CEO Sleepout Newcastle - Sleeping rough for a good cause

Last night, TSG’s Chief Executive David Stonehouse and I took part in the CEO Sleepout at St James’ Park, Newcastle Upon Tyne. We did this to raise vital funds to tackle homelessness and poverty by raising money for the Newcastle United Foundation and Changing Lives. In total, we’ve raised over £5,000 (including gift aid) between the two of us.

There are a number of reasons we decided to do this. As a major North East employer, and a big employer across England, taking part in the CEO Sleepout was our way of giving back, and it helps us fulfil our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Plus, as individuals, there are things you can do to help others and this was top of our list.

The experience wasn’t pleasant; we slept in the St James’ Park stands on a cold March evening, with the pitch heaters giving off a lot of light (but not much heat our way!) and the sounds of the city (and its 4am seagull chorus). But it really made us take a step back and experience the lives of thousands of homeless people across the UK. By taking a step out of our own privileged lives for a night it gave us a better understanding of the hardship of those less fortunate than us. And that was only one night – this is an ordeal our homeless people have to suffer through every night.

The CEO Sleepout was started by Andy Preston in December 2013, after two successful events at the homes of Newcastle United and Middlesbrough football clubs; the latter Andy’s hometown. It was humbling meeting Andy, who attends all of the sleepout events and has spoken to us on a number of occasions. He’s never promoted himself, or his business – only the charity, which he’s incredibly passionate about. His Middlesbrough restaurant venture, Fork in the Road, hires mostly people who’ve come through one of the programmes associated with the CEO Sleepout, giving them a second chance; he finds that they work harder than anyone else, because they’re so determined to make the most of this second chance.

Since it began, CEO Sleepout events have raised over £1m to fight homelessness and poverty. For the Newcastle event, money goes to Changing Lives, a North East charity dedicated to helping vulnerable people find accommodation, employment and fulfilment again.

The Newcastle event also raises money for the Newcastle United Foundation. This charity helps re-engage homeless and vulnerable adults and children into society through employment and football projects, helping them find their passion and increase their social skills.

By re-engaging vulnerable people in society and supporting them into accommodation and employment, the work of these charities is more far-reaching and has longer-term effectiveness than basic cash handouts.

There’s still a stigma attached to homeless people; many see them as drug addicts, victims of their own doing. And while that may be true of a small minority, the truth is anyone can become homeless. We spoke to a gentleman who, through battling an addiction, ultimately lost his job, friends and family. But through the help of Changing Lives, he fought his addiction and won, and is now qualified as a counsellor. The thing he’s proudest of is that he’s now paying tax and national insurance, and is once again contributing to society in a way that he previously couldn’t.

We’re proud that this event started in the North East – and in fact, Newcastle’s CEO Sleepout is the biggest event outside of London. As an area that’s hit particularly hard in terms of poverty and homelessness, it’s amazing that our fundraising efforts are second only to the capital city. This event not only raises huge amounts of money to fight homelessness, which, devastatingly, is on the rise again, but it puts us in the shoes of those less fortunate than us. Experiencing just a small part of what they go through every night makes us even more passionate about this worthy cause.

While these events are hugely important in raising money to tackle homelessness, there are other ways you can help thanks to technology. StreetLink is available as a mobile phone app, and allows you to identify rough sleepers. Once you submit their whereabouts, the information is sent to your local authority, who will take action to help that person. You’ll receive details of the action that will be taken and an update where you can find out what has happened.

In total, David and I raised over £5,000 (including gift aid) for these amazing charities, thanks to friends, family, colleagues and business comrades. We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who sponsored us! There is still time if you haven’t been able to already. The Newcastle event alone has already raised £78,000 – and there are still donations to be counted, so a huge well done to everyone involved.

Check out some photos from the night on our Facebook page.