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Over 200 people swapped their beds for sleeping bags this November

Over 200 people swapped their beds for sleeping bags this November in aid of the UK's longest-running sleep out with Rock Trust. Here, we have Janine and Grant who took part in telling their experience. The Rock Trust Sleep Out was on a Friday night (3rd November), our colleagues Janine McIntosh and Grant Gordon (including Grant's dog, Milla) had to be at Festival Square before 7 pm to register and remain there until 7 am.

The aim of this was not just to raise much-needed money for the charity, Rock Trust, but also to help raise awareness for youth homelessness. Grant said “If I’m honest, and I know now how naïve I was, I thought the Sleep Out would have been easier than it was. I figured it would be staying up all night with the other sleepers, chatting and laughing until morning but the reality was very different.”

The Charity organisers had managed to obtain permission to use the Spiegeltent for a few hours on a Friday evening and laid on a bar, a comedy act and a silent disco for all participants. All proceeds at the bar went to the Rock Trust with the staff using this time to sell raffle tickets. Before long it was 11 pm and the fun was over, everyone was ushered out into the cold and asked to bed down for the night. Grant commented, “At first I felt that if the organisers had kept us busy for longer, kept the bar open into the small hours then the night would have passed quicker but I realise now that would have been missing the point entirely.” “Homeless people don’t have the option of spending night after night in a warm pub chatting with friends and I believe the organisers felt they could best demonstrate to us this by getting us to bed down as early as possible.

The chat that I imagined would go on until morning soon stopped and an uneasy silence fell across the 200-strong group. It was a cold night for sure but it got colder as each hour passed and lying or sitting still for a prolonged period seems to invite the cold further into your bones making the time pass very slowly indeed.” Everyone was issued with a human-sized thin sheet of cardboard and a similarly sized ‘potato sack’ which were, essentially, meant to serve as a mattress and sleeping bag. Grant added “I have to say neither offered any long-term comfort at all and once the rain started to fall around 3 am the potato sack and cardboard sheet soon became waterlogged and then disintegrated rendering both useless.

The rain continued and more and more people adjusted their positions, pulling hoods, sweaters and carrier bags over their heads to help avoid becoming totally soaked through.” “Despite the rain, I’m pleased to say no one gave up, each and every one of us stayed put – it was just for one night after all. But there is the thing, we were sleeping out to help raise money to help those who sleep out not for just one night but night after night, in the cold and the wet. We were kept safe in a specially designated area with a security team on hand to offer help and protection in case of trouble.

For the homeless, they have no such safe area, no such guardians to protect them whilst they try to get some sleep in a busy city centre. The wee small hours of Friday/Saturday nights are filled with peril from revellers on their way home, drunks shouting and crashing around, fights breaking out and the slightly less obvious but ever prevalent few who are out to cause nothing but trouble for trouble's sake.”

The rain was slow but steady and by now everyone was well and truly soaked, around 5 am one of the charity organisers came round to tell those who wanted could go take cover in the Spiegeltent but the reality is that very few people retreated – “I think it was at this point that I felt the first wave of emotion, I could feel the solidarity of the group stronger than ever before. We were cold to the bone, wet through, we had been heckled a couple of times – one local hotel guest even branded us all as ‘losers’ telling us that we were ‘kidding ourselves’ if we thought we knew anything about being homeless.”

“I’ll never know what it was that offended such a well-dressed, well-spoken lady so much about what she saw that night but she was right about one thing, I knew nothing of what it was like to be homeless and I hope to God I never have to find out but this much I do know; between 200 fundraisers, a raft of volunteers from the Rock Trust, a friendly security team and a whole host of people who supplied hot meals and bacon rolls, we not only raised awareness for the cause but well in excess of £50,000 of which every penny stays with the Trust allowing them to function for the next year offering much-needed support and advice to the young people who need it the most.”

“At the start of the night I knew one person, our very own Janine McIntosh, but by the following morning we were all standing together hugging not just a very welcome hot mug of tea but also each other, both pleased and proud of our achievement and many of whom who were already committing to next year’s event.

It was, without question, an extraordinary and incredible experience, humbling in so many ways and worth every cold, a wet and achy minute! It just isn’t feasible to continually ask friends and colleagues to dig deep to support this great cause but if I can help them in any other way then I will do what I can, I guess that’s what comes from ‘raising awareness’.”

Janine concluded “It makes you so aware how vulnerable and exposed homeless people are. I can’t imagine being between 16-25 years old and being out there on my own. The Rock Trust is truly amazing. The whole event was incredibly educational, ran smoothly and was a great success. I would definitely take part again and recommend others to experience the hardship these young people go through.”

If you would like to support or find out more what Rock Trust do, please click here.