For just one night, pupils at Oundle School had a taste of the reality experienced by thousands of people in this country, who sleep rough night after night. Pupils stayed at St Basils in Birmingham, one of the largest and most successful agencies in the UK working with young homeless people.
It is hoped that as well as raising awareness of the plight of homeless people, the SleepOut will raise in excess of £8500 for the charity. Various talks on the work of St Basils were given throughout the evening by organisers and residents.
Liz Dillarstone, Head of Community Action at Oundle School, commented: “We hope that our pupils will gain a deeper understanding of homeless issues as a result of this exercise and that they will be inspired by the work of St Basils, which relies heavily on fundraising to support its programme. St Basils provides this bespoke event for our bi-annual Community Action Field Weekend.”
Maths teacher, Gordon Montgomery, commented: “Hearing from two of the beneficiaries of St Basils’ services was a special part of the evening. They spoke of their life experience, including how they had ended up becoming homeless, the life skills training they had received through St Basils and the pride they now felt in having their own home – and the responsibility of looking after it. The cardboard jungle raised some interest from late evening passers-by, one of whom even stopped to make a donation. The evening proved to be a life experience for all on the hard ground of a concrete car park with the regular beat of a nearby rave party in the air.”
Fifteen-year-old pupil, Jemima Gurney, commented: “I arrived at the car park not feeling especially optimistic about the night ahead. However, it was after we had struggled to make our dwellings out of cardboard boxes and listened to two people who had been helped by St Basils that the real challenge began. The temperature began to drop and we started to realise how cold and uncomfortable sleeping outside was. In spite of this, and my initial apprehensions about sleeping in a cardboard box for a night, I found that it was a really rewarding and strangely enjoyable experience. It made me appreciate how essential the work of charities such as St Basils is to help young adults to find a home.”
Lucy Baker-Cresswell added: “Despite having an extremely uncomfortable ‘bed’, I did manage to get a couple of hours sleep. The two people who spoke to us who had benefited from St Basils were very interesting and inspirational and we were very grateful for them giving up their time to tell us their stories.”
The story of St Basils began on 1 October 1972 when the doors of the hall at the disused Anglican Church in Heath Mill Lane, Deritend, Birmingham, were opened and the first night shelter specifically for young men opened for business.
It was the brainchild of Rev. Les Milner, an Anglican priest who was to dedicate the next 28 years of his life to working with young homeless men and women. It was a decision that was to affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people in and around Birmingham.
That first night shelter became known as ‘The Boot’ (probably because the young men had been ‘booted’ out of their previous homes) and became the foundation on which the rest of the organisation was built.
Oundle School’s connection with St Basils dates back to the opening of the The Boot. The then Head of Community Service and English teacher at Oundle School, Jeremy Firth, approached Les Milner, offering the help of a group of pupils from Oundle School with the renovation of St Basils, then a derelict church in Deritend. This forged a link between St Basils and Oundle School which was formalised in 1995 when pupils first attended the annual St Basils SleepOut. Pupils and staff have participated in the SleepOuts ever since.
Fundraising organiser at St Basils, Steve Rainbow, commented: ‘Oundle School has been involved with the St Basils SleepOut for many years and has helped develop it into the event it is today. This latest branch of SleepOut has been tailor made to suit the requirements of the School in fulfilling its community work programme and it is something that could be rolled out to other large schools who wish to raise awareness of homelessness to their pupils. Oundle hopes to raise over £8000 from this venture and in doing so continue the support it has given St Basils in their fight against youth homelessness.’