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I recently, along with 79 other MD’s and chief executives, decided to sleep rough in Cardiff City centre to raise money for local homeless charities.  After seeing many of my friends and contacts venturing half way around the world for crazy cycling or climbing related challenges over recent years, this felt like a great opportunity to be part of something on a local level, that not everyone would do, and would have great impact locally in Cardiff.

As I got closer to the evening I really put some thought to why I was doing this event.  Creating a just giving page was my prompt. I started to think about the hundreds of times a year I must walk past people who live on the streets that are desperate for help.  I am that guy that would often think “it will only go on booze” or “Get off your arse and get a job”.  So I felt that taking part in this event would not only allow me to raise money for what is a serious problem in Cardiff knowing that it would really make a difference locally, but would also allow me to increase my own knowledge and awareness of the issue.

Initial support was amazing.  A few tweets, emails and Facebook messages allowed me to quickly accumulate over £400 in support, but there were lots of the other participants already well in the thousands!

Emails and tweets were flying around from all involved and the combined total was rising all the time which was great!  Everyone got in the mood and was sharing each other’s social content to try and raise more of a grand total.

With about a week to go (having that thought of “oh crap, I am gonna have to do this next week!”) I realised that other than knowing that the event was taking place in the Castle I had absolutely no idea what was happening!  The format, where we would sleep, what would happen on the evening, would it rain?…and so on.  This was made worse when asking various friends in the buildup who were also taking part what the plan was, to be met with the same response each time, “I haven’t got a clue!”.

I don’t know if this was an intentional tactic by Andy, Dan and the rest of CEO Sleepout team, but it certainly made me realise that this wondering, and nervousness, and total uncertainty for a single night must be a thousand times worse for those actually living on the streets!  It really made me realise that being homeless must take a huge toll, not just physically but mentally as well.

On the night

The night arrived and there had been talk of beers and pies, which of course made me happy.  I jumped out of the car with about 5 layers on and walked into the castle expecting to see a nice line of sleeping bags under some sort of canopy to shelter us from the forecast rain.  Instead I was met by Dan and Alistair who were setting up the registration table.  When I asked, “So where are we all sleeping?” I wasn’t expecting the response, “Wherever you like”.  Some people were setting up under trees or under the ballastrades in the castle.  Myself and a gang of about 11 others decided to pitch down on the concrete near the Castle toilets, we wanted to have to sleep through whatever weather was thrown at us.

The evening started off with an excited buzz, people were mingling and drinking, and as the night went on even busting out a few dance moves to some 80’s beats.   The jovial attitude went on till about 12am when people started to slip off to bed.  I decided to hit the sack at about 1am, knowing that if I could get 3-4 hours kip I would be ok.

This is where the challenges of sleeping rough really started to reveal themselves.  Lots of people were up drinking and chatting with music playing till gone 3am, as well as being right opposite Revolution in town which added to the din. Getting to sleep was not an option, but thankfully the rain had held off.

Eventually things died down a bit and I started to intermittently get some sleep.  Being woken up every hour by the bells at the castle and city hall wasn’t helpful; I would occasionally find a rogue body part in contact with the floor outside of my bag which felt like it had been sitting on a block of ice!  The rain did come in spells, but thankfully didn’t come down very heavy, it was just about light enough to sleep through at times (or at least I think I did, it was getting hard to tell the difference at this stage).  5am arrived and we were due to wrap up at 6.  I folded myself out of the sleeping back in a robotic manor and decided that there was no point trying to get any more sleep.  We would all be gone in an hour or so and it was getting light so a few of us jumped up and started to get our stuff packed together, Rob from the IoD was heading home so I hitched a lift and got back to the house at about 6.15am.

The aftermath

The next day was pretty hazy, having to attend a couple of corporate do’s with other Sleepout participants throughout the day showed the toll this had taken on everyone.  Everyone had that feeling that their brain needed a good 10 seconds to engage in conversation and we were all drifting off into day dreams at times.  Then we started to talk about how we were feeling, realising that in just one night we felt rough as hell, yet thousands of people in the UK do this every night!

We all got to go home for a shower and a quick 40 winks before getting on with our day.  Others aren’t afforded that luxury.  It certainly changed my views on the homeless community, now realising that the cycle of mental uncertainty mixed with the physical toll that sleeping on the streets must take on people is huge.  Mix that in with lack of good food and water and you can see why these people really need our help and support.

On the positive side, donations did, and have kept on coming in, not just for me but for the whole group, which is fantastic!  At the last count the group had raised over £83,000 for the supported charities!  That’s over 30% more than any other area in the UK that has taken part.

I am really proud to have been a part of this event and want to say a huge thank you to all of those that have donated to myself and the rest of the group to make this such a success.  Something tells me that this might be even bigger next time!  And hopefully next time you walk past someone in the street you can think of my story and decide that this time you can give them that £1 – £2 which could really help them out.

liam zebra – Spindogs

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