Home is more than just a roof over your head – it’s a place to feel safe, secure, and happy with loved ones. It’s something that we often take for granted, but there are many who are on the street, with nowhere to stay – and without the feeling of belonging and identity that having a home provides.
In September of this year, Chris and Jessica from The Benjamin Foundation proposed the idea of us taking part in the Norwich Sleep Out event they have organised and run for the last five years. After finding out more about the charity and its campaigning work to end youth homelessness, we had a team of four ready to take on this challenge and sleep outside on a cold November night.
Calling on friends, family, colleagues and clients we began fundraising to support this worthy cause.
The Benjamin Foundation
The Benjamin Foundation is a local charity helping young people at risk of homelessness in Norfolk and Suffolk. Started 25 years ago, the Foundation provides accommodation and support to young people that may be experiencing challenges in their lives. Be it abuse, bullying or homelessness, The Benjamin Foundation is there to give vulnerable people support.
In 2018, over 700 people died on the streets in England and Wales alone. This is an increase of 22%. The average life expectancy for a male on the streets is just 49 and females 53. Why is this still allowed to happen?
One nationwide campaign The Benjamin Foundation is part of is the End Youth Homelessness campaign. This initiative brings organisations all over the country together to help tackle the increasing issue of youth homelessness in the UK.
Preparation, preparation, preparation
With several layers of clothing, hats, gloves and a thermos flask, we carried our sleeping bags and cardboard down to Norwich City FC’s car park – our home for the night. Bustling with people already finding a spot to bed down for the night at the back of the South Stand, we registered and then found our own space to sleep along a wall – but uncovered and open to the elements.
We registered and then found our own space to sleep along a wall – but uncovered and open to the elements.
Representatives from The Benjamin Foundation gave us an overview of how the event and the record-breaking year it was. Last year 130 slept out, but this year smashed that with 220 amazing people braving the elements. Not only that, but Chris gave us the current total of the fundraising so far. Last year they raised £38,000, but they were already at £50,000! This was incredibly uplifting. They then went on to example the impact and the difference this money was making to young people. We saw a video of a young guy who really praised the work of The Benjamin Foundation. The Foundation also funded the purchase of a provisional license, a small thing but this allowed the young person to set up a bank account. These little things, that appear normal and inconsequential to us, make the most difference.
Dogs and dancing
Briefing done, local companies and a band came to provide hot food and music to see us into the night. I was definitely dancing around to try to keep warm. And Martin’s choice of headwear (a knitted hat with a knitted beard attached to it) didn’t stand a chance with the mustard from the delicious hotdog provided by Archers.
Finding a home
With the music coming to an end, it was time for the group photo… but then the heavens opened. Our team dashed back to our sleeping bags to find them getting wet. We had to find somewhere dry. Jackpot, we then found a little covered corridor between the cafe and a shipping container. Just the right size for the four of us. We packed up and set up for the night once again. It was not the best, but it was dry. But things like this did open my eyes to how difficult it must be to find somewhere secure, safe, dry and warm to sleep at night, for those not as fortunate as myself. It was a reality check for sure.
With one final swig of the thermos and putting on a dry fluffy pair of socks on, we bedded down for the night and the lights went out. Our spot was right next to the cafe and the lights remained on, which made sleeping particularly difficult – but that too is another hurdle that homeless people have to overcome. It is sometimes noisy, light and cold, which makes sleeping very difficult.
Searching for sleep
Once I got comfortable, I managed a couple of hours of sleep. I woke at 2.15am – it was cold and the temperature had dropped to three degrees celsius. It was time to add another layer. I managed to get comfortable once more and got another couple of hours of broken sleep. I found it very uncomfortable on the concrete, even with cardboard underneath it was hard and the cold came through. With that, I woke at 4.30 am. I tried to retain my body heat and got a hot drink to warm me up. Time seemed to pass so slowly as I waited for others to wake and the day to begin.
I woke at 2.15am – it was cold and the temperature had dropped to three degrees celsius.
We did it!
Eventually just before 6am people began to stir and, one by one, started to get up. We had done it. We survived the night. In hindsight we had it easy – a secure place with some bits of shelter, people providing us with food and drinks, convenient clean toilets, lots of lovely people around us for support and, more profoundly, we had a home to go back to afterwards.
That was the most impactful part of the experience for me. Home is more than just a roof over your head, more than bricks and mortar. It’s a place where memories are made and relationships flourish. It’s my hope the money we raised will allow young people to experience what a secure place to live offers.
The fundraising has kept coming – the Creative Sponge team and I raised an amazing total of £662.50 going toward the £70,000 total raised by the event. Spending one night outside so others don’t have to, was completely worth it. Now more local vulnerable young people will receive support and opportunities they need to prevent them from ending up on the streets.
The Norwich Sleep Out was a great experience, and I did it with an incredible team, brilliant donors, and inspirational organisers. The experience has opened my eyes to how fortunate I am and how we should all take the time to appreciate what we have and the people around us. Also, it’s been great to understand and appreciate the work charities, like The Benjamin Foundation, are doing so well.
You can still donate to the cause through our virgin money giving page.