Whilst I always understood that my days as a student were never going to be the most affluent of my life – I’d never envisaged myself ending up on the streets of Manchester on a bitter night in November. Through choice I should probably add. My night on the streets of this fantastic city was shared with several of my work colleagues, as we took part in the Manchester Sleepout 2018.
This annual event is organised to raise funds for The Booth Centre, who provide aid, shelter and rehabilitation to the homeless community of Greater Manchester. Hosted by Manchester Cathedral, over 500 people took part in raising awareness and money for those living on the streets. With a collection of inspiring and moving speeches, a vibrant choir, and a network of stalls all raising the profile of this cause, it really was a spectacular evening. Not forgetting that once the stalls pack up for the night, the choir silences and the speeches conclude, all 500 visitors spend the night in crippling temperatures within the Cathedral’s gardens.
I’d never anticipated it to be a particularly enjoyable event. Spending an entire night without a roof over my head? I shivered just at the thought of it. But the fact is, we slept rough for that one evening – so that others won’t have to, and it was a really moving experience. A sense of community, fantastic entertainment and the excitement of seeing Manchester, a teeming city, lay dormant with the whispers of Friday’s nightlife imprinted on the silence. A collection of qualities brought about from the fact that we were all trying something new, something a little different, and doing it all to raise money for a great cause.
The reality is however, that sleeping on soaking wet cardboard as winter wind rushes past your ears is not an “exciting sensation” when you’re homeless. Pitching your sleeping bag under miserable grey clouds in a public area is not a “spontaneous activity”, and talking to those around you to make yourself feel safe is not a “sense of community” when you don’t have a choice.
Upon reflection, whilst I managed to sleep for 45 minutes throughout the entire evening, by the end I had no sensation in either of my hands. I am lucky enough to be able to go home to my house, with warm bedding, running water, and a kitchen filled with food. While we may consider these to be “nice things”, I’d never before seen them as absolute luxuries. As cliched as it may sound, the experience really was an eye-opener. As the winter months approach, we should remind ourselves of those who will spend their winter alone on the streets.
The Booth Centre plans to use the money raised from the event, which currently stands at over £140,000, to continue funding programmes that help transition the homeless into a life that is sustainable and secure. Any donations to the University of Salford’s team page are gratefully received, and all of your money will directly help those who need it most in these harsh and dark months.