As social media started to buzz with the forthcoming sleep out in Edinburgh on Thursday, in aid of Social Bite's village project for the homeless, I reflected on my own experience of sleeping out for charity in 2009.
Here's the blog I wrote at the time:
When I said I was going to be in a sleeping bag all night for charity people assumed it included a tent but it didn’t. A ground sheet, a mat, survival (or plastic) bag, sleeping bag and lots of layers then me against the elements. The elements sure had a sense of humour in Edinburgh on Friday night – 45+mph winds and rain too.
We bedded down at 12 and left at 6. So we were only there for six hours. Four of my team mates shared the same ground sheet, with other teams on other ground sheets within singing distance. I’m not sure an impromptu chorus of “always look on the bright side” was heard but a song about rain was. It was interesting to hear it gather momentum as we all started to sing from within our own sleeping bags at some point in the middle of the night. There were of course others on other ground sheets in 4 other locations around the UK. 700 sleeping bags in total.
At one point I could hear the rain, not dissimilar to what you can hear when you’re in a tent. But this time the rain I could hear was only inches away from my head falling on the survival bag I’d managed to pull over my head by bending my knees. The Byte Night branded wee willie winkie hat, that all 700 of us wore, was pulled down my face. The only part of my face open to the elements being my nose so I could breath. We realised of course when we got up in the morning that the rain we heard had then moved on to the mats and ground sheet and then had nowhere to go. So we woke in pools of water. If we were lucky we were dry although many weren’t and emerged very wet and even colder.
There were some insightful moments I shared on twitter about the connection to nature as I lay there looking up at the moon or that you can hear the wind coming (we had about a minute of hearing it getting nearer and nearer and knowing any moment it would hit us too).
But many of the other insights weren’t shared because they came when I was too cold to text and didn’t want to move for fear of the rain or wind then being able to get at me.
Insights that some people do this every night. Imagine not really being able to get comfy enough to fall asleep or the cramps and aches because of how you’d had to sleep to keep dry and out of the wind. What about not getting up to go to the toilet because you know you’d then have to get back into your sleeping bag with all your wet clothes on. Or knowing when you do get up that you’re going to have to dry your clothes and sleeping bag somehow. I had a whole new sense of appreciation for the hand dryer in the toilet the next morning. If there hadn’t been a queue I’d loved to have stayed there longer getting dryer and warmer.
We were there to support Action for Children who support homeless young people. Scotland has a higher percentage than anywhere else in the UK with 15 in 1000 of young people being homeless. We were there for one night. I could get up the next day and throw the wet and soaking sleeping bag, mat and clothes into the survival bag, throw that into the boot of my car, call into Tesco as I drove home, collapse into a nice warm bath and then have a massage from a friend later on. My face that had the brunt of the wind was able to be well moisturised during the day. Similarly my feet that had got wet and stayed wet all night.
Those we were supporting aren’t so lucky. I’m not sure they do get things dry and can’t imagine the physical aches and pain everyday that join the emotional ones of why they’re even there in the first place. So hopelessness in the title because that’s how a night in the rain can make you feel. I certainly understand why people who do this every night can get into a spiral unable to see a way out? I also understand why those who support Action for Children do what they do to help young people out of the spiral.
Achievement because it’s something I wasn’t expecting. As the weekend has progresses the sense of achievement has increased. I didn’t realise I’d feel proud of doing it nor that it would make me realise how much I can do if I set my mind to it. I’d done it to raise money after all and as a team am pleased we raised over £1.8k and as a location over £45k and increasing.
So today’s call for action is to do something that really feels like it’s outside your comfort zone and realise how much more you can do. If that doing then helps others that’s even better.
In the intervening 7 years the need for a call for action unfortunately hasn't changed, even if the charity being supported has. Next time you go to walk past someone asking for some change on the street why not stop, or support social bite by giving generously, or alternatively buy your lunch from their Edinburgh, Glasgow or Aberdeen shops, or choose to help someone who needs it to get themselves literally and metaphorically back on their feet, because we all need a hand, and a friendly face, now and again.