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Big Sleepers in the Stade open space. Altogether some 150 took up Seaview's challenge to spend a night sleeping rough.

Big Sleepers on the Stade. Altogether some 150 took up Seaview’s challenge to spend a night sleeping rough.

Seaview’s Big Sleep proves a resounding success

Seaview Project’s Big Sleep initiative to publicise the growing problem of homelessness in Hastings proved a resounding success, and there is a good chance it may be repeated next year. Nick Terdre reports.

The event took place on Friday, 25 September in the Stade open space, when some 150 volunteers – more applied but numbers had to be capped – spent the night in the open, with just their sleeping bags and a cardboard box as protection against the elements.

Cardboard city on the Stade open space.

Cardboard city on the Stade open space.

All participants had to raise at least £25 to earn their ticket, but in the event the sum raised was a whopping £22,000, a welcome injection of funds for Seaview’s work among the homeless and vulnerable at a time when public funding is being slashed.

“The outcome of the Big Sleep has by far surpassed all our expectations,” Elaine Partington of Awareness for Action (A4A), Seaview’s publicity group, told HOT. “The generosity of Hastings folk was evident by the amount raised, the good humour and sense of fun of our Big Sleepers, and the enthusiastic clear-up the following morning, to make sure it looked like we had never been there.”

The sleep-in was preceded by a free concert featuring local reggae band Mighty Sounds and roots and blues man King Size Slim, who though unaccompanied makes a mighty sound himself. It was compered by local actress Lisa Harmer-Pope in her guise as Q-list celebrity Candie Forshaw from Big Sister Get Me Out Of Here.

In the course of the concert Candie announced the name of the participant, Becky Powell, who had raised the most money and was rewarded with the promise of an evening meal with Candie at Half Man, Half Burger, the new restaurant in Marine Court.

King size sound from an unplugged King Size Slim.

King size sound from an unplugged King Size Slim.

When the concert was over, the participants, clutching their sleeping bags, were admitted to a fenced-off section at the far end of the Stade open space where rows of cardboard boxes, some bigger, some smaller, awaited us. And also a cheery brazier around which we gathered to hear an unplugged session from King Size Slim accompanied by a couple of the Mighty Sounds crew.

Candie then read us a bedtime story, a sequel to Aesop’s fable about the town mouse and the country mouse. The town mouse, who lives above an over-priced bric-a-brac shop in the Old Town, finds himself evicted as the rent rises above his means. Swallowing his pride, he makes his way to the country mouse’s abode in Sedlescombe to seek food and shelter.

She takes him in and, touched by his homelessness, decides to become a volunteer for the Mouseview Project in St Leonards. All ends happily as the town mouse eventually gets his job and living quarters back in the bric-a-brac shop while the country mouse is usefully employed helping the homeless.

Queuing for hot soup.

Queuing for hot soup.

With these inspiring words ringing in our heads, we retired to our cardboard boxes. I had the benefit of a little advice from Sue Burgess, Seaview’s operations manager, according to whom the smaller boxes would be warmer. It was more of a struggle to get inside one of the smaller boxes, but Sue was right – although the weather was cool, with temperatures falling to around 11C, and a gentle breeze was blowing, I wasn’t cold. At first I was kept awake by people talking – but if you’re sleeping on the street, you’re probably not well placed to ask rowdy passers-by to turn down the volume a bit.

I woke up at about 3am – that’s not unusual for me. After that I dozed fitfully at best, as I found it hard to get comfortable on the hard ground. I thought I might have a lie-in until 7am, but at 6am we were awakened and told we had to clear the area. Porridge and hot drinks were served in Stade Hall.

“Everyone saw the challenge through,” Sue told me afterwards. “Some slept for a few hours but most found the experience very uncomfortable and cold. But it was a delight to see the participants really enter into the spirit of the event; there was a strong sense of community and camaraderie.

Preparing to bed down.

Preparing to bed down.

“Feedback from participants was that the event was very well organised and extremely enjoyable. It is hoped that we will make The Big Sleep an annual event – a number of participants said they thought it should be.

The Big Sleep has proved a big milestone for the charity, which has clocked up 30 years of helping those on the margins of society . “Seaview is a small charity and we work with large numbers of people throughout the year,” Sue said. “Due to lack of resources and time it can be difficult to raise awareness of the work we do and the issues our service users face. The Big Sleep made this possible and in doing so showed us how much support and belief is out there for the work we do. Our target for fundraising was £10,000 – we are staggered to see the amount donated so far is in excess of £22,000.

“Seaview would like to thank all the participants who went out of their way to support Seaview and help make a difference, those who took time to generously donate, our sponsors, without whom the Big Sleep would have been on a much smaller scale, the staff and volunteers who helped on the night and the wonderful Seaview A4A, a group of volunteers from the wider community who worked tirelessly for the last 6 months in order to make the Big Sleep happen.”

As I walked back to the town centre to catch a bus home,  I passed two rough sleepers lodged in shop doorways in their sleeping bags, a chilling reminder of the grim reality of homelessness in Hastings.

 

All photos by John Stiles.

To mark its 30th anniversary Seaview has produced a booklet, a collage of snippets from key events along the way, comments and poems from those the charity has helped and lots of pictures. Costing £5, it is available from Seaview’s headquarters at Southwater Centre, Hatherley Road, St Leonards-on-Sea TN37 6LB, tel 01424 717981.

Seaview Project.

Keeping the show on the road - Seaview volunteers, with Elaine Partington on far let.

Keeping the show on the road – Seaview volunteers, with Elaine Partington on far let.

 

Posted 11:59 Sunday, Oct 4, 2015 In: Home Ground

2 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Zelly Restorick

    Seaview offers an invaluable service to people. The staff work incredibly hard in the face of cuts to their budget – and come from a perspective of care and compassion towards all those who pass through their doors wanting some help, support, a meal, to wash some clothes – and possibly just a place where they can feel safe. WELL DONE, Seaview for this initiative – and to all those involved.

    Comment by Zelly Restorick — Thursday, Oct 8, 2015 @ 06:36

  2. Sue Burgess

    Nick, good to hear your experience of the event, thank you for a great report and for sleeping out. The Big Sleep really has helped to raise awareness of the growing issue of homelessness in our local area.

    Comment by Sue Burgess — Monday, Oct 5, 2015 @ 12:31

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