CEO Sleepout is a charity founded to fight poverty and homelessness across the UK. Over the past three years, there have been initiatives led across cities with over 1000 executives. The idea – gather CEOs from companies across industries to experience just 12 hours (1 night) on the street, with the aim of building awareness and, ultimately, long-term solutions to homelessness.
Building on this successful initiative, CEO of Social Bite, and our former TEDxGlasgow speaker, Josh Littlejohn decided to bring a similar concept to Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. Bringing together 250 senior business leaders for a night on the streets of Edinburgh with sponsorship from friends, family and peers. The funds raised were to go to building a ‘village’ to house 20 homeless individuals to live for 12 months, with support in getting them back into the workplace and back on their feet. And, I’m pleased to say, I ended up being part of it.
How did I get involved?
When my friend Andrew Dobbie suggested that I take part in the sleep out, my first reaction was one of excitement around the idea of getting involved in an initiative with real social impact (nevermind the idea of a quiet night of sleep away from my two wee boys – only kidding). But, if at first it appeared to be the opportunity for some peace, I was quite wrong.
From start to finish the whole journey was incredible in both expected and unexpected ways.
As soon as I’d signed up, I received an email from Josh, with lots of useful information. This was quickly followed by further regular updates helping to guide me on my journey to a night on the streets. This information was massively useful, as naturally, I had some reservations about the experience and I always like to go into things fully informed. I was also keen to explore what else we, at TEDxGlasgow, could do to further the cause.
So, I challenged Josh on the drivers behind the initiative and what was to be expected. And, I’m really glad to say that Josh produced an incredible report which highlighted the “why” around what he was doing. I was impressed by the fact that he was dedicating his time to building thought-through solutions rather than just “talking about it”. This gave me a lot of confidence in his/our mission.
Armed with everything I needed to know, I began sharing his open call for other CEOs and business leaders to get involved.
In preparation for the event, I did a deep dive through my wardrobe for my old snowboarding gear, lots of layers, a thermal turban (I wish) and I even borrowed my dad’s huge waterproof jacket.
Josh did not want (nor expect) us to experience homelessness, because there is so much more to homelessness than what we were to be subjected to. His main aim was to raise funds to offer a dent of hope into the world of homeless people. So, our experience was far more ‘cushioned’ – when I arrived I was given a safe place to sleep, offered a sleeping bag and waterproof body bag and given a warm coffee.
The evening was both enlightening and inspiring. It kickstarted with Josh speaking about his work and plans (they had been successful in raising around £500k from the initiative), we heard from some of his staff that had previously experienced homelessness, and then we were encouraged to chat with other CEO’s/fundraisers in attendance. It was an incredible turnout, young and old, from all sectors. I applaud the team at Social Bite for bringing together such a diverse, unique group of individuals.
Around midnight we went to our ‘patch’ and got into our sleeping bags. Despite being equipped with much to ease sleeping out in the street, it was not an easy night. It was very cold and, typical of Scotland, it rained…a lot. Coupled with the noise from passing traffic and sleeping on a hard surface, the next six hours passed very slowly indeed. This tiny insight gave us an awful lot to think about.
In the morning we were greeted with warm coffee and sandwiches, which were distributed by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. There wasn’t much chat. Most people seemed quite reflective.
I went home and had a long hot shower, lots of amazing homemade food and then spent the next two weeks in bed suffering from a horrible cold. I kept thinking “what if I were homeless now?”. It was a tough two weeks even though I was safe, warm, fed and surrounded by loved ones. What if I was in the rain, damp and cold, feeling vulnerable and alone? What if I actually had to feel true homelessness?
I’ve always thought of myself as aware of the challenges in society and I’ve always contributed time to help others. But, what Social Bite achieved at the sleep out was significant – over £500k raised and now the money to realise the dream of building twenty homes with all types of social support services for residents.
I am glad to have been a small part of this process and look forward to many more missions. For me, this was not only about the funds raised, but the education in a life unknown. I leave this experience, eager to learn more and to help more.