On the night of Saturday January 25th, Doorway once again held a sponsored SleepOut, in the churchyard of St Andrew’s Church, Chippenham, venue for the previous SleepOut in 2012. I talked in the blogpiece about that SleepOut about the debate around the role of Sleepouts in fund and awareness-raising, so I shall not repeat myself here, except to say that the naysayers seem to have quietened down a bit. Unless I’ve just not been listening…. What we at Doorway feel is that this event has been once again brilliant at raising awareness locally, and we are extremely grateful for the 21 hardy souls who slept out this year, and to the many who helped to make the event happen and to run safely on the night, raising £6,000 and rising, the last that I heard.
The weather had been awful leading up to the event – very wet, windy, and often cold. The edict was issued by the organisers that plastic sheeting would be required under the supplied cardboard boxes, as the ground was so sodden. In the end, the weather was very kind, in that it didn’t rain overnight, and it was cold, but not as cold as previous SleepOuts.
The event started with a special Homelessness Service in the Church, where it was a delight to welcome back to Chippenham one of the founders of the drop-ins which evolved into Doorway, Major Mary Wolfe, now of the Southsea Citadel of the Salvation Army.
After this service, at which Major Mary spoke about the birth of Doorway, and the World Music Choir sang, refreshments were enjoyed in the Church Hall, and the choir again treated us to their beautiful sound. Doorway CEO, Lisa, then welcomed all participants – “we’re never going to replicate what life is really like when you’re rough-sleeping tonight, we do realise that, and everybody’s going home to a warm bed tomorrow, but we are highlighting a really very serious issue in Wiltshire, and raising much needed funds for Doorway, so I’m extremely grateful to you all for coming out tonight”.
Marc Allum, of BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, then read a ‘bedtime story’. He said that he had decided against a horror story, as “I thought it was probably scary enough that you’re sleeping on top of dead people, without adding to that. So I decided to read you an excerpt from a book called “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Tahir Shah. This book deals with a lot of poor people in India, and the way they scratch a living, about the way they have to survive, and the way they have to exist by making the best of what they’ve got”. The final words from the extract were: “As they say in Kolkata, “Ak janar chai, anwar sona” – “One man’s waste is another man’s gold”. Marc added: “In some ways, that sort of sums up Doorway – you’re able to make a lot, sometimes out of very little. And long may it continue.”
And then it was time for the ‘sleepers’ to settle, with the ‘watchers’ staying up all night for site security, unlocking the door for toilet access (yes, we know, real rough sleepers don’t have toilets available), ready for crises (thankfully, there were none). The St John Ambulance were also kindly in attendance all night, completely free of charge, as at every previous SleepOut. We really are most grateful.
When the sleepers emerged at around 5ish, the effect was, as stated below, rather reminiscent of a ‘zombie’ film. the ‘survivors’ were counted up carefully, and this time, unlike 2012, we didn’t miss one still asleep in their box! Bacon sandwiches and veggie alternative were served with warming cups of tea and coffee (thanks to those who came in early to produce these), and people shared their experiences while all was tidied up. Then, unlike real rough sleepers, we all went home to warm houses….
Some words from the ‘sleepers’:
Andrew Carnegie (featured in the Gazette and Herald before and after the SleepOut):
“It was an extremely well organised and friendly event – you had the impression that how this was is how Doorway is, open, friendly and welcoming. The wind had boxes blowing in all directions when we arrived but the design [of my bed] was not affected even without my large bulk holding it down. Comments regarding my snoring showed my design did allow sleep whilst others avoided it. Having exited due to a wasp attack at 05.30 watching everybody slowly emerge from behind headstones was like watching ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ or ‘Rise of the Living Dead’. What was clear was that after one night-which was nowhere near as stressful/cold or disturbed as it could have been- I returned home hungry, tired and not functioning at 100% capability. Living outside at this time of year will gradually disable a fit man, a vicious circle spiralling into despair fighting for help from a system evolving to deny assistance for as long as possible.”
“I was quite euphoric on Sunday but my night with very little sleep caught up and it was interesting to consider that some folks have to get by like that all the time. Thank you so much to you and all your helpers for a brilliant experience – you were all so friendly and the event was so well organised that I felt totally safe and even more committed to support ‘Doorway’ than I had at the start. The service was special because it was inspirational to hear how the charity had been started and how it had developed and grown. I loved the choir – it was special that they gave up their evening to sing for us and provide entertainment. Marc Allum was fun.
“Didn’t get any sleep, but it was quite comfortable, I didn’t expect to have any sleep, but found it quite comfortable, and just listened to the sounds of the night. Surprised by the number of cars going by, all through the night. Don’t know where they were all coming from – clubs I suppose. But quite a peaceful night, really.”
“My back will never be the same. I slept. I DID sleep. I had my first experience of claustrophobia, which was fairly unpleasant. I thought “I’ll have to be fairly quiet here, but I’m now fully trapped in my sleeping bag, I’m not sure which way round I’m facing”. I wasn’t too cold, which was OK, sheet stayed on. Kind of gave me a sense of a bit of loneliness, of sleeping rough. And my heart goes out to folk for whom this is their normal way of life. I’ve got a good friend who spent 16 years on the streets, and probably spent many nights in a similar fashion. Particularly in a churchyard, gives you time to really think about it”
“I have spent the night in a box alongside about 20 other people, that was a comfort in itself. I am now home warm and cosy. Whilst I was in my box I was thinking about what if I was actually doing this every night, that is a horrible scary thought ……. my heart goes out to people who endure this existence. Everybody deserves a door to walk through, nobody should be homeless”
“We were really really fortunate with the weather, and putting our boxes together was great fun, and seeing everybody else getting prepared for the evening. Slept relatively well, tossing and turning, but kept very warm, and it was very comforting to hear the Doorway guys coming round to check that we were all alright. It did make me think actually that this wouldn’t be a lifestyle that I could sustain, especially if the weather was worse. I did have a little think during the night about what it would be like, because my [relative] has been homeless………………..[deliberate break in recording]….
“…..Yes, it did make me think about circumstances a little close to home. To think how people have to endure difficulties because that’s the only option they’ve got at the time, so you can understand that especially in the days when the light comes up early and goes down late, how long the day can be, and how exhausted you must be at night time when you’re just going to sleep, and how lonely it has to be if you’re just out there on your own, and I think we were really lucky with the fact that we had sort of four-star cardboard boxes, and that’s not necessarily a resource that is available to everybody, so, yeah, it made me think.” “And on-site security” “Yes, on-site security…” “I was trying not to go around too heavy-footed, I was trying not to disturb…” “…it was quite comforting, and I felt quite reassured really, and actually to know that you’re safe….” “If you were rough sleeping and heard footsteps, it’s probably more of a threat than anything…” “yes, it must be very frightening. So it gave me an insight, but I think that’s only scratching the surface.”
Now my [other relative] will be in a similar situation very soon, when he gets out of prison. He’s been in and out. The difficult thing is, for families of people that are homeless, it’s not always as easy as scoop the person up and bring them home. Because we did that, with my [relative], and it was just horrific, and it didn’t work for her, and it didn’t work in terms of the family unit, and made somebody extremely ill in the process. And so this time round, the hard place, the hard pressure of do you scoop up and bring home is just the most..it was the worst thing ever….in the end I think the right decision was to say ‘no’, so actually then she was faced with the fact she’d have to make some decisions for herself. Someone said it’s like falling down a pit – if you always put that mattress at the bottom, you’re breaking their fall. I was just wanting to understand about homelessness and how people survive it all. And I’ve got a long way to go to understand it all still. I just figured that if there was just something I could do, I would do it.”
The Gazette and Herald write-up of the event – ‘Tombstones sleepout in Chippenham raises £6k for charity’
The Flickr photostream for the event will be linked in here soon….