Riches to Rags – The Big Sleep Out

Last week was a week of contrasts for the McOnie Agency. On Tuesday evening, Sarah, Pauline and Mary attended the glitz and glamour of the PRCA Awards, as we’d been shortlisted in the Crisis and Issues Management category. By complete contrast and as part of our 25th anniversary celebrations, Sarah, Mary and I took part in the annual Centrepoint Sleep Out. Centrepoint is the UK’s leading charity that helps young homeless people get their lives back on track by providing a safe place to live for more than 7,800 young people, aged 16-25 every year in London and the north east of England.

The two evenings couldn’t have been more different.

20:00pm

After a long day in the office, we wrapped up warm, packed up our sleeping bags and headed to West India Quay in East London where our homeless adventure was about to begin.

Upon arrival we were registered and one of the Centrepoint team then showed us to our three paper sleeping bags laid out on the floor. Although they didn’t exactly look like the cosiest of beds, we were just relieved that we were in fact sleeping in a huge tent, when we thought we may have been sleeping in the rain! It then dawned on me that although we were roughing it for a night, this experience was a long way from what being homeless is really like; at least we had the luxury of having some form of shelter.

Everyone who took part in the Sleep Out was allocated a paper sleeping bag and they were all lined up closely together, like penguins in the Artic attempting to stay warm. Whilst we unpacked some of our belongings and settled in, one of the Centrepoint team came and introduced themselves and showed us where we could find food and the entertainment tent. In the corner of the sleeping tent there were four huge steel bowls full of tomato soup, which volunteers were giving out to hungry fundraisers.

21:00

We made our way to the next tent which was full of flashing lights and upbeat music. After a quick game of giant Kerplunk, two Centrepoint workers came onto the stage. After a brief introduction, they brought a young girl on stage who had turned to Centrepoint after becoming homeless following a horrific argument with her parents. She told the audience how valuable the charity was to her and that without help from the team at Centrepoint, she wouldn’t have had anywhere else to go. Her story showed clearly how the money we raise will benefit her and thousands of other homeless young people. It was even more satisfying to know that we were all sleeping out for such a great cause.

21:30pm

The night then unfolded with several entertainment acts, when young people who had once been in a bad situation took to the stage to perform ballads, rap or pop songs. Each person had their own background story and told us how they had received fantastic help from the Centrepoint charity. Following these acts the night continued with a DJ set from Brandon Block. After a boogie and few drinks, we were shattered and ready for lights out!

23:30pm

As we nestled down into our sleeping bags, we realised just how uncomfortable this night would be. With only a bit of cardboard to separate us from the concrete floor, I was just thankful that I had brought gloves, a scarf and hat to sleep in to help keep me warm.

3:30am

I woke up and I was uncomfortable and achy. The hard floor had really started to hurt my joints and I moved around in a desperate bid to find some comfort. As I tried to get back to sleep I could hear the gusty wind blowing into the tent and the torrential rain falling on the roof. All I could think of was what it would be like if we were really homeless and how cold and wet we would all be without the cover of our tent.

6:00am

Waking up was hard, although the lights in the tent were on, it was still dark and cold outside our sleeping bags. It dawned on us we were a very long way away from the comfort of our own homes. After a warm cup of tea and a bacon sandwich provided by Centrepoint, we finally packed up our things and made our way home, happy that we’d completed the challenge and could get back to our home comforts. We thought of those who have to sleep rough every night, without those home comforts that we take for granted.

The experience was one I will never forget and I have to say I am very proud of all of us. We have to take into consideration though that in the real world, homeless young people do not have the luxury of a glass of wine, a tent or even sometimes food. This made our experience that little bit easier but for young people who are struggling to find shelter or a home, this isn’t always an option.

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