People have asked me why I took part in the Manchester sleep-out in 2017. Recently I have seen the issue of homelessness in the city grow and spoken to a number of people about it. People’s reaction is that the Government should be doing something about it, the City Council should be something about it but they seem to be reluctant to do anything about it themselves. Having seen a poster in the Manchester café I felt that this was something that I needed to do. Once I arrived home I registered on the Booth Centre Site.
I must admit to a certain amount of trepidation as the day of the event approached. I was sent a list of what to bring and more to the point, what not to bring. The weather forecast was pretty dismal and rain was forecast. My wife Diane, had offered to participate, too, but I felt that doing it alone would give a more authentic experience to some degree.
I packed a rucksack with my sleeping bag, inflatable pillow and some clothing and had a quilt and a couple of thin self-inflatable mats. I decided to travel into Manchester using public transport and one or two people on the train were nudging each other and pointing at my bags. On arrival at Victoria Station I walked towards the Cathedral and was struggling slightly with the bags.
The registration process was pretty smooth and we assembled within Manchester Cathedral. There were about 400 people registered and someone said that they had to close the application process due to the number who wanted to take part.
There was a speech by the Chief Exec of the Booth Centre which was pretty enlightening. She explained about some of the problems that the homeless people face including having to carry all their belongings around all of the time as there is a strong chance that if they got left anywhere they will get stolen. She also explained that many homeless people are starting to suffer the condition suffered by soldiers in World War I i.e. trench foot, as their feet never get a chance to dry out because if they take their trainers off, again, someone is likely to make off with them.
We had a talk from a guy who had been helped by the Booth Centre. I have attended many conferences over the years as a delegate and rarely seen anybody as well spoken and articulate as this gentleman. He explained that he had been a hard worker all of his life, starting with a paper round when he was a boy, one day he had to leave the family home but there was no Plan B and he became homeless. The rest of his talk was truly disturbing as he demonstrated how easily some people can go from what most people would regard as a normal family life to ending up on the streets.
The time then came to take up our spot for the night and by then the Manchester rain had already started. I chose my patch of grass (or more to the point mud) and laid down my mats and got out what was going to comprise my bed for the night. It was almost impossible to keep it from getting soaking wet (it was already wet). In the past I have been camping when it has been cold and wet outside and it has still been slightly messy. Trying to get into a sleeping bag with wet trousers tuned out to be somewhat of an ordeal. Having suffered the misery of this situation during an undetermined period of time (I had deliberately not taken a watch and felt pretty disorientated, time-wise) I felt that my family and the homeless may benefit by me not getting pneumonia, so I moved under cover. In some ways this was slightly better, but in other ways it was actually much worse because the light was on constantly, people were talking and the noise was reverberating and whereas the grass had been quite soft, the floor was rock hard. People were walking around and a couple of them brushed my head with their feet as they walked past and of course, my clothing and sleeping bag were still wet (in fact the clothing was still wet over 18 hours later after I had returned home safely).
Whilst I did not know much about the Booth Centre as little as six weeks ago, I am inspired that they are helping people in a very vulnerable position. The volunteers on the night were in many cases people who had been helped in the past by the Booth Centre and they were all delightful and did not really fit the stereotype of what a homeless person was like.
Whilst in many ways it was a fairly horrible experience and not one that I would want to repeat in a hurry, it certainly fulfilled the brief stated on the poster I had seen back in the café that “for one night only we are sleeping out to highlight some of the hardships that homeless people have to face every single night”.
I have been absolutely delighted with the response from my friends, family and business contacts in helping the Booth Centre with a donation and at the time of writing this I had raised almost £500, including Gift Aid, which the Booth Centre will be putting to really good use.
If anyone feels that they would like to help the homeless and rough sleepers in the period coming up to Christmas then this can be done either directly at boothcentre.org.uk, via my Just Giving page www.justgiving.com/fundraising/david-heatonifa or by donating via text using SLEE17 £5 to 70070.