When the Surrey Chamber of Commerce CEO Louise asked me to do her a favour I suppose I should have listened properly. She said “Chaz, I’m busy that night, but someone from the Chamber should support the Guildford YMCA boss Pete Brayne at his charity sleepout in a few weeks time.” I thought “okay, Louise has asked me to do something in a few weeks time so I guess I’d better say yes”. So I said “yes”. Then it later dawned on me what I had agreed to — to sleep rough outside Guildford Cathedral in the middle of the winter. Doh! Why did I do that? Never mind, it was too late by then and one thing you can’t do when you agree to do something is not to see it through the end.
The sleepout is a worthy fundraising and awareness cause, to fight the problem of youth homelessness.
So, on Saturday night I duly turned up at Guildford Cathedral at 9pm equipped with my daughter’s sleeping bag, two pairs of socks and various jumpers, scarves etc. There was a select band of mugs, I mean volunteers, including people from the YMCA (I’m pleased to say that Pete from the YMCA always puts his sleeping body where his mouth is!) local people and a team of three from the funky Guildford games company which makes Little Big Planet. I’m ashamed to say that I had to own up that my 12-year old son failed miserably to get me to pay the game and didn’t try a second time!
The Mayor of Guildford turned up for a photo shoot and to give some much needed words of encouragement. Then we built a cardboard city. There was some discussion as how best to build a cardboard windbreak, which amazingly did survive the night. At around 11pm people settled down to try to sleep. I hid completely engulfed in the sleeping bag listening to some great music on the ipod. Luckily this drowned out the energetic snoring from one of my sleeping partners. I sent a few messages on Twitter about the #guildford sleepout (not easy to do from inside a sleeping bag) and tried unsuccessfully a bit of scaremongering based on Guildford Cathedral being used for the Omen film.
The police turned up at the site, following a lead of a stolen laptop from the University, and asked us if we’d seen anyone suspicious. We looked sideways at each other as we all looked dodgy. I hadn’t shaved for a couple of days beforehand to try and give me a bit more warmth. There was a steward looking after us with a very affectionate guard dog which proceeded to clamber all over me and try and get into my sleeping bag,
I managed a few hours sleep, in between the music, the rhythmical snoring and the bitter chill wind blowing round the Cathedral (why did they have to put it on the top of a hill?) I must confess that I had a hipflask secreted in the glove compartment of the car and an extra sleeping bag, but luckily didn’t have to resort to either of them!
The main thing I took away from the experience is the sheer vulnerability that I felt when I slept rough. Totally unprotected and isolated. I’m glad that Damien didn’t show up …..