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The Wake Out - Caroline's Experience of the Sleep Out

23/02/2016

18th of March 2016 – the night of The Sleep Out in aid of The Cathedral Archer Project! Or as I dubbed it at 10 to 6 the following morning “The Wake Out”.....

I’d signed up for the event a few weeks before and I was really grateful for all the sponsorship that had been coming in, but when it got to the day itself I felt a little nervous as I’d no real idea of what to expect nor even how many other people were taking part; all I knew was that I’d be sleeping outside the Cathedral for the night.  Once at the Archer Project I realised that there would be quite a few of us and we were made to feel welcome and although it was a little quiet to start with everyone started chatting and mingling and then we were given an introductory talk by Tracy and Tim.  This gave us more information on what to expect from the night and on the work of the project and some insight into just how difficult it must be in every way to be homeless on an ongoing basis.  We were also given a tour of the Project building and we all started to realise just how many things the Project provides, and why.  For of course there are all sorts of different aspects to being homeless not just that you are sleeping rough (as if that wasn’t enough!), for instance something as simple as not being able to get yourself a hot drink when you fancied one or popping to the shops for some food for your tea and a whole of host of other things that we take for granted every day of our lives. Some examples of what the Project provides are washing facilities – where else could you get your washing done without any money to pay for a laundrette?; breakfasts for around 80 people arriving at the centre every day (this costs £550.00 per week on its own); an educational room; a “surgery” where you can be seen by a doctor, or a nurse or a dentist. There are also a few computers – another thing that most people have access to all the time and take for granted, and the list goes on....

It had been raining when we arrived but by the time Tim led us round to the front of the Cathedral with all our gear about 8.30pm – we must have looked a motley crew – it had stopped. This was very kind of the weather!  We all started to look for our “spot” to plonk our things.  The BBC Radio 4 programme “Any Questions” was being broadcast from inside the Cathedral that night and we were all eager for it to finish so we could stand with a collection bucket outside the front doors and hopefully collect some extra donations from the audience coming out.  We told people what we were doing there, and why, some seemed amazed, some ignored us and others gave generously (the collection raised another £120.00!).  Maybe this was a slight reflection on what it must be like to be on the street: some people are amazed you’re there at all, most just ignore you and occasionally, hopefully, someone might be generous towards you in some way.  However, nothing could have prepared us for what Gav told us as he took us on a tour of the city centre and showed us where he and others spend their nights when sleeping rough. Some of the stories were horrific, the violence some rough sleepers have experienced was unbelievable, and he kept reiterating how it was to be out on your own with no protection and hearing people coming in your direction...”you just keep your head down and hope they leave you alone”, the loneliness, the boredom, the exclusion all came through loud and clear.  It was a sobering tour.

We all bedded down at different times.  I got into my sleeping bags about midnight, (I’d taken 2 and some cardboard and what I hoped would be a waterproof layer to go over the cardboard, and a Thermarest sleeping mat – how lucky was I to be able to take all that!?) and there was a lot of camaraderie, something that would be missing from every rough sleepers evening.  I have to say that I wasn’t cold at all, apart from my face.  But again this was because I’m lucky enough to have a lot of warm clothing and I’d wrapped up really well.  Quite a few other people were cold throughout the night and that would have been much more how it feels on a daily and nightly basis for anyone sleeping out.  The noise of the city kept most of us awake, and this was one thing in particular that really made me think: how can anyone function when they’ve been freezing cold all night and not had much, if any sleep, (I certainly didn’t get any) and especially when they have to endure this on a continual basis?  That on its own must be something that’s terribly difficult to live with.  Amazingly, we were watched over all night by JJ, Gav and a couple of other guys who I unfortunately didn’t get chance to talk to so didn’t find out their names properly.  Despite being out under the stars in the middle of town this made me feel safe and was a luxury which they would never get for themselves and it brought a lump to my throat.  And the noise of the city continued....

When we got up we were given breakfast and thanked for taking part, but I felt like I’d not done anything at all as it was easy for us knowing that we could leave in the morning and go home and have a shower or a bath. Easy for us to go and get into a warm, safe bed and then get up again when we felt like it. Easy for us to make ourselves a meal and get a hot drink as and when we needed to.  And easy for us to have a nap at tea time and then go about our daily business the day after as if nothing had happened at all.  This bears no resemblance to a “real” rough sleepers life; never getting any proper rest, being vulnerable out on your own for hours just waiting for it to get light again. And that's before you've started looking for food, somewhere to get warm, do your washing, get clean, or maybe having to concentrate to fill a form in, or remember an appointment or basically just trying to survive the day before you have to survive another night.... and that’s not to mention the boredom and the loneliness and the lack of any “home comforts” and the general wearing down of “self” that such a life must bring. Our humbling experience was something that I wouldn’t have missed and I would recommend everyone to do it at least once just to glimpse what we can only really try to imagine; a hard, hard life which we only scratched the surface of with our “Wake Out” event.

The Wake Out - Caroline's Experience of the Sleep Out image