In the biggest ever event of its type in Dorset, on Saturday 16th November over 160 individuals, businesses and community organisations came together at the YMCA Bournemouth Big Sleep Easy to raise funds to combat homelessness and awareness of the issue. On a night when temperatures reached minus two degrees, fundraisers slept outside at the Chapel Gate sports complex in cardboard box shelters to get a taste of sleeping rough and, as a result, raised well over £30,000 for YMCA Bournemouth.
Amongst the generous sponsors of the event were Bournemouth University (the new owners of Chapel Gate) and solicitors Preston Redman. Also deeply involved were Dorset Chamber of Commerce, who raised over £4000 for the cause and whose chief executive Ian Girling was amongst those sleeping out.
Ian said: “We work closely with the YMCA and we’ve been concerned at the level of homelessness in Dorset, so we were keen to support this fantastic cause. Our staff have really thrown ourselves at it and there are also lots of Chamber members taking part. It’s just a great event.”
Aided by hot refreshments, hats and scarves knitted by local ‘Knit and Natter’ groups and hand warmers courtesy of Nunet, participants spent the evening designing shelters out of the cardboard boxes sponsored by Bournemouth University, Lester Aldridge solicitors and Store & Secure, all of whom also took part.
Castles, tanks, teepees and cheese wedges were amongst the designs later judged by Mayor of Christchurch Cllr Lesley Dedman and Mayor of Bournemouth Cllr Susan Phillips, with the eventual winner emerging as driving school Flying Colours who created a shelter in the shape of a car.
Other organisations taking part included Marquee Elegance, Mata Construction, Our Dorset, Nunet, Ace Office Environments, A-One Insurance, Barclays, Biz Space, Octima, Purple HR, Royal Bath Britannia Hotels, S29 Marketing, SG Finance Ltd, Hope for the Homeless, Woodley & Associates, Hybrid Estate Agents, Inspire, Insure4Retirement, ITEC, Motley, Kuehne & Nagel, Lewis Investment, Globacare, Stour Valley and Poole Partnership, Ouch Training, TeamJobs, Life Matters, Manutan, Calvary Pentecostal Church, REIDSteel, FC Douch & Son, Direct-Tec and staff from YMCA Bournemouth itself.
Participant Kirsty Lee of Our Dorset, a local partnership of health and social care organisations, said:
“What a fantastic event. It was so cold but we know we had it relatively easy: boxes, tarpaulin, hot drinks and, unlike rough sleepers, we felt safe. It was a real eye-opener: we can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for them.”
For some, their reasons for taking part were personal. Heather Daly was sleeping out in memory of her friend and former work colleague Mark. Despite being homeless himself, Mark had planned to take part but sadly passed away in September. Instead, Heather’s friend Sarah Gallagher, Mark’s support worker, took his place.
“Everyone who knew Mark just remembers how funny he was,” said Heather. “He suffered from alcoholism and tried to give it up, but it was too late. His friends have come together and we’ve raised almost £1000. Hopefully I’ve also changed a few minds by doing this: anyone can become homeless and no one should be sleeping on the streets. We did this for Mark and he was with us through the night.”
Gareth Sherwood, YMCA Bournemouth’s CEO, was hugely impressed by the commitment of the participants:
“It’s a controlled environment but even if it’s just a flavour of what’s it’s like to sleep rough, it can change perspectives. For companies, it’s far better than a staged team-building exercise and it raises money for a great cause at the same time. Homelessness is not somebody else’s problem, it’s all of ours and the companies and individuals who took part get that. They are making a difference and we are hugely grateful to them all.”
If you would like to support the event, you can still donate to participants at www.viriginmoneygiving.com by searching for their organisation/name under ‘Make a Donation’. Or, if you or your business would like to take part next year, you can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.