Sleepless in Stockton
I always try and write a blog that entertains whomever is reading it. If they get to the end without falling asleep then I call that a 'win'. With this blog, it's me who's aiming to get to the end without falling into a nice, relaxing sleep. "I'm quite tired" he said modestly.
I'm writing this the day after I took part in our local CEO Sleepout. If you've never heard of it, or have consciously been ignored my pleas for sponsorship about it (we both know you have) let me explain.
CEO Sleepout is a charity set up to fight homelessness and poverty. Their fight is funded with money raised by executives who sleep outdoors for one night to raise sponsorship from their business contacts and friends. They hold events across the UK and are recruiting people now who are willing to help them fight poverty. In the spirit of full transparency, I didn't write that. I stole, then paraphrased it, from their website. I'm quite tired, so deal with it! ;-)
You don't actually have to be a Chief Executive Officer to take part, just have a passion to help others, the willingness to pester your friends constantly for cash and the patience to have them ignore all your emails when you're asking for money. Thankfully, my friends more than came through. Well most of them!
The sleepout I took part in was originally scheduled to take place back in May. I signed up thinking it would be (a) a great way to raise money and (b) I would spend a nice, balmy spring evening where I could enjoy good company, possibly sitting around a campfire singing 'Kum-Ba-Yah'. Obviously things changed and the date was moved to the first week in November. SPOILER ALERT - None of those things came to pass, especially the balmy Spring evening.
It was my first sleepout, certainly one that didn't involve a tent of some description, so was unsure how it would go. What would I really need for just one night outside? How would I even manage? Would I die of hypothermia? (SPOILER ALERT - I didn't).
The basics obviously involved buying every type of clothing I could find that had the word 'thermal' printed on the packaging! Long-johns (sexy I know), long-sleeved shirts, socks, gloves, hats, you name it, I bought it! A sleeping bag was a given but, as my idea of 'roughing it' is staying in a 4-star hotel, I had to get one of those too! I was ready. Just about.
Despite what seemed like months of preparation, before I knew it, it was time to leave for my night on the streets. I was already very warm having been breaking my thermal clothing in since 4pm that afternoon, but I knew that wasn't going to last! Two arms full of 'stuff', layers upon layers of clothing and a growing sense of anxiety, wasn't going to stop me. Although the 5 layers of clothing were doing their level best!
Maybe it was my naivety, but my first pitch of the night was a shot in the dark (and it was dark). I approached my night of sleeping 'rough' with a genuine sense of compassion. Of course, doing this for one night with free coffee, motivational speeches and easy access to toilet facilities wasn't going to accurately portray what it must be like for people who have to do it for real night after night, but I wanted to forgo anything too comfortable. That meant no air bed, no mattress (trust me two yoga mats are in no way a 'mattress', no camp-bed, no concierge service and no turn-down facilities. I was going hardcore.
After a little more scoping, we found a quiet little enclave at the end of the street that we thought would shelter us a little more, be a little darker and wouldn't amplify any snoring. Two out of three ain't bad.
As the night wore on, I spent a little time getting to know some of our other camp mates; you can find out more (well a little) about them here. Everyone seemed really nice and the atmosphere was very positive, friendly with just a hint of apprehension. There were some veterans of the sleepout and quite a few newbies. Myself and our lovely Trustee Richard Bendelow, who was also taking part, fell firmly into the latter category. That's probably why he wasn't expecting me to give him an enema when we took our photo together (see below). I'd Google'd 'sleepout initiation practices' and that was top of the list. Don't do it yourself, just trust me on it.
Once we'd all arrived, checked in, signed our lives away on the disclaimer, taken in our own bodyweight (which for me is a lot) in hot drinks and demolished the pie van that turned up, it was time for a couple of motivational speech from Bianca and Andy from CEO Sleepout to put it all in context.
They had been travelling the UK taking part in some of the other Sleepout events they had planned around the country, but this was home turf.
It was fantastic to hear about the real effects that the money generated is having in those areas, which all stays in the area it's raised. The fact that this happens and helps those who have to live like this every night gave us all an incredible sense of pride and determination to help raise as much money as we can to continue making a very tangible difference to projects in our area. Where we are, in Middlesbrough and Stockton, this includes The Moses Project and Grandparents Plus. Andy's speech also gave us an alternative hashtag for the evening in #ItsLoireBlueActually
As time was ticking on (as it tends to do) and the temperature was starting to drop, bedtime was approaching.
After taking part in Idrees's Facebook live broadcast, thanks to his fancy gimbel/selfie stick/camera accessory contraption (NOTE TO SELF: get one of those gadgets!), it was time to bunker down for the night. The sooner we sleep, the sooner it's over was the basic concept we were all going for I think.
Once in the sleeping bag, looking up at the stars (OK, well, clouds), it felt very real all of a sudden. It was certainly pretty chilly by then, but the spirits were still high. We all started to hunker down in our places and get in our beauty sleep. It took me a while to get to sleep. It's harder than you think to get to sleep on cobbles stones!
I think I nodded off about 11pm, but was awake at 2:30am for visit to the little boys room. All that coffee seemed like a good idea at the time! Just walking along the street, I was confronted by a nice chorus of snoring from all corners. It made me smile when the temperature was doing the exact opposite.
I'm not sure I got back to sleep after that. It felt like I was tossing and turning for the rest of the night. If I did, my brain didn't register it. If I didn't, then my nose certainly felt the freezing temperatures for the rest of the night! Before long, morning had broken, but all of us sleeping out had not. We did it. People certainly weren't shy about getting up, getting packed and getting the hell out of there! The lure of a warm comfy 'real' bed was too much to resist I guess. Who can blame them? A good night. A definite experience. A lot of money raised.
I do want to say a massive thank you to the team from CEO Sleepout including Andy Preston, Bianca Robinson and Dianne Gould for putting it all together and creating such a fantastic place to be for the evening.
Finally, a HUGE Men Tell thank you to everyone who has sponsored me to date, including Matt Smith, Laura Donaghy-Spargo, David Kingsbury, Catherine Haigh, Jacqueline Pollard, Richard and Samantha Bendelow, Gareth Cooper, Leonie Spence, Neil Carter, Martin Baker, Lee Skittrell, Prof. William McGovern, Jon Salmon, Dan Briggs, Millie Brewer, Deborah Bailey-Knibbs, my 9 year old son Ben Pollard, Hannah Bullock, Paul Atkinson, Hilary Snowdon, Sarah Dinsdale, Hannah Erdem (OK so her donation accidentally came to Men Tell Health by mistake, but the thought was there!), Andrew Caveney, Matt Williams, Josh Brodie, my Mum and Dad, Annalice Sibley, Philip Harker, Danial (not a typo) Shaw, Richie Andrew and not forgetting my 8 anonymous donors (and the 14 people who claimed to be them)! Thank you all! What's the collective term for a bunch of legends?
If you're reading this shortly after the event itself, then there's still time to sponsor me by clicking this link. Aww go on.
Even if this blog has simply entertained you for 5 or 10 minutes, then give them 5 or 10 minutes worth of sponsorship. I don't care how much, or little, you give. It's all for a great cause. Fancy trying it yourself? Get yourself signed up for next year at www.ceosleepoutuk.com. I might have thawed out by then!