Fringe Box



We All Survived Our Night Out in the Cold for a Good Cause

Published on: 3 Feb, 2013
Updated on: 4 Feb, 2013

By Martin Giles and David Rose

Well, we survived our sleep out on Saturday night and into Sunday morning (February 2 and 3) with all the others taking part in Guildford YMCA’s 2013 Sleep £asy event, raising money for its work in combating youth homelessness.

The venue was the Bishop of Guildford’s residence at Willow Grange, off Woking Road near Jacobs Well. We bedded down to the rear of the beautiful old house on a patio area that is actually a bit of a building site at the moment. A new brick paved area is in the process of being laid.

Those who took part in the sleep out pictured with the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Rev'd Christopher Hill. Martin Giles is at the back on the left and David Rose is kneeling at the front.

Those who took part in the sleep out (apart from Pete Brayne who took the photo) pictured with the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Rev’d Christopher Hill (centre wearing a brown jacket). Martin Giles is at the back on the left (wearing a cap) and David Rose is kneeling at the front.

Here’s our thoughts…

Martin: For me, last night was not so much a sleep out as a shiver out. If I needed reminding how tough cold winter nights can be for those who are homeless it certainly did the trick.

Everything started well. Cycling the few miles to the event on a dark chilly evening seemed to fit in with the spirit of depriving ourselves of normal convenience. With my wordly possessions: sleeping bag, sleeping mat and a few comforts. I probably even looked a bit like a bag man as I cycled along Ladymead, and could almost hear passing motorists comment: “Poor old codger. I suppose he is looking for a place to doss down.” Which was true, of course.

'Bag man' Martin Giles with his bike.

‘Bag man’ Martin Giles with his bike, about to set off

No one expected me to arrive by bike though and the front gate at the bishop’s residence, which had been set to open automatically for cars, remained firmly shut! Unfortunately, Pete Brayne, YMCA CEO and event supremo, noticed me and came and let me in, otherwise I could have cycled back home to a warm bed with a good excuse and a clear conscience.

I was one of the first and selected a pitch with a softer surface rather than those areas that had been paved. It looked more comfortable.

The pitch.

The pitch

David Rose arrived with a copious supply of cardboard. In the tradition of Three Men In A Boat we commenced the building of our cardboard shelters. How hard could it be? We would build shelters that would have saved Scott in the Antartic!

Despite the sticky tape and staple gun, our cardboard refused to be joined as we wanted it to be. But we persevered until we had one sagging pathetic looking structure that would have collapsed if so much as a blue tit alighted on it.

“It will probably be okay.” I said, knowing that blue tits don’t fly at night and knowing that, after all, it was not my shelter.

Martin and David's shelters.

Martin and David’s flimsy shelters, unlikely to have saved Scott or survived a blue-tit visit

It made me considerably less ambitious for my own effort, although I wanted it to survive a visit from any blue tits unaware of their normal night-time flying ban. So I simply reconstructed a single box which I thought could accommodate my head and shoulders. What more could I need? After all, my sleeping bag would be covering the rest of me.

Satisfied by our efforts we joined the others and collected hot drinks and slices of home-made cake provided by our fellow sleep outer and local MP, Anne Milton. Evidently providing home-made cake to voters is likely to feature on the next Tory manifesto and she was trying the policy out. The cake was good. I wonder what comestibles the Lib Dems and the Labourites will promise to provide?

Some started to turn in straight away (about 10pm) but David and I were not feeling that tired yet. I was expecting some community singing but it seemed Pete Brayne was only joking when he suggested breaking out into Village People’s hit song YMCA.

I decided it was time for my mulled wine, but was unsure whether alcoholic beverages were allowed, so drank it rather furtively. It was a shame, I thought I would share it round. Already having stood still for a while, the chilly temperature was beginning to penetrate my many layers.

But the hot wine tasted and felt great. It warmed the inner man. Of course, Special Brew might have been more appropriate, but there is only so much realism necessary.

We turned in too. It was quickly apparent that my simple plan had a critical flaw. My shoulders would not actually fit into the box. I would have a warmish cranium though.

Two of the girls from Barlow Robins LLP with their hot-water bottles.

Two of the girls from Barlow Robbins LLP with their hot-water bottles.

I carried out a situation assessment: feet warm – snow boots performing well; legs warm – last minute donning of ski salopettes proving to be a master stroke; hands fine within Thinsulate gloves; head cosy within my ski hat with ear flaps [my family disown me as soon as I wear it] and, of course, this was the bit that did fit in the cardboard box; but my shoulders and body, including my inner core were cold and getting colder.

Why is it that when one part of your body is suffering it becomes the only part you are are of? I thought that eventually I would drift off. But sleep would not come and all I could think of was the cold.

Eventually, after what seemed an age, I checked the time – nearly 2am. Still over four hours to go before we would rise for our promised bacon baps.

There was some movement. Someone was trying to get into the house to use the lavatory but the door seemed lock. As soon as I realised that I felt the need for a visit myself.

I returned to my shivering, but added another concern to the back of my mind. An hour passed then I heard the door open. Pete Brayne had the key! Two of us were very relieved!

I was last in the queue and relishing the warmth spun out my visit as long as I reasonably could. Fleetingly, I considered curling up on the floor of the spacious w.c. but I thought it might put others off a bit.

On my reluctant way back to my pitch I saw a large collapsed box unused. My eyes lit up. My needs had become very simple and this grubby box meant a little additional warmth.

I simply lay it over me and it seemed to make a difference. Life had become a little more bearable.

Time continued to pass slowly and I was not aware of sleeping at all. Eventually I was delighted to see it was 5.30am. Only an hour to go, which I passed by listening to the radio on my iPhone.

As 6.30am approached there was movement. Others were keen to rise, pack up and report for breakfast. The bacon baps tasted extra good, as did the hot drinks.

Let’s face it: despite any discomfort, this was five-star rough sleeping, but it was enough to make us thank our lucky stars and take our home comforts a little less for granted.

As I write this, there will be others sleeping rough for real in Guildford. Spare a thought for them and please, if you can, help the YMCA to help some of them by sponsoring our effort. Just click on the advert top right to link to the donation page. Our target is £1,000 but every pound will help.

David: I had taken part in Guildford YMCA’s first Sleep £asy sleep out in 2008 under the covered walkways at the entrance to Guildford Cathedral, so I had some idea of what lie ahead.

But back then I had a really decent, strong and fairly large cardboard box that I squeezed into and had a rather good night’s sleep. This time my cardboard box contraption was much smaller, and as the air began to get damp the sticky tape used to hold the pieces of cardboard together just peeled off.

I tried to induce myself to fall off to sleep by chanting a mantra – a single word that I have used since I was a child. I have never revealed to anyone before that the word is “Everton”. All those years ago when someone said I should try a specific word, that was the first one that came into my head. Strange, as I have always been an Arsenal fan!

But it did do the trick and I began to feel sleepy. The problem was that I could not get comfortable at all. It was not that the ground under me was particularly hard, but which ever way I tried to turn in my sleeping bag (and not a very good one at that), there was a part of my upper body – face, exposed cuffs between my gloves and arms, and so on, that kept feeling chilly. Added to that I got the occasional cramp in my feet!

I must have dozed off numerous times only to wake up again. I had another coat I could have put on, but felt, in my half-asleep state, that to fully wake up, wriggle out of my sleeping bag and then climb out from under the now collapsed cardboard to fetch the said coat would render me fully awake and I would have to go through the whole mantra thing again.

So I decided to make the most of the situation and hoped the dawn would come sooner rather than later.

Three hardy guys representing Guildford's South African Church.

Three hardy guys representing Guildford’s South African Church.

Also, the sounds of the night probably kept me awake too. Normally I am a heavy sleeper and very few noises wake me (I slept right through the Great Storm of 1987, for example).

But during this sleep out I was a bit surprised to be trouble by the sound of traffic on the nearby A320, a flock of geese, a couple of owls screeching, and the occasional train. “At what time is the last train from London Waterloo?” I kept thinking as I heard one after another from across the fields beyond Salt Box Road.”

James xxx from the Surrey Advertiser also took part. Nice hat, but he said his feet were cold!

James Watkins from the Surrey Advertiser also took part. Nice hat, but he said his feet were cold!

But the night passed. I woke to hear some voices and saw that Martin was standing up. Yes, it was over and breakfast was about to be served – in the warmth of the house.

Bishop Christopher had wished us well at the start of our ordeal and was there again (up rather early) in his dressing gown as we supped tea or coffee and tucked into some well-earned bacon baps.

All in all, a good experience. I hope that the 15 of us who took part have raised a good deal of money for Guildford YMCA.

Thanks go to Pete Brayne and his PA Chris McSween for all their superb organisation, and to Mary Morris, Bishop Christopher’s personal assistant, who cooked the bacon for our breakast!

More details will follow of the final total. And you can still donate if you wish!

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Responses to We All Survived Our Night Out in the Cold for a Good Cause

  1. John Schluter Reply

    February 4, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Well done folks, I take my hat off to you all, something I would not have recommended on the night!

  2. Pieter Fourie Reply

    February 7, 2013 at 8:34 am

    Well done to all! I pray that you will raise the roof and amply go pass the goal of 1000 pounds sterling.
    From: An ex-South African churcher, now back in sunny South Africa. I shamefully have to add – I had all the excuses in the world not to join the Sleep Out in 2009 and 2010.

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