Gazette reporter James Willoughby joined hardy fund-raisers at a sponsored overnight sleepout event at The Alnwick Garden on Wednesday, October 5, in aid of homeless people.
Multiple layers of clothing, two sleeping bags and a wooly hat – yet I could still feel the October chill in the early hours of the morning.
So this is what it feels like to sleep rough, I thought to myself as I lay on the ground in The Alnwick Garden, exposed to the elements and looking up at the night sky.
It was one of the most uncomfortable nights of my life, tossing and turning in a desperate attempt to get comfortable, warm and escape the damp – just to steal a few hours of sleep. And in actual fact, the weather conditions were relatively kind – for October at least.
Thankfully, this experience only lasted one night, as part of the eye-opening sleepout fund-raising event. But others aren’t so lucky; and for many unfortunate souls, this unforgiving existence is an all too familiar way of life, having to sleep rough night after night – with far less layers for warmth and in much harsher conditions. And without companions for company.
It’s a sobering thought and one which was made all the more real after swapping the comfort of a warm bed with a roll mat, thermals and a couple of sleeping bags.
It put the challenges of homelessness and poverty into sharp focus. And it was made all the more poignant as the fund-raiser was held just a few days before World Homeless Day (October 10) 2016.
But that’s exactly what last week’s sleepout was all about. Raising awareness of how some people live, including here in Northumberland.
I joined a hardy group of about 20 fund-raisers for the challenge and the harsh reality of homelessness was thrust into the forefront of all of our minds. People came across the North East to participate in the event, which was raising money for homeless projects in the region, including The People’s Kitchen, in Newcastle, and national homeless charity CEO Sleepout.
Those to take part included Alnwick business owners Lisa Aynsley, of Hotspur 1364, and Martina and Andrew Potter, of Grannies. Daniel Gurney, from Barter Books and The Garden, and Alnwick PR woman Claire Barber also slept rough. Reflecting on the night, Lisa said: “While there was an awesome sense of camaraderie among the participants, the sobering reality of the vastness of being homeless was never far from my mind. It’s an experience I will never forget and we were lucky in that it never rained.
“I am so blown away by all the support from the locals, both with sponsorship and good wishes, and I would like to thank everyone.”
The Alnwick Garden hosted the event after joining forces with CEO Sleepout. Garden director Mark Brassell and CEO Sleepout founder Andy Preston were among those who camped out at the attraction. Afterwards, Andy said: “It was cold, damp and a bit noisy, I didn’t get much sleep, but it was a good thing to do.”
Peter Samuel, of The People’s Kitchen, is all too aware of the troubles that homelessness people face. The sleepout was a sentimental affair for him. He said: “It was an experience and makes me more appreciative of what some of our friends at The People’s Kitchen go through on the streets.
“It gives me a lot more insight into what happens. It was not a good night sleep.”
CEO Sleepout has held similar events across the UK, but last week’s fund-raiser was its first in Northumberland.