For most of my life I have experienced a soft comfortable bed to sleep in and a warm centrally heated bedroom. I have never considered it a luxury. However, a few weeks ago I decided to join my son and grandson as they were planning to sleep-out on the steps of Marylebone Parish Church. They were doing it to raise awareness about the rising issue of homelessness and to raise much needed funds for the West London Day Centre, a centre for homeless people run by the West London Mission.
I was prompted to join them because I felt it was something practical that I could do to support the work of the West London Mission. I had never done anything like it before. My son Jon was very surprised when I showed interest and needed reassuring that I really meant it. My eight year old grandson Tom was even more worried. He thought that being seventy-two made me a bit of a high risk for such an adventure! He exclaimed, “But Granny you might die!” before adding “If you do, you’ll have no one but yourself to blame.”
Scary and adventurous
Sleeping out all night in central London appeared to my friends to be quite scary and adventurous, and some of them clearly thought that I was mad. But it also seemed to capture their imagination. My husband and I have moved around the country quite often and kept in contact with many great friends from different churches we have been part of. These friends were amazingly supportive and quickly responded to my emails and Facebook messages about the Sleep-Out and my request for sponsorship. I made my initial fundraising target of £500 very quickly so as the donations came flooding in, I kept having to revise it and reached over £2000 before the night itself. To date the donations total over £2,400!
The night itself
So what was the night itself like?
Well it was a night I’ll never forget. Helped by the handful of genuine homeless people around the church, we scavenged some cardboard on Marylebone High Street and used this ‘street carpet’ to help make the hard ground more comfortable. Once I was lying down, the incessant noise of traffic and the bright lights of offices and other buildings around made sleeping a real challenge. The combination of a warm sleeping bag and extremely mild and dry weather helped enormously. It made me think about those people who are out all year round and who are not so fortunate.
The following morning, all the participants were invited to have a cooked breakfast at the Day Centre. Although I knew something about the facilities they offered to rough sleepers and others in need, I was impressed with the way the building was organized to be of maximum help to them. They are offered showers, change of clothes, laundry, use of computers to search for jobs, and advice and help to find secure accommodation. They also have a Chaplain who offers prayer and spiritual support and runs a discussion group each week.
Being one of the oldest participants (but not the oldest as one volunteer was 80!), I was very impressed with the commitment of so many young people who turned up that night to support the Sleep Out. I also saw the enthusiasm of the West London Mission staff who organised the whole thing with the support of the Marylebone Parish Church. I thank God for those Christians who founded the West London Mission back 126 years ago and the present staff who work so hard to help people in need.
The Centre has to rely on donations to keep going because it has lost it biggest government grant due to the cuts. One night of discomfort for me was a small price to pay to be able to help.
You can still sponsor me and support the work of the West London Day Centre – please see my Just Giving page. Thanks!