Sleeping rough

Posted on: 3rd October 2018

Stephen Neary, ICT co-ordinator at JSP, tells us about his experience sleeping rough for a night, to raise awareness and funds for a homelessness charity.

Why I wanted to take part in the ‘sleep out’

I just wanted to do ‘something’ to help. Homelessness is a huge social issue in the UK and is on the rise. You only have to step out onto the streets of any city in the country to see it first-hand. It is easy to ignore as we go about our daily lives. As I have walked by rough sleepers, I have always wanted to know more about how and why people can end up on the streets.

The Cathedral Archer Project’s ‘sleep out’ presented a really good opportunity to make a difference and, at the same time, enable me to experience (in a small way) what it feels like to sleep rough.

The Cathedral Archer Project

Living in Sheffield, I have loosely been aware about the charity but it wasn’t until I got to see behind the scenes that I realised just how vital the work they do really is. At times they quite literally provide a life line to people who desperately need their help.

The dedicated facilities the Archer Project has from kitchens, showers, education rooms, quiet spaces, medial facilities etc. are impressive. Having a tour of the centre really does make you realise the sheer size of the operation and just how much it must cost to run.

The Project helps people ‘from the streets to employment’ and everything in between. The dedicated staff and volunteers show so much compassion and understanding for the situation lots of people find themselves in.  

The ‘sleep out’

The rules were simple enough: sleep rough for one night and raise lots of money for the charity! We were permitted to only have a sleeping bag, a mat/cardboard and a small pillow. We had to be there for 12 hours.

The night kicked off with me, a friend and 48 others listening to a talk and taking a tour of the Project’s facilities. We heard some inspiring success stories about people who had been rough sleepers and were now successfully off the streets and in employment. We were also warned that we shouldn’t expect to get too much sleep and that the next day it would be a challenge getting anything productive done.

Once the talk was over, we were given a warm cup of tea and sent outside to the front of the cathedral to pick our spot for the night. It was a strange feeling ‘setting up camp’. This was when it reality started to hit that I would be sleeping outside, all night, in Sheffield city centre.

As the night wore on, we met some of Sheffield’s rough sleepers, hearing some of their stories. It was a truly eye opening and humbling experience. Although at times it was hard to hear some of their stories, I was often struck by their determination and grit.

As the hours went by and the city’s night revellers came and went, it gave me plenty of time to reflect on how life really is for people whose reality this is each and every night. I felt guilty that I had a warm home to go back to in the morning and a bed to sleep in the next night. Paradoxically, it was satisfying to know that we were making a difference by being there and raising money.

We were lucky with the weather; some light rain was challenging but, crucially, it wasn’t too cold. We were all wrapped up with lots of layers but I cannot imagine what it would be like in the depths of winter.

After the milestone of midnight came and went, people started to wander out of the pubs making their way home. Most didn’t notice the 50 people sleeping rough next to the cathedral. It was interesting to experience what it felt like ‘from the other side’. It made me feel invisible.

After attempting numerous times, I found it hard to sleep. The cold, rain, noise and bright city lights didn’t help but they weren’t the main reason why I struggled to nod off. Each time I went to put my head down to get some shut-eye, my body went into high alert - it wouldn’t let me relax. Feeling so vulnerable meant it was nearly impossible to shut down and sleep. Every noise felt like a threat. Tiredness finally won me over and I dropped off a little after 4am.

Our wakeup call by the Archer Project’s staff was 6am. Although it was hard to come round after such little sleep, it was a relief to know we’d done it and the morning had arrived. We all gathered in the cathedral for a warm drink while the staff thanked us for our efforts and the money raised. We were left to reflect on the idea that, for people without a home, they face yet another night on the streets, when we’d be in bed. A sobering thought. We had a group picture, I donated my sleeping bag to the project and headed home.

The day ahead was a challenge. After 3pm I found I couldn’t carry out basic tasks or properly function. Again, it forced me to think about how rough sleepers face the challenges of getting back on their feet when night after night they have such little sleep.

Money raised

Between my friend and I, we have (so far) raised over £950 - well over our target of £500. We would love to get to the £1,000 mark – it's not too late to donate

The event itself will likely raise over £12,000 for the charity which is a fantastic amount. I would recommend the experience to anyone. it was a thought provoking and a humbling experience - one I would recommend to anyone. If nothing else, it serves to remind me of how lucky most of us really are.

To find out more about the Cathedral Archer project and for more information about the next ‘sleep out’ event visit