Doorway’s Sponsored SleepOut 2012

This took place from 7pm on Saturday 28th January 2012 until 7am on Sunday 29th January at St Andrew’s Churchyard, Chippenham, with the superb number of 41 sleepers, of ages ranging from teenagers to pensioners,  raising (at current counts) at least £8500

After the phenomenal successes of the previous SleepOuts, Doorway staff, volunteers and members of the local community once again braved the winter weather and slept rough for a night to increase awareness of homelessness in North Wiltshire and raise much needed funds for the Doorway drop-in centre. The event was, once again, organised to coincide with both Poverty and Homelessness Action Week and Homelessness Sunday (which this year had the theme of ‘Breaking Barriers’).

The previous SleepOuts had raised over £22,000 and had led to Doorway being featured on BBC Points West television news; in radio interviews on BBC Radio Wiltshire and Heart FM; and articles had been published in the Wiltshire Times and the Gazette and Herald newspapers (who also kindly published an article publicising the SleepOut this year)

St Andrew’s Church held a special evening service to celebrate the work of Doorway on the night of the SleepOut at 8.15pm. The Mayor and Mayoress of Chippenham, Cllr David Powell and Mrs Gillian Powell attended the service, and Duncan Hames MP joined us for the service, and to serve hot drinks throughout the Saturday evening.

Due to the bitterly cold weather conditions experienced over the last 4 years Doorway decided that we needed to have a contingency plan for the night of the SleepOut – since we do not want to be responsible for anyone getting hypothermia, we allowed participants to pitch tents in the churchyard for the night. The St John Ambulance were also, as ever, kindly in attendance, space blankets and so on at the ready. Clearly, ‘real’ rough sleepers do not have this sort of back-up and protection….

Doorway is well aware that there is some controversy over the role of sleep outs. Possibly the most vocal in his opposition has been Jeremy Swain of Thames Reach charity, who has dismissed sleep-outs as a “lazy approach to fund-raising”, and instead advocates fundraising that “avoids stereotypes of homeless people – no bodies in doorways”. I would point out (speaking personally, not for Doorway) that Mr Swain handles a £20 million per year budget, for a charity with a high profile, in a city where homelessness is an overt issue. Doorway is in an almost diametrically opposite position. His statements provoked discussion in 2010 in ‘The Pavement’ magazine, where our own CEO Lisa was quoted: [sleep-outs are] a very effective means of gaining both media and public attention to highlight the fact that homelessness exists at all in rural areas. [By sleeping-out for a night] we can raise awareness and then go on to educate the public in the issues surrounding homelessness on all levels. We use rough sleeping as a starting point.”

As Lisa says on Doorway’s website: “Homelessness is often an invisible problem in rural areas like North Wiltshire. Unlike the big cities, rough sleepers are rarely seen. People finding themselves without a roof in Chippenham are often taken in by friends and allowed to sleep on a sofa or the floor (‘sofa-surfing’), rather than remain on the streets. These are the ‘Hidden Homeless’ of North Wiltshire”. So we are keen to use any platform available to us to raise awareness. And we cannot afford to miss any opportunity to raise money, as our financial existence is precarious at the best of times.

I ought to make it clear that I did not spend the whole night on site. I was not allowed to sleep out myself for medical reasons, but helped the admirable team of organisers as best I could, including with site security, as well as recording the event as best I could, until 1:00, returning at 05:00, well aware that I had had the benefit of warming up in a warm house and bed. And it made me feel very guilty.

When I arrived on site at 19:15, the Church Hall was thronged with people registering, and having a warm drink, with the Doorway Band playing some great music, mainly blues. There was immediately apparent to me a feeling of positivity and goodwill, and this lasted throughout. Current guests, who felt they ought to come to lend their support, mingled during the event with Doorway staff, volunteers and trustees, helpers such the St John Ambulance, SleepOut sleepers and their supporters, the World Music Choir and others who came for the service, local dignitaries, Tom Mooney (reporter from the Gazette & Herald, who was sleeping out), visiting Police and PCSOs, the Chippenham Street Pastors, and strangers who were walking past and stopped to see what was going on.

I am told that the service was great (I was outside, ‘on duty’), with guest J’s poems and the World Choir’s music. I subsequently saw the poems, which are excellent, and are posted here. And I heard the music sung by the World Music Choir outside the church after the service, which was lovely, some of it can be listened to here.

The World Music Choir acquires a guest conductor

The ‘curfew’ was at 11:30, and those who hadn’t already settled down into their part of ‘Cardboard City’ attempted to live up to their title of ‘sleepers’. However, the fire was kept burning all night, site security and the St John Ambulance never deserted their posts, and the toilets were available. Again, contrasting with the real thing.

Lisa has said in her thank you letters:
“The event was a great success, once again, and has resulted in very high levels of publicity, with Doorway being featured on BBC Radio Wiltshire, and an article to be published in the Gazette and Herald newspaper. Based on current pledges, Doorway has raised at least £8500, and I am optimistic that the final figure will be significantly higher”.

She tweeted after the event (obviously, I have merged the maximum-140-character tweets!):

“Never underestimate the power of Twitter. This w/e has proved to be a classic example of what can be achieved through the concept of social networking. I am overwhelmed by the support we have had for our #SleepOut – and the new followers that I am now collecting at an alarming rate  Emotional & humbling due to the support from people, both on the night and on here over the weekend. Very grateful. & tired!

#SleepOut thank you to: @chippenham_now @medical071 @MrDLeighfield @Thomas_Mooney @Chris_Ballinger @WAPSocPol @AR1987x
@sami2108   @calneeagle @duncanhames
@CommonCapitaI @siatchip And to everyone
not on here incl Mayor, guests, vols etc Special shout out to the John Lewis, #Swindon contingency and the large group from St Paul’s Church #Chippenham Thank you!!”

And here, importantly, are the words of some of those who actually slept out:

 “The first problem  I had to overcome was the construction of my ‘house’. Easier said than done, as making it as insulated and vaguely waterproof as possible seemed to be a good idea bearing in mind my material was cardboard. After this had been done a few of the guests turned up and put me right – much to learn by the looks of it.
The evening was a great mix of meeting current guests and people who had been homeless but had managed to get their lives back on track. A real inspiration and proof that what we do works if people want to turn their lives around. I eventually tried to get to sleep at about 3am but the combination of a hard cold ground, and the frost on the boxes made this a pipe dream. I eventually drifted off to sleep but woke many times due to getting cold”

“All three of us agreed that our eyes were really opened as to how important Doorway’s work is to the people who need help”

 “Couldn’t believe how the cold made me so hungry, the sleepless night made me brain dead. What a wake-up call…”

“I found the service very moving. Overall I think that the experience opened my eyes to what some people have to go through”

“Cold and bleak – a very small insight into the lives of those less fortunate”

“Without doubt, the longest and most uncomfortable night of my life (not helped by the church clock chiming every 15 minutes!) even though I thought I was well prepared and fully expected to get more than the hour or so sleep I did get. The 6 o’clock chimes came as a great relief, as did the realisation that I did not have to do it again on the Sunday night. Having said all that I am very glad to have had the experience and it put into sharp focus what some of our guests have to endure night after night. The ability for Doorway to be able to hand out a Rough Sleeper Pack for any new guest who is sleeping on the streets is vital, particularly at this time of year”

“Thankfully, Doorway addresses the issue of self care and life skills ,so essential to the people involved. There are several homeless people in my family including four grandchildren taken into care plus state supported parents. What an arduous heartbreaking task the carers have. So utterly exhausting – there but for the grace of God…..”

“I was thinking about how vulnerable I would feel doing this for real. Having 40 people sleeping and others watching out all night helped, but imagine being cold and lonely sleeping rough. I’d be surprised if you could get any sleep.The prolonged cold and lack of sleep must play havoc with a regular rough sleeper. Without services like Doorway, I don’t know how homeless people gain the strength of mind to help themselves out of their situation. We were extremely lucky to have a cold but dry night, especially after seeing the snow on Monday morning, but I also then felt guilty, knowing that some people have to sleep rough, with whatever the weather throws at them”

“Chilly, but very rewarding and all told there were approx 25-30 people who took part on the night. Some of the people taking part were homeless, and they were very grateful and humbled of the fact that there are still people that do care. It made me realise that here for the grace of God go I. I think it is far too easy to lose sight of the fact that situations in life can make you lose everything, and ending up on the streets and ending up being hooked on drink and drugs, could happen to you and me? I and most of the people sleeping out last Saturday were very lucky knowing that the next day we were able to go home and get tucked up warm and safe in our own beds”

“Luckily it was not raining, but the temperature dropped to minus 2 degrees and any bit of body which was not encased in well insulated covering got very cold indeed and lying on the ground is uncomfortable at the best of times – even in a big box. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture! How could I spend the day if followed by yet another night like that? I guess I would be desperate for a drink, or my next fix – anything to escape the grim reality.  This time I had room for all my bits and pieces (including several ‘luxury’ items such as a pillow).  The last time I slept out I had to leave my shoes outside.  It made me realise how vulnerable you are when encased in sleeping bag – totally unable to defend yourself if someone wants to nick your things”

“Here, for the first time ever I found myself sleeping rough under a “strictly no parking “sign.  Amusing maybe but not intended. Amazing, I thought, that in affluent Britain today so many endure birth to burial deprivation. Abused or abandoned kids grown up. Runaways, too ashamed or disenfranchised to return. All kinds of people misjudged by others or themselves. But what could I really be doing here at minus 2 C on a winter’s night in Chippenham?  All age volunteers with cardboard boxes bumbling all around. Grave stones caught by phantom firelight, thrashing shadows round the church. Fumbling to stow away two hearing aids, if only to soften the hourly strikes of the church clock above….. Fully dressed with quilted anorak and hood, what did I know of poverty and need?”

And here also, is Darren Leighfield‘s account of the time he became homeless, and why he took part in this SleepOut.

So, in my opinion, while I take on board Jeremy Swain’s point of view, I think the SleepOut was an enormous and uplifting event, which raised the consciousness of those involved regarding some of the realities of the lives of those less fortunate, and raised vital (not a worse I use lightly or carelessly here) money for Doorway. Thanks to absolutely everybody involved.

There are more pictures of the night here: Vodpod videos no longer available.

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