Robin Peers' Guide to the Big Sleepout

Skipton Business Finance's Birmingham office successfully completed the St Basil's Big Sleepout on the night of Friday 2nd December, designed to raise money for, and awareness of, the UK's young homeless. Below is an account of the night's events by Regional Director Robin Peers, who was part of the team which braved the cold, dark streets of central Birmingham:

Organised by St Basil’s, the Big SleepOut is in aid of homeless young people.

I thought that I would just jot down a few notes on our experience as guidance for anyone who wishes to follow in our footsteps... Rule number one, from Richard Cole (Corporate Manager), don’t put all your thermals on and then come into the office for three hours before leaving for the event! It may be good for instant dieting but it’s not good for temperature control. Tip number two, from Michael Beer, don’t try and acclimatise yourself by wearing a big furry hat with ear muffs for some weeks before the event, you will not get the true benefit on the day. And tip number 3, from me, make sure that you have the address where you are going before you set out, in this case I didn’t and we spent ages in the back of a taxi trying to find someone with an internet connection to give us the address!

Eventually we arrived to an absolute hive of frenzied activity with the most amazing cardboard box structures being built by the 450 people who were sleeping rough. We joined the queue and were issued with a very large plastic bag and a coupon for a cardboard box and some cardboard offcuts. Equipment in hand we managed to find a small area in which to build our dwellings. Mine turned out to be rather sardine-tin shaped, Michaels was a cross between a toothpaste tube and a Toblerone whilst Richard’s was a 5 bedroom detached property with 3 on-suite bathrooms and a paddock for a pony. Somehow he blagged a fantastic heavy duty cardboard box and then let Michael help him build his home for the night.

And then it started to rain. Gently at first but as the evening progressed, never a downpour but certainly constant drizzle. Tip no 4 – cardboard dissolves in about 3 microseconds when wet. All around us carefully built home were dissolving in front of our eyes and the sudden gusts of wind added to the chaos. Still 450 people working together can solve most problems and eventually everyone appeared to have a relatively watertight home for the night. Richard managed to lose his portico and front extension in the rain but Michael’s and mine survived as they were completely encased in the plastic bags. Tip no 5 – smaller is better when it’s a cardboard box you intend to sleep in.

The night passed cold and luckily not freezing, but in fairly steady drizzle and in the morning the site looked like a war zone on a very bad day, people dragging themselves out of collapsed sodden cardboard boxes. But surprisingly there were 450 smiling people there - a slightly surreal sight at 4.30 am that I shall carry with me for many years.

Did I enjoy it – well not exactly enjoy, did I have a good time – yes, and would I do it again...! But a more serious point occurred to me driving home. It was certainly a bit of fun with a great group of people and a very friendly environment .We had a good supply of strong cardboard and plastic and we were in safe and secure area. I wore 5 layers of high performance clothing and had a good sleeping bag and I was still cold. We had a café with snacks and tea and coffee available all night, and toast/tea laid on in the morning. Oh… and the luxury of a proper toilet. Then I could get into my car drive an hour or so home, have a shower, put clean clothes on, read the Saturday papers and doze in my chair in front of the fire. But what we did wasn’t real, we didn’t have to do it every night, in poor clothing, in insecure areas with minimal food, where it’s difficult to find somewhere to wash and get clean. And when we try to find work, because we are scruffy, no one will give us the time of day. And we each got a Certificate of Achievement – they don’t!

I came away admiring three groups of people.

Those who actually survive on the streets, how they do it day in day out I really don’t know, those like the team at St Basil’s who attempt to support them all year around, and everyone who sponsored Richard, Michael and myself with what looks like over £1,000.

They are the ones to be admired.

Thank you for your support!