I’m the Store Manager at Vodafone’s Princes St West store, and last Saturday night I decided to Sleep in the Park across the road. Four of my colleagues even agreed to camp out with me. We weren’t the only ones. Though the temperature fell to -6 degrees, there were 8,000 of us huddled together in West Princes Street Gardens, under the gaze of Edinburgh Castle.
The world’s largest sleep out
Sleep in the Park is a charity event that raises funds to stop homelessness in Scotland. It’s a bit like Live Aid, all kinds of bands and celebrities perform at the event to help raise funds. The goal is to draw attention to the plight of the homeless by asking people to spend just one night sleeping in the cold.
Known as the world’s largest sleep out, Sleep in the Park is organised by Social Bite, a Social Enterprise whose businesses include a chain of sandwich shops across Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Through the Social Bite Fund, a registered charity in Scotland, Social Bite aims to help the homeless in all sorts of ways, from employment and support programmes to temporary housing.
Homelessness affects tens of thousands of people in Scotland: more than 28,000 people were counted as homeless last year, according to Scottish Government figures. When Sleep in the Park was announced, my colleague Laura Hood mentioned the idea to me. We really wanted to do our bit to help, so I told my team at work about the event and asked if they would like to join me and raise funds for the homeless. With the help of Laura and fellow colleagues Chris Evans, Graeme Paterson and Chris Willis, who also work in the Princes St West store, we’ve raised around £2,000 so far. And thanks to match funding by Vodafone Foundation, (UK registered charity number 1089625), we are close to almost £4,000.
What it was like to Sleep in the Park
Before the big night, my team and I got organised. We set out looking for the warmest of sleeping bags, extra thick thermal layers, gloves, multiple hats, ski jackets, snoods and balaclavas, all purchased before the run up to the event. We even picked up a few bargains during the Black Friday sales.
All day we checked the weather reports, hoping that the minus 6 degrees we had seen predicted might somehow be wrong and we would actually be in line for a stealthy evening December heatwave - but no such luck!
After the store closed at 6pm on 9 December, we got layered up and walked the 60 seconds it took to cross Princes St. There was a large crowd already waiting to take part in Sleep in the Park, so we had to queue for over an hour while people’s bags were searched, but we had a good view from Princes St of the stage, and we could hear the first few bands. We got through security, got our wristbands and found our specific camping area for the night, where we deposited our sleeping bags and roll mats inside the plastic Survival Bag everyone was given. We were then directed to our viewing area for the live stripped back ‘busking’ sets by Liam Gallagher and Deacon Blue.
We arrived in the enclosure in time to hear from some of the people who were helped by funds Sleep in the Park had raised. Their stories were a harrowing reminder of why events like this are necessary but, as Social Bite founder Josh Littlejohn said, it doesn’t have to be this way – and it shouldn’t be beyond our collective ability to end homelessness for good. Josh later delivered some great news from the stage: Sleep in the Park had raised £3.5 million so far, and the number was still climbing!
As we stood there listening, we were all in good spirits about the evening ahead. We all felt our preparations had been spot on for the night, given how cold it was. But halfway through the final set of the night, as Liam Gallagher was performing, our confidence started to flag. My toes started to really feel the cold, and then everyone in the group confessed we were all pretty much freezing. The temperature had dropped again!
We decided to get back to our campsite, but when we got there we found that our sleeping bags had already started to frost over!
Settling in for the night
I borrowed a spare pair of socks from Graeme (I would’ve paid in all honesty!), rolled out my yoga mat, placed my sleeping bag inside the big orange Survival Bag and placed my big ski jacket between both bags. It was then that I discovered my sleeping bag wasn’t big enough for myself and all my layers! I managed to get the sleeping bag up to just below my shoulders, but there was no room for manoeuvre. Still, now that I was in, I wasn’t going anywhere.
The others in my group were still quite chatty, but I just wanted to grab any sleep I could. I pulled my hood down over my eyes and switched on my music and hoped to drift off...which I did, for around twenty minutes, before the city noises, chatter in the campsite and banging doors from the toilets nearby woke me up again.
That was the theme of it for the rest of the night, occasional broken sleep (although Chris claims I was snoring the whole night!) and the temperature dropping with every passing hour.
After a few hours in the sleeping bag, I noticed just how much my body temperature had dropped. While I wasn’t cold enough to get up and seek a Warming Zone on the site, I was definitely very aware of the temperature in the last few hours (and I wished I had bought a bigger sleeping bag and more layers!)
A very frosty morning
Around half past five on Sunday morning, everyone in the campsite seemed to decide as a collective that it was time to pack up. Ice and frost had formed on every surface - my pillow all around where my head was, all the way down the back of Graeme’s sleeping bag (as he slept on side) and the ski jacket I had placed between the sleeping bag and Survival Bag had frost all over it too.
While the night was very uncomfortable it wasn’t unbearable for us, as we had the luxury of months to prepare and money to spend on thermals and layers. But I couldn’t imagine having to sleep in the cold every single night. We all left with a new appreciation for how lucky we all are, and gratitude as well for the work that people like Josh Littlejohn and his team do on behalf of the homeless.
I’m also extremely proud of the Princes St West team for taking part in Sleep in the Park, and very thankful to all the friends, family, colleagues and customers who donated.
How you can help
If you’d like to Sleep in the Park next year, make friends with staff at your local camping store who can advise you on what you need. Buy a sleeping bag big enough to fit in when you are layered up – oh, and three pairs of socks are an absolute minimum!
If you’d like to donate to a good cause, just text BITE90 followed by the amount you wish to donate to 700 70. Thank you for your help!