional support that means they’re helping a whole community of vulnerable people – whether sofa-surfing, fleeing domestic violence or sleeping on the streets – to see a better life ahead.
And that brings me back to the Big Sleepout! Down at Leamington Train Station, there was a feeling of doing something good – it was a celebratory and uplifting atmosphere as 80 or so people found a spot and settled into their sleeping bags for the night. Everyone was in good spirits, music was playing and, if you’ve seen any of the tweets from the night, the support of some Wasps players raised the excitement levels ever so slightly! Leading Edge helped get Wasps and Helping Hands together, and I’m delighted to see how involved they’re getting with the charity, particularly some of the younger players.
It was a lovely moment for me snuggled in a sleeping bag, cuppa in hand, spending time chatting with Aishling, and we were all grateful to Chris and some of the other people who’d previously experienced homelessness for their tips on keeping warm. Commuters arriving back at the station put money in our collecting buckets and wished us all well. Gradually, we dropped off to sleep…
3am: cold, bracing winds, lying on a hard floor, frequent noisy freight trains, wondering whether any rats would try to join me in my sleeping bag – it wasn’t enjoyable. I felt humbled and grateful in equal parts, realising that, in just a few hours, I’d be able to get a warm shower, give my family a big hug and it would all be over. For us at the Big Sleepout, it was just one night out in the cold.
I think most agree that it feels good to do good, and it has definitely felt good to be able to put Helping Hands in touch with some of our fantastic clients and see how we have so much in common. Clients have gone out of their way to match their skills and products with those needed by the charity. I give my sincere thanks to Wickes for completely revamping the Soup Kitchen, to Clarks for much-needed children’s shoes, to Whitbread for taking on the chef’s role in a brilliant ‘kitchen takeover’, and to Wasps for their time and involvement in so many ways.
The Helping Hands Big Sleepout has been going for 4 years. It’s a very visible way for the charity to keep getting the attention it needs, to keep highlighting the complex issues of homelessness, and to keep raising money so that it can keep changing people’s lives in the amazing way that it does.
If you’re able to donate to support the amazing work of Helping Hands, you can donate here: Donate
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.
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/