I grew up in a very ordinary family, in a 3 bedroom terraced house that my Mam and Dad, by working 2 jobs each, managed to purchase from the council, under the original ‘council house purchase scheme’ from the then Conservative led Margaret Thatcher government.
It’s not a surprise therefore that as kids we understood the value of hard work from a very early age, we also understood the perfect balance to working hard was playing hard, my parents were good at both! Some of my earliest childhood memories are of parties at our house where my Dad who is blessed with a truly wonderful singing voice, would entertain us all endlessly. One of my favourite tunes was ‘Buddy can you spare a dime?’ lyrics penned as my Dad explained, to reflect the poverty and fall out from the recession of late 1920’s in America. Thousands ended up homeless back in those dark days as a result of that recession, not knowing where their next penny would come from, how they would feed themselves, no home comforts to look forward to or in many cases no home to go to, what a truly terrible prospect.
Fast forward over 9 decades and unfortunately homelessness remains an issue today across even the very wealthiest nations and so when I was recently asked to donate to a friend and colleagues ‘Just Giving’ page to support the charity ‘Changing Lives’ I was delighted to do so.
Graeme Mason is the Planning & Corporate Affairs Director at Newcastle International Airport and he was one of a number of CEO’s that took part in the Sleepout Challenge of early March. The charity originally named Cyrenians after the biblical ‘Simon of Cyrene’ who was said to have been chosen to assist in the carrying of the cross of Jesus during his crucifixion, which has since evolved to ‘Changing Lives’, has been in existence with the purpose of helping those who find themselves without shelter, for over 100 years.
These Sleepout events are held across the UK and it was the one that took place at Graeme’s beloved St James’ Park that made me aware of this truly magnificent work. When talking with Graeme I asked him ‘why did you get involved?’, and he replied ‘when I heard about what the charity was trying to achieve I jumped at the chance. I felt it was something I could do and as I lay there on a cold, hard floor, wrapped in a sleeping bag and protective clothing my colleague Richard Knight had provided for me, as the snow, rain and wind swirled around us, all I knew was that I had done the right thing. A small sacrifice to give up one night’s sleep I thought to myself as I tried to imagine living like this day after day. I was glad when at 6am the bacon butties appeared after a freezing cold night that was made bearable by lots of laughs with the other participants but with very little sleep’.
It was however through the efforts of Andy Preston who is chair and founder of the CEO Sleepout Charity that this initiative came to pass. Andy a self-made man who has carved out a very successful career within the financial services industry, initially got involved with charity work through his position in London and after moving back to his native North East became more immersed in his charitable work and together with Tanya Garland in 2011 they founded ‘Teesside Philanthropic Foundation’ which brought together over 40 local businesses, who have gone on to collectively raise over £1.7 million for various charitable causes, a truly remarkable and exceptionally rewarding achievement. In 2014 Andy then went on to set up the ‘CEO Sleepout Challenge’, in an attempt to raise further awareness of those amongst society that live in poverty and or find themselves homeless.
The ‘St James’ Park Sleepout Challenge’ raised in excess of £77,000 and all proceeds raised will go specifically to help those that have no place to call home. As I listened to Graeme and Andy recount why they got involved in this issue it made me think about the many times I’ve been stopped by people of various age groups across the world asking for money to feed themselves or to simply find shelter. We can of course never be sure unfortunately, that the money we may choose to give these individuals is in fact spent on the food and shelter they suggest it’s for as it has been proven on many occasions it very often goes to feed additions in whatever form these may take. But what can’t be ignored is as the 1990’s Phil Collins song ‘Think Twice’ says ‘it’s just another day for you and me in paradise’, when compared to people who find themselves in this position. As I discussed this topic with my colleague Denise she went in to tell me that she ‘thought twice’ in a very recent experience in Newcastle with a homeless guy and all because her awareness was raised through the excellent work that these fantastic charities and individuals are doing. So the next time you see a homeless person perhaps you may ‘Think Twice’. When asking Andy what can we do as the general public to help those who find themselves in genuine need he said ‘donate what you can to a bona fide homeless charity, that way you can be assured that the money you donate will be used for those it is intended for’.