It all began back in May with a request from Phil Smith..."Wanted - volunteers to work all night!". Intrigue got the better of me, and I accepted the challenge. I had heard all about Byte Night some years previously, so I had a pretty good idea of what I was letting myself in for.
The next five months were filled with frantic activity - building a team of willing volunteers, and raising awareness of the event with colleagues and contacts. What on earth did we do before we had social media? We finally had our team of 11 brave souls!
Then came the fundraising and getting organised. My colleagues at Business West, and the tenants of Leigh Court were superbly generous in supporting our cause. There was car washing and cake baking and general nagging to donate. We had £2,500 to find, and we finally reached it on the date of the event. Phew...
So the day arrived. I had my packing list checked off; cardboard boxes, sleeping bag, warm clothes, torch and midnight snacks - luxuries not afforded to the young people we were trying to help. I did feel like a bit of a tourist, but I hoped the effort would make a difference. Action for Children needed our help.
Well there's no getting out of it now I thought as I left work for the day and headed over to the M Shed. I must admit I had butterflies, as the unexpected is always a little unsettling.
We all met up at the M Shed for an evening of networking with the other 130+ sleepers. I must pass on my huge thanks to the staff and volunteers at the M Shed, who looked after us magnificently.
To put into context why we were there and who we were going to help, representatives from Action for Children and Dorset Nightstop presented a film showing some of the young people they had helped. We also met a girl who was brave enough to stand up in front of us all and tell us about her experiences. This set off a lot of tears and lumps in throats.
Then it was time for bed. This is where the strength of the team spirit proved its worth. What a fabulous bunch we were! All the teams of sleepers were in a good mood, and some of the bedtime outfits brought snorts of laughter. Who can forget the giraffe onesie, or the crocodile wearing brogues? There is no better way to get to know your work colleagues than to sleep out under the stars with them.
We were lucky with the weather, but sleep proved impossible with the hard ground of the harbourside, and the snoring! I found myself looking up at the historic harbour cranes and the Matthew's rigging, whilst the noise of the city seemed distant and far removed. The city I thought I knew so well, looked so very different, and was more peaceful than I imagined it could ever be. I was troubled with thoughts of the real rough sleepers, and felt immensely guilty about looking forward to a hot shower and a warm bed the next day.
So, as I packed up at 6 am and the heaven's opened, I was grateful to return to all the luxury and convenience of home. What will I take away from this? I hope I now have a very real awareness how others live, and an honest gratitude for my lot in life.