“I’m Only Doing This For One Night”

On Saturday 23rd January, Doorway SleepOut 2016 took place in St Andrew’s Churchyard, Chippenham, 2 years after the previous one, and the 6th such event. The event was very successful, with around £10,000 being raised for Doorway funds. 34 people, including some Doorway guests, slept out overnight in and under variations of cardboard boxes, sleeping bags, tarpaulins and bits of plastic. The weather was much milder than  expected, but considerably wetter and windier. The SleepOut started with a service in the Church, and local World Music choir Lingmara performed (beautifully) during this and then in the Hall before the SleepOut began. As also in 2014, BBC Antiques Roadshow’s Marc Allum then read a ghost story to get people properly in the mood for sleeping in a graveyard…….

Lingmara, conducted by Tony Barby
Marc Allum reading a ghost story

Here are words from some of the participants:


“I was thinking about what it means to be without a home, what it is to sleep rough on a regular basis, every night. And the conversation in my head soon became a riot, so I had to stop there. It’s just not acceptable – there should be no-one without a home in this day and age unless it’s personal choice. When I’m in my cardboard box somewhere out there tonight, my thoughts will be: “Thank God I’m not the only one in the graveyard, thank God there are people outside making sure that I’m safe. Thank God I have a home to go to. And Thank God that there are people who care” [Mary]

I struggled at first to determine whether it was a good thing to do or not a good thing to do.  I felt it might be patronising homeless people, but it isn’t. It’s supporting them, and about getting the word out that it’s a good thing to recognise that people are out there in the wet almost every day of the year, and don’t have the home comforts. I’ve got a nice bed to go back to tomorrow morning, a lot of people haven’t got that. [Mark]

“I felt it might be patronising homeless people, but it isn’t. It’s supporting them”

I do give to charity, but actually, putting your hand in your pocket and contributing is easy. Actually giving up your time, or conquering a physical challenge I find more what I’m interested in. So being able to come out here, and spend the night in the cold, I think it’s a good idea. I think anything that raises the issue, and that gets people thinking about what it’s actually like to be on the streets – I can’t think of anything more horrifying, frankly. [Brian]

I’ve done this several times, actually. What is interesting is it becomes a bit of fun, but then the reality when you’re actually in the box, is that it’s not fun. And it never is fun. Because these people are homeless. And they haven’t nice warm homes to go to.  But you have to have that frivolity to get through. The good thing is everybody supports it and does it. But what about the homeless rough sleepers  in the summer months, in Spring, every day?  [Mary]

We’re not giving up that much – we’ve got toilet facilities, we’ve got a nice hall here, tea and coffee and food, we’ve got people looking out for our health and safety, bacon sarnies in the morning. So I don’t want anybody to feel too sorry for us. [Brian]

I realise that I’m very lucky to have a job and a home, a roof over my head. And there are a lot of people at the moment. especially now., who are doing this overnight. And I just feel very very lucky that I’ve got what I’ve got, and it’s time I put something in to help other people to get themselves back on their feet. [Phil]

“to be on the streets – I can’t think of anything more horrifying”

What preparations have you made?

None apart from wearing far too many layers. I’ve got a box. I haven’t got a 3-storey detached home like some people out here. I’ve got a box that is already quite wet. [Mark]

I have a box I can fit in this time, which I didn’t have last time. And I’ve waterproofed my box, too, so that’s good. I’m all fully prepared. [Amy]

I’ve bivvied in the mountains before now, but nothing like this. I mean, in the mountains I’ve bivvied in bivvy bags, and you just dealt with it, so having to put up with cardboard boxes and plastic bags and things – I’ll just have to deal with it [Phil]

In the morning:

Trying to get the shelter up was hard work, but we had a bit of help. We needed a third hand to hold stuff down. I think we were quite cosy, so it made it a bit easier really. It was more the rain coming in that I was a bit worried about, but we managed to keep dry. Even though the tarpaulin came off the end, and we had to put it back. It gave us a bit of an insight into what other people have to put up with, and made us realise how lucky we are. [Sharon, with son William]

I really enjoyed it. Apart from the rain. And my box fell apart! [Liz]

” I will seriously NOT consider doing it again”

People that weren’t taking part that walked through, it’s amazing how invisible you become out there. There’s all of these little shelters out there, and you’ve got people who blatantly don’t even see you. [Sharon]

It went very well! A little bit of rain, but nothing that made the night bad or anything like that, nice and cosy. And it opened your eyes to the experience that people have every day, and they lead their lives by it, you know? And a night like it is totally different to living your life like it, so you get some respect for what we do have, and you need to be more grateful for it, and help out those who are needier than we are. [Richard]

It was alright, we got through it, didn’t we? We’re lucky, we only do it for one night. Dozed off now and again…..It was a bit wet, and a bit windy. And it wasn’t cold, which was very lucky considering what it was like the other weekend. Of course, SWEP kicks in when it’s very cold, but not when it’s very wet. We were very aware of that with our clients… very frustrating it is, that there’s so little we can do to help them. We’ve been cut back, but we still do as much as we can. [Liz and Desna of Wiltshire Citizens Advice]

It was alright, actually. I was out on the streets for about six months. It wasn’t through the winter, luckily enough. But I’ve stayed out in colder weathers. Yeah, it was enjoyable, and for a good cause, that’s the main thing. [Lee]

“We were prepared for the cold, but not really the wet. And so unfortunately I got a bit wet. Which was when I came out by the fire. I am drying out now. I’m a bit cold but I’m alright. But you two fared better, didn’t you?” “Yes, I slept well, my shelter stayed alright. More a blanket than a shelter in the end, but that’s kind of alright. It worked, it was relatively waterproof” “We said we would do it again, but we’ll  learn from that and get some more tarpaulin. More tarpaulin, less cardboard. Or bigger cardboard. More thought into the construction. It wasn’t the most comfortable of nights. But I found myself laying there thinking “I’m only doing this for one night”.” “Exactly – we can go back to our own beds tonight, can’t we? Unlike the people that we’re doing it for. And they probably haven’t got layers and layers of thermals on, either.”[Kevin, Tracey and Kieran]

“it’s amazing how invisible you become out there”

It went well, but there was a bit of a flaw with the design of my waterproof, and I got absolutely drenched from the elbows up within 10 minutes of being in the box. Some of the rain must have got under the polythene, and the little flap on the polythene box moved when I moved, and suddenly I had a wet shower. But it was a really good experience, because it just shows what it’s like. I thought I was completely safe and dry for the night, and everything got soaked. And it just does  show you a little bit. Especially when you’re just trying to settle down afterwards and ignore that – because I was quite warm, but I was still pretty damp. So I now have more empathy – the thought of having to do this, night after night, it would be horrific. Also, to have you guys there, just knowing that we’re absolutely safe, whatever, makes a huge difference, because you are pretty vulnerable when you’re squidged in a box – you can’t defend yourself if someone decided to come and kick your box or whatever. [Imogen]

Certainly had moments of reflection as the night went on. And, from a personal point of view, thinking about family members, who are now in different circumstances – huge, huge relief, but both still very vulnerable. You don’t find yourself in that kind of position overnight and you don’t come out of it overnight. Waking this morning feeling really knackered, really puts perspective on how it would be, and how bloody long the day would be ahead, and then thinking how relentless that would be if you can’t see an end to it. To have a degree of hopelessness I think, would just be crushing. [Anna]

” a night like it is totally different to living your life like it”

It was awful. I had a bad night, lack of sleep, and  ended up with my head out of the box because I felt very claustrophobic. It’s strange – it’s the wrong way round of course, one shouldn’t be claustrophobic when one is outside, but I did, I felt very claustrophobic. The box was slowly collapsing – it went from a cube to a flat diamond. But I didn’t get wet, and I slept…..my sleeping was perfect in the last hour, which is always the way – I got some solid sleep in about  the last hour. I will seriously NOT consider doing it again.  [Mark]

Even if you’ve got somewhere that’s absolute squalor, that’s still somewhere to sleep, and there’s a lot of people that don’t. [Gareth]

The write-up from the Gazette and Herald is here.

Thanks to everybody who helped towards the success of this event – the ‘sleepers’, the organisers and stewards, the cooks, the singers, the St John’s, Marc, the Church for letting us use the Church, Hall and Churchyard, and many many others. The SleepOut certainly achieved its twin aims of raising both money and awareness. And the bacon sandwiches in stotty bread in the morning were very welcome indeed!

“It’s just not acceptable – there should be no-one without a home in this day and age”

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