I started out well prepared for the Big Sleep Out. Sleeping bag, bin bags to keep dry, cardboard, plenty of layers - I did sneak a cushion (thank god, even with my 'natural' padding it wasn't enough!) and as I was leaving home, my mum passed me a hot water bottle (hmm, I thought, I'm a tough Northern lass I won't need this - eish, I did!). Off I went - it looked as though I was leaving home! - for St John's church in the centre of Blackpool opposite the Winter Gardens.
I had arranged to meet some friends there - luckily one of the veterans had bagged some spaces for us against the church wall. As I placed my cardboard on the ground and set up my spot with sleeping bag and cushion. I looked around in amazement, we were like sardines. Barriers had been erected and more than 250 people crammed in to help raise funds and awareness for local charity Streetlife. I think the barriers were there to stop us from escaping!
To be honest, at first it was quite a party atmosphere. I often say that Blackpool is like a village, everyone knows someone that you know. So, crisps were shared and the sound of chatting and laughter was loud and lively. A band arrived and it felt like fun. As the rain started, we covered up the sleeping bags with the bin bags and one of the veterans brought out a tarpaulin. We laughed but it was a godsend. The rain was that heavy drizzle that finds a way to soak you and it stayed with us all night. Everyone started to nestle down into their bags - amazingly, some even fell into a deep sleep and the band was replaced with a crescendo of snores.
I must have been the worst sleeping partner as I wriggled around trying to get in the sleeping bag without getting everything wet. There must be a knack to getting comfortable, I couldn't find it. I ended up propped up against the wall. I had thought this was the best idea but hadn't realised the rain drips down the wall and down your back. Whilst my jacket kept me dry in the most part, there is a seam at the back of the neck where the water crept in and found its way down my back. The hot water bottle was my best friend as I became cold and damp from the inside out. Every time we moved, pools of water spilled out of the tarpaulin so by the end we were all sitting or lying in the wet.
We were the lucky ones though. Our faux big sleep out is nothing compared to those actually sleeping on the street. Sitting cold, wet, tired and achy, the harsh realities of homelessness set in. Yes, there were moments of laughter through the night, but there were many hours of contemplation of the suffering of those less fortunate.
There was a moment of light relief when a poor chap staggered across to the wall where we were and was just about to relieve himself when we spoiled the moment and screamed at him to stop. Not sure whether he was sleep walking or had a toot too many. Sadly, whilst this was a genuine mistake, too many people sleeping rough find themselves the victims of deliberate acts of degradation.
We were definitely the lucky ones. A first aider patrolled covering up wet sleepers making sure that people didn't get too cold, hot drinks and toilets were available and of course we were able to get up and go back home to our snuggly warm beds. It would have been nice to see politicians joining in - I suggested that we should do a sleep out on the pavements where key politicians live...there are people up and down the country raising funds as the charities who are trying to find solutions for this problem are struggling to find funding.
Streetlife provide support and shelter to vulnerable young people who are living on the streets of Blackpool. One of the girls who was helping out last night had been helped to turn her life around; she agreed to be interviewed by BBC Radio Lancashire and told her tragic story of how she had been raped repeatedly by her father and had ended up on the streets. She was one of the 'lucky' ones who had been helped by Streetlife and had been given the support she needed to be able to look to the future and a flat in a scheme where they keep providing advice and support to get people back on their feet. Others had been in care, had experienced family break-ups, got caught up in drink and drugs, gotten into debt or just slipped into a dire situation.
So, will I do it again? Yes, without a doubt but I won't be waiting until next year before I offer my help.
Thank you to all the members of thesilverforum who donated, your support certainly helped me through the night and will ensure that the centre will be able to help and guide more young people this year.
Please excuse the quality of the photos, don't be fooled into thinking that a nuclear disaster had happened, there were sleepers in the orange bags not dead bodies! We look better in real life
I think you need to stop messing about and find the original.