“There are not many things you do for charity that bring the message right home”

Melanie Walker took part in The Big SleepOut 2015, we asked her to tell us why … 

It all started with me signing up to the Moonwalk!  A moonlit powerwalk of 26.2 miles around London in a bra! Raising lots of money and having the support of lots of my family and friends including the very lovely Emma Cantrell. Emma let me tattoo gold feathers on her face and decorated her bra with crochet flowers!  Flowers that she actually crocheted herself.

I owed her.

One noticeable person that didn’t get involved with the moonwalk was my 13 year old nephew, William. It just wasn’t his bag for some strange reason. So when I became aware of The Big Sleepout I thought excellent! I can support Emma like she supported me (well actually nowhere near how she supported me but a small step towards that goal) and I can do this with William.

I was right to single him out because there was a flat resounding NO! from the other moonwalkers.

What is it with you and charity stuff overnight?  I couldn’t answer that. Then.

So we signed up and got the t-shirt! I started my twitter campaign and soon everyone I knew was holding a scrappy piece of cardboard with #ItCouldBeMe,  we even got our family celebrity friend Kevin McHale (Glee , Virtually Famous) to do it while he was visiting from L.A.

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Ultimately that hashtag It could be me really did hit home, until then I thought that becoming homeless would be the result of a “troubled” childhood or being a drug addict, you know the stereotypical homeless stories.

But I could see that  it could be a real possibility if you had a failed relationship for example, living in Royal Berkshire!! – if that happened to me and my partner we would struggle without the help of family, and who has that space these days to accommodate extra friends or family … it started to become less than supporting a friend in her work and more about omg! That really could be me!

I lived in L.A for a while and my parents still live there, I was amused to see that friends were fundraising for something they called Boxcity. They spend the night sleeping in a box.

Live and let live I say but come on! it is in September in Los Angeles, California!

I realised that perhaps I had been hasty and could have spent a warm sultry night in a box in L.A but instead I was signed up for an overnighter in December … in Hillingdon.

You live and learn.

So we got our sponsorship heads on and we were quite excited, we sorted supplies out and tried to ensure that our borrowed/bought  sleeping bags were super warm, again it struck me in the midst of the preparations that the homeless don’t pop to Fox’s in Amersham to pick a decent sleepingbag!

We went all out with fake snow spray, tinsel, holly. I wanted that prize for the best decorated box! Spoiler alert, I was robbed, I mean I didn’t win the competition, not that my possessions were taken.

It was a cold and very stormy night, we set up our boxes, marked our territory carefully, Ha! When you are all sleeping in boxes territory goes out of the window. We were in this together! A friendly bloke in the carpark said hello as we were unpacking our car, he said he was alone but hoping to meet friends he had met on Facebook! William and I exchanged looks, but he was right, it was a friendly atmosphere and people chatted to each other as they got set up for the night.

Once we had constructed our boxes, decorated them, waterproofed them it was time to test them out. Well William shimmied into his and set about arranging his belongings around him, he folded his arms behind his head and announced it’s not bad Auntie Mel!  Well I then started what observers would  describe as a weird mating dance ritual thing with my box, trying to get in it, head first er no! a bit claustrophobic,  tried to reverse in but my bum pushed the box away, one leg in first pushed the sleeping bag to the bottom. You would think these boxes would come with instructions!

I managed it and despite it being more compact and bijou than I would have liked, it was snug and warm.. now to get out! More wriggling and I was free. Ok time to hit the entertainment and food.

My rule is if you are doing something for charity and it involves sleeping in a box then you can eat whatever you like! There was some seriously good food, including waffles with Nutella! The bottomless cup of hot chocolate went down well too!

All carbed up, it was time for the entertainment, really funny comedians! Spoken word artists, cool singer songwriters! It was fab and really not what I had expected and then an impromptu appearance from Shane Ritchie a real celebrity!  Wow! Selfie time!

At around midnight it started to get a bit real, we were actually doing this! We went to find our boxes, the wind was getting up, Every time there was a gust of wind the plastic protective covering of more than 1,000 Boxes rattled and the noise was unbelievable.  It was fairly warm inside my box but there is no way of avoiding the fact that you are sleeping on a hard floor.  It was going to be a long night.  I could hear a noise close by, on further investigation it was William snoring! Ok no problems sleeping for him then.

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A trip to the loo in the early hours (another thing I hadn’t planned for) walking through the boxes was an eerie sight, there are humans sleeping in there! It was difficult to get back to sleep, the fun had left the building. God, what if this really was your life. I am rubbish without a good night’s sleep imagine never really getting a good nights sleep, and being hungry and having to move on all the time. .#I don’t want it to be me. Ever.

The sun rose at around 5 am, I was awake, cold, tired, stiff and achy. I was ready to go home.

When you sleep rough there is no benefit to sleeping in.

I kicked Williams’s box at 6am, he was sleeping soundly!

A lot of people were getting up and ready to go, a quick bacon sarnie, didn’t do much to raise the spirits but we were grateful all the same.

There are not many things you do for charity that bring the message right home.

Sponsored walks, bake sales, runs are all great and I participate in them, but sleeping rough for a night, now that is real. That gives you the time and opportunity to really reflect on the problem of homelessness and to experience what it is like for a thankfully temporary period of time.

I am glad I took part, I am glad that I took my 13 year old nephew and let him experience it.

It is a night I will never forget and that is a good thing. Sign up. Do it. Raise as much awareness and money as you can. This is a problem on your doorstep that you can help to sort out.

#ItCouldBeMe  and I am so bloody grateful that it is not!