On Friday night, Elaine and I took part in the Big Tees Sleepout, an event organised by the Middlesbrough & Teesside Philanthropic Foundation to raise awareness of (and funds for) homelessness and poverty in the region.
It was going to be a new experience for both of us; so much so that we had to borrow a sleeping bag and purchase a couple of foam mats. The five-day weather forecast had predicted rain during the night; and sure enough, Friday morning was cloudy and cool following a glorious Wednesday and Thursday.
However, as the day progressed, the temperature remained mild, and the final forecast we heard suggested that the rain would linger in the west of the country, and we were set for a dry night—something of a relief.
We were advised to wear plenty of layers, so that’s exactly what we did; thermal vest, jumper, hoodie, and waterproof jacket just in case of a Michael Fish-style blunder with the weather. Hat, gloves and thermal socks for the old extremities and we were almost ready for the off….
There are actually two sleepouts every year; one in summer, the other towards the end of the year. The later event is apparently much more popular (or perhaps “well-attended” might be more appropriate), with often three or four times as many participants than the thirty or so that assembled at Middlesbrough College on Friday.
When we arrived, we had to sign a disclaimer that said something along the lines of: “you accept you may be injured, or even die”. I was fully prepared to go home with a sore back, but to be honest, I felt less inclined to perish in the attempt; but no matter, we completed the form and set up our double sleeping bag and pillows in the designated area outside the main building.
Much as the event aims to highlight the hardship faced by the homeless and the poor, we had the luxury of being given a warm meal (soup or jacket potato), hot drinks and access to toilet facilities. What we were about to experience was therefore only a taste of the reality faced by so many on a nightly basis, but I suppose it’s important to actually ensure a decent attendance… and help to raise as much as possible towards supporting those most in need.
Thanks to the generosity of friends and family, we had raised £150; the total donated on the night exceeded £5,000, the news of which was a boost as we headed back outside.
I wasn’t expecting a get too much sleep, but after a couple of poor nights during the week, I was certainly tired. I snuggled into the sleeping bag, gloves and hat on, but shoes off, closed my eyes and started to drift. There was a hum of conversation from those around us that was more relaxing than annoying, and I reckon I was probably asleep by half past ten.
Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t easy to stay comfortable for long periods, and I stirred several times in order to readjust my position—and to remove my hat and gloves; would you believe I was too warm?! Each time I woke, I remember thinking that despite a couple of aches and a bit of cramp, this was only one night; and it wasn’t even cold or wet.
How do people manage when this isn’t just a one-off? When it starts to rain… when the temperature drops….
It’s so easy to take the lives we have for granted.
I woke properly at about five o’clock. The sun was starting to rise, and it was a beautiful morning. Elaine was still fast asleep, but she opened her eyes about half an hour later, having also had a far less difficult night that we’d probably both expected.
The event (which was extremely well organised) ended at six o’clock, and people started to drift off back to their respective homes for the weekend. Within half an hour we were sitting in our living room… and it was basically a normal (albeit early) start to what would hopefully be a normal day.
But with a far greater appreciation that everybody’s “normal” is not the same.