A Personal Account by Darren Toms, Managing Director
On Friday evening our team took part in a sleepout in Sheffield City Centre in support of a homeless charity called the Cathedral Archer Project (CAP – www.archerproject.org.uk). In the run up to the sleepout anxiety levels were high; weather forecasts accurately predicted sub-zero temperatures with heavy rain turning to snow.
Heading up the M1 on Friday evening, as we drove past road signs stating, “Severe Weather Forecast This Evening”, the realisation of what we were about to do suddenly sank in. On arrival, I was amazed to see so little grass outside the Cathedral. There were lots of people buzzing about, a tram stop right outside and the area was incredibly well lit.
Our team made up 10% of the 70 strong crowd that were prepared to defy the weather and sleep outside for this incredible charity. And so it began.
We were given an informative talk from CAP inside the Cathedral and warned that Weather Watch might kick in this evening (Weather Watch is a Sheffield city centre initiative whereby if temperatures fall below zero, accompanied by wet weather, then all homeless people are offered a safe indoor refuge. We were to be treated the same because after all, on this very evening, we were homeless!)
At about 8pm, we made or way outside and found our very own corner adjacent to the Cathedral and turned this into our temporary bedroom for the evening. Sadly no tents for shelter, just roll mats and sleeping bags, blankets and bin liners to keep the rain off.
Our team was in incredibly good spirits (nothing to do with the small amounts of alcohol that we sneaked in with us) and the first couple of hours whizzed by. It wasn’t long though before boredom sunk in and one or two of us started missing silly things like watching tv, getting up and down to put the kids to bed or letting the dog out. It suddenly became very evident how much time a homeless person must think to themselves and how easily this could lead to mental issues.
At about 10.30pm I suggested it was time to climb into our sleeping bags and it was a good job that I did. Just as we settled down the heavens opened and suddenly it was no longer just the cold and the wind that we had to battle. What followed came as a big surprise to me. No sooner had it started to rain than the CAP team came out and told us that Weather Watch had been triggered. We were stubborn though and decided to ignore their request to sleep indoors despite being told that “once you are wet, you are wet.”
Unlike the rest of my team I was confident in my ability to sleep just about anywhere and for once I had no young children to wake me, so it wasn’t long before I fell asleep. A very different type of sleep though! I had my team around me, so I wasn’t quite as vulnerable as someone who is homeless, but I felt sure that if anyone walked up to me that night, I would have woken in an instant. Was my body not completely shutting down due to fear, or was it just human instinct knowing that danger, be it physical violence or a sharp drop in temperature, was never far away?
And so came 2am! Having ignored the request to head indoors, I woke up in an instant and everything felt very different. For starters, everyone around me except my team, had taken the sensible advice and headed indoors to sleep inside the Cathedral. But why had I woken? My legs! For some reason they felt incredibly cold and then a snowflake tickled the end of my nose. The weather had turned and as I sat up I was buffeted by a gust of wind that blew the snow straight into my face. A layer of ice had formed on top of my sleeping bag and it had already started to melt through. Being asthmatic, the cold weather was always going to be the biggest part of this challenge and I knew with each breath that my chest was getting colder and starting to tighten. I was in real danger and I needed to make a very quick decision.
The first decision was an absolute no brainer. I was wet, cold and asthmatic and I knew within seconds that my sleep outdoors had come to an end. But what of my team? By now they were all fast asleep (I thought) and the biggest decision I had to make was whether to wake them or not. I knew how much sleeping all the way through this challenge meant to them, but I feared for their health just as much as I did mine.
On entering the Cathedral I was welcomed with a hot drink and an arm around me. I was clearly beating myself up for being defeated by the weather but this challenge was about tasting the homeless experience and by this time all homeless people were long gone off the streets of Sheffield. What should I do about my team? “They took the choice to stay out like you did when they were advised not to, I’m sure they will make up their own mind in good time.” It was fair advice, but it didn’t stop me worrying about them for the rest of the night.
It took me an hour or so to stop shivering at which point I found a quiet darkened corner in the Cathedral, stripped of my wet layers of clothing and settled down on the concrete floor for the remaining few hours of this miserable evening.
We were woken up at 5.30am and I was relieved to be re-united with my team who managed to stay out a couple of hours longer than I did. Legends in their very own right and at that moment I felt incredibly proud of each and every one of them. However, you could see what the night had done to them both physically and mentally and we all agreed that the sooner we got home to recover the better! A quick photo later, followed by some breakfast and a warm drink and we were all heading home.
On the way home I decided to call into Starbucks in Worksop for a coffee and I was greeted by a gentleman who was clearly homeless and had gone through the same experience as I had last night. He had taken shelter in a doorway and battled the cold all night. I bought him a coffee and offloaded what items I had left over from my experience, the pick of which were a couple of really good hand warmers which he had never seen before. To him it was like Christmas had come early and after explaining why I had all this gear with me he thanked me from the bottom of his heart for doing what we did and raising money for the homeless.
The drive home after leaving this gentleman was an emotional one. He had thanked me for our efforts on Friday evening but there I was going home to a loving family, warmth, food and a roof over my head. It was at this point that I realised that all we had done was flavoured a very small part of being homeless and that that alone was going to drive our team along for the rest of this year to raise £10,000 for this very worthy charity.
Before I leave you with what my colleagues thought of this life changing experience I would like to thank each and everyone of you that sponsored us from the bottom of my heart and if you are yet to sponsor, but would like to, then please visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/clumberconsultancy2018
At the time of writing this blog we were up to an incredible £1,200 in sponsorship THANK YOU.
Darren Toms, Managing Director
Jo Rawson – When we agreed to do the sleep out for the homeless I was dreading the experience but knew it was for a good cause. I came armed with my sleeping bag, layers of clothes, blankets drink and food (a luxury most homeless people do not have). I was lucky to be surrounded by people and the chat and laughter made the time go faster (another luxury the homeless do not have). We had a night of rain, snow and it was so cold which resulted in retiring into the Cathedral at 4am, feeling very wet and shivering through being so cold.
The next few hours were the hardest trying to warm up and feel positive as I did not realise the impact emotionally it would have on me. I did this for one night the homeless are doing this day in day out and I cannot even comprehend how the homeless cope and in my opinion, everyone should have the basics in their life e.g. a roof over their head, food and heating.
The staff at the Cathedral were amazing and the work and the support they provide is endless and every penny we raise will help them tremendously.
Paul Staniforth – After the experience of Friday night I couldn’t imagine the horror of having to go through what I went through on Friday night alone. Without the aid of my umbrella and a top of the range sleeping bag which most homeless people don’t have, I would have been soaking wet and freezing cold (more so than I was). Friday night was for a great cause, but I am glad it was just for one night only. It emphasised my belief that today there really should no longer be people without homes and shelter to live in.
Dee van Gellecum – What a humbling experience. I was cold, wet, tired and aching after only one night sleeping out. With great camaraderie I got through the night feeling safe and secure. We are the lucky ones as we are able to go home to a safe and secure environment. I would encourage everyone to take part in this challenge to get a small insight into the plight of homeless people today. They go through this day in and day out being vulnerable and often alone. I would definitely do this again to help raise awareness. In today’s society this should not be happening!
Jodi Arthur – I cannot even begin to comprehend what the homeless go through on a day to day basis. My experience was short but not sweet. It made me realise how grateful I am for the “things” that I have in my life. As the homeless don’t have these “things” that keep me warm, dry and safe. After a cold, wet and stormy night they must be ready to tackle the elements all over again the following night; not something I would like to experience again but would do to raise money and awareness of the homeless. I experienced a snapshot and it was a horrible yet enlightening experience of what homeless people have to go through both mentally and physically every day.
Oli Smith – It was an eye-opening experience as we tried to be as authentic as possible. However, with the security of knowing a warm drink, pot noodle and security were just feet away it made it bearable. Without that added security, it would be a completely different experience.
I’d recommend this experience to anyone wanting a small taste into the life that a homeless person must experience and help raise awareness of the suffering they face whilst highlighting the good work done by the Cathedral Archer Project.
Helen Rushby – I hate the cold. And I love my home comforts. So, this was always going to be a challenge but the thought of it only lasting 12 hours was enough to keep a positive attitude. To be honest, the cold wasn’t that bad whilst I was sleeping, and the support of my work colleagues helped keep spirits high. I don’t think I slept at all, my vulnerability to the elements and environment around me always on my mind. I called it a day at 4am, when finally, the thermal foil sheet and umbrella I had been using for shelter failed. I ached, my brain wasn’t functioning properly, and my hands had gone completely numb. Would I do this again? Probably, given the choice, to raise funds for CAP. But thank goodness it is a choice and I didn’t have to do it again the following night.