For some time I have watched my friend champion a local charity that serves to be a place of resource and comfort to the homeless people on the streets of Blackpool. They specifically focus on young people and the statistics for our youths in this area being without shelter and safety are staggering. We are not a City with a large population challenge but we are a deprived area with an underbelly of struggle and poverty.
“In 2011, 30% of young people in Blackpool were living in child poverty, and 2012 educational
statistics showed that less than 50% of students in Blackpool attained 5 A*-C grades at GCSE level,
whilst 14.5% of the working age population had no formal qualifications at all. Skills levels are shown
to be improving, though. Public health is also a key issue in the town, with most statistical indicators
sitting below the national averages. The average life expectancy across the town is one of the lowest
nationally, and health priorities for Blackpool include alcohol and drug misuse, mental health,
smoking and obesity. The percentage of adults of a working age claiming Incapacity Benefit/ESA is
approximately double the national average.” – Credit Blackpool and Fylde council Area Review in the homelessness prevention strategy 2018-2021.
A local lottery funded charity is fighting to offer quality support to those in need. They offer a full range of differing services , focusing on how they can help each person to change their life for the better and conduct evaluations on how these objectives have been achieved. When read these evaluations are incredibly thorough and shows just how in depth this charity goes to achieve results for each of their visitors. Along side life skill support they run a very much needed night shelter that offers a safe and warm place for people with no home.
In order to raise awareness for this much needed shelter, Streetlife host an event each year called “The Big Sleepout”, Tickets are sold to people like me, who have never had more than a handful of uncomfortable nights, people who can go and “sleep rough” for a night and see what it is like in a novelty fashion. The beautiful thing about these events is when you sign up you are already aware of how privileged you are and that the experience no matter how horrid, could never compare to living on the streets in real time.
So I signed up….. I knew a few things before I did it
- People would get a kick out of someone like me doing it – I am not in the slightest outdoorsy, I called both my businesses “pretty” something and I like everything to be warm, cosy, pink and preferably with fairy lights.
- I was not going to sleep – I could stay awake for a night, I have afterall done it before and I knew I could last one night without rest. I was lucky – there would be a hot shower and a bed awaiting me when I had completed the challenge.
- I would be able to work – for instance I had ideas of writing this blog minute by minute like a breaking news story- I had my phone and an additional battery source that could last me around three days , unlimited data and of course a whole twelve hours of time to fill.
- I was amongst friends, like all naive pursuits I was comforted by the fact I would be with my friends and colleagues when I undertook this challenge – I wouldn’t be alone, I wouldn’t be asked to move on by the police and this was just a bit of fun right?
- I could buy and take provisions, from extra clothing to snacks , I knew I could arm myself (within reason) with comforts that would not be available to people truly in this position and I intended on taking full advantage of that.
Friday 26th April 2019 – Anna Blackburn – Managing Director of Beaverbrooks the Jewellers opened up the sleepout. Claire ( My friend and colleague) and I were at this moment still figuring out the prices of parking a local car park, We arrived shortly after – Still in time for the local papers photographer to be running around asking people to pose for pictures ready to “write all about it” in a later edition.
We arrived to people furiously setting up their area for the evening and found ourselves maybe a tad too casual about our placement to rest for the evening – opting to go for a near the railing spot that was quite central to the area of town we were in and close to our other friends that had settled in that area. *Spoiler* Our placement was a disaster!
Confident in our skills to keep cheery and find the positives we delighted in the fact that Streetlife had provided everyone with an orange survival bag to put over our sleeping bags. We were going to survive storm Hannah Face on and be fine in our carrot coloured waterproof miracle shield.
As you can see from the picture above , I was in good spirits and ready to take on the challenge. Determined to prove that this soft princess and the pea type could survive a night in the (Relative) wild.
The first couple of hours were a mix of small talk , banter with friends, discussion over the weather and trying to decide if one should get immediately into the sleeping bag.
I wouldn’t be in bed by 9pm on a Friday night at home so it seemed a bit silly to force the matter – so I stayed up and opted to chat and kill some time.
It was obvious upon arrival that all the floor was wet and cold, so everyone was swapping strategies for keeping warm and dry, often going backwards and forwards to the hot drink area within the church and enjoyed that additional comfort.
The event was well manned, there were lots of keen and kind eyed volunteers and support workers including security and we all felt safe.
Then the rain began.
For a number of hours we downplayed the discomfort to each other frequently like a broken record. The rain wasn’t that hard, the wind , not that cold and our situation thus far, not that dire.
Sure, we were already missing the comforts of home, we could see why this is not a good option for people to live like this but on the whole for us privileged folk , who should think themselves lucky, this was still a walk in the park.
I took this time to begin my first live on social media in a biD to document my situation and drum up more donations.
Now , the thing is , I consider myself to be self aware. I have over the last few years grown much internally. I have worked on myself alot and I would have thought I had built a strong foundation of good character. Nothing forces you to face yourself and your ugly truths more than when you are left without something you rely on.
I could not get my phone to work in the wet conditions , nor the 4G internet to connect – In that moment I had to face what a crutch my technology had become. Stick me out on some of the roughest streets, in a storm, in the dark, freezing cold and soaking wet sure thing – but never leave me without my phone?! It was a ridiculous feeling – of all the things to be upset over , but I was genuinely annoyed and sad in that moment – Maybe I wasn’t as geared up for this as I thought. Fighting the urge to throw a grown woman tantrum right then and there I decided to keep trying and stay calm.
Scary realisation was that as it failed me I was in-proportionally upset and filled with disappointment and fear – how would you get by without you in hand entertainment and communication system? Apparently that’s something I didn’t know and haven’t had to face regularly.I realised that my phone had been the comfort blanket I had sought for the challenge. It made me wonder, had there had been a no phone rule…would I have signed up? #firstworldproblems #whataloser
I eventually got my phone working on 3G and found myself all types of grateful that I could continue with my plan.
I did four lives on all my social media accounts back to back and the amount of support was amazing, donations went up and I was very happy. Whoop!
As the rain became a permanent fixture I realised that I may need to get into my sleeping bag whilst I was still relatively dry and attempted to get in. Hilarious and awkward , I managed to get in the two bags sliding around on the wet yoga mat I had on the ground. I realised that I probably wouldn’t want to get back out again and attempted to shield myself from the rain with a tarp I had taken with me.The tarp didn’t work at all and I actual made quite a fool of myself attempting to set it up! The wind was picking up and it was apparent that the rain was here to stay.
After a few hours of rain and wind I found my resolve cracking, I had brought fairy lights with me as a bit of a lighthearted joke at my own expense – What was funny at the beginning of the evening was not so much so when I was curled up inside a saturated sleeping bag, shivering from the wind that was finding its way into the nooks of my small cold shelter.
For hours found myself burrowing to the middle of my sleeping bag with only a few bulbs of the strand of fairy lights warming the inside of the bag with its light. It was an illusion and it was a welcomed one.
Occasionally we would poke our heads out of the sleeping bags and attempt to eat something (impossible) or conduct a conversation that was never more than ” are you okay?” , ” how are you doing?”. All our energy was focused on trying to find warmth and comfort and there was nothing you could do to help each other. Its every man for himself.
I managed a couple of live videos since my first set up but people were finding their way to their warm , cosy and safe beds, no longer looking at Facebook, but drifting off comfortably wherever they were. The rain had killed any possibility of using the phone for entertainment. I couldn’t risk breaking it in the rain and had to try to wait the hours out.I felt like a prize nob for imagining me catching up on Netflix and riding out the hours in reasonable comfort.
Naturally in this situation , your body leans towards rest. It seeks out warmth and comfort and all of the things you have learned from childhood to soothe yourself into a relaxation state and eventually sleep and there isn’t any. Isn’t it crazy that techniques you learn in your first years are still relevant to you getting to sleep decades later? self soothing out in the elements is an art form and takes more than physical comforting techniques. You have to train your brain.
I fell asleep a few times, it felt like tiny bits of torture because those moments were short lived and when I awoke time had hardly passed and I was reminded of all my areas of discomfort.
At one stage I lay on top of my arms until I couldn’t hardly feel them anymore- the numbness is a strange sensation, but it is warmer than allowing your nerve endings to awaken and face the harsh truth.
In those moments of cold, I found myself telling Claire that I was okay. I am soaked, I’m cold, but I’m okay, Internal voice reminding me its just one night and I am harder than people think I am , which I am , of course, not in the slightest.
I have got this, I will be okay. The truth was that I was watching the clock on the Church wall so intently that it felt like time was going backwards.
Towards the morning I became grateful that I had a home to go back to in a couple of hours. After just one evening I was irritable, tired and miserable. I felt proud that so many of us had braved the harsh weather and I was deeply looking forward to getting home.
In the morning , when we all gathered to congratulate each other on finishing it there was a sad undertone to everyone involved. We were proud, very happy with what we had collectively raised, honoured to be involved with such a worth charity and cause but there was a sense of sadness in the air.
To imagine, even for the briefest amount of time what it would be like to live that way and not have somewhere to go for help. To spend a night soaking wet and have to dry off in the cold winds of the next day. Without travel pillows, umbrellas and fairy lights or whatever…. its no longer unimaginable.
The evening out paints a picture in a way that you can no longer deny what you now know to be a truth. Of course the experience only gives you a tiny taste. Real life is far worse.
What is felt cannot be unfeeling. So tarnished we are now with the experience of that evening and a small insight to struggle when exposed to the elements.
We raised over £2000 collectively which Beaverbrooks the Jewellers are going to double and donate, which is an amazing achievement and will help to keep the shelter open.
Thank you to all the people who watched my lives, commented with messages of support for us and lastly those of you that passed some of your hard earned onto this amazing charity. It has restored some faith within me about the state of human connection and kindness.
Want to help?
See you next year ……