If you walk past the St Marylebone Parish Church each night you would have noticed on Friday that instead of four or five sleeping bags being present there were forty or so. You would have been forgiven for crossing the street, and from our sleeping bags we noticed that some did.
The reason for there being so many rough sleepers on this particular Friday night was because it was the the inaugural ‘Sleep Out’ event. The event challenged each individual to ‘Sleep Out’ in the street in order to raise money for the West London Day Centre. The centre provides health, housing and education services for rough sleepers in the Westminster area. Relying on grants and donations this event alone raised over £20,000.
The scene on the steps of the church at 9pm looked more like a party than anything else. Music, dancing and food greeted the participants along with a guest appearance from actor Jake Wood of Eastenders. A few of the regular rough sleepers joined in. Craig, who has slept in Marylebone for nearly a year told me that he didn’t mind all the noise and kerfuffle, his company for the night and free flowing tea and coffee a welcome change to the normal routine. His story of 15 years of rough sleeping was riddled with setbacks and mental health issues, but in his own words he was ‘on the mend’.
As the evening progressed this festivity drew back to leave the cold of the night and the passing traffic of Marylebone Road – a road that truly never sleeps. It was an uncomfortable night’s sleep at best, the cold stone steps of the church and the relentless noise of passing traffic not allowing you more than half an hours sleep at a time.
Waking in the morning with weary heads and knotted backs participants began to roll their sleeping bags and mats. The rough sleepers among us rose with less fuss and stretching than ourselves, out to continue on a day that was no different to any other – apart from access to the Church bathroom meant that a visit to the public toilets in Regents Park was not required today. It’s fair to say we went home a little sore but a whole lot wiser and aware of just a few of the issues rough sleepers in London face every single day.
The West London Day Centre on Seymour Place sees around 100 clients a day and as well as providing access to services to meet their immediate needs, over 70% of their clients go on to use the specialist advice services and groups available.
With the help of friends, family and some locals (thank you all) we managed to raise some money ourselves and more than £20,000 has been raised through the event in total. Donations can still be given through our Just Giving page by clicking here.