The Diary of a CEO Sleepout Participant – Paul McFarland
Paul McFarland writes about his experience fundraising at the CEO Sleepout London event on Monday 20th November 2023, raising funds for homelessness services. We are delighted and grateful that Paul chose to raise funds in support of ScotsCare for a second year running. This is his account of experiencing a version of homelessness for one night.
All packed and ready to go. Forecast keeps changing – rain no longer likely, temp around 10ºC but take no chances; Many layers to sleep in later. Trouble is… in a mad moment I promised some who donated so generously last year that I’d add a degree of difficulty this year. Homeless people don’t drive to their shelter… they walk. Lord’s is 4 miles from home, so this year I’m making the journey by foot.
When getting my bag from the house a guy with sleeping bag comes up to me. “Are you homeless?” He’s asking, not me. Is it my choice of clothes, the week’s stubble (left for effect); I burble something about one night only, for CEO Sleepout. Raising money for the wonderful people at ScotsCare. Too taken aback to ask useful questions like so how long have you been on the streets and where are you sleeping tonight?
Through Shepherd’s Bush, up Holland Park, left at Notting Hill, down the hill to Westbourne Grove. The (happily) light drizzle is cooling; Boutique after boutique; early Christmas shoppers beat the crowds; what does my truly homeless doppelganger think of all this utterly out of reach luxury, and the thousands of Londoners who can afford it?
Paddington, still dreich.
Little Venice – goodness, am quite close and so quick. Fortunately (for my deep-seated need to suffer), several body parts start to moan, I’m cycling-fit but for me this is a long walk.
The Grace Gates: made good time … and am early. Everyone else is waiting in the Lord’s Tavern! Long walk – pub – beer – logical sequence. But I’ve promised myself no alcohol tonight. Given the traumatic role it plays in the homeless community it seems completely inappropriate; friends are bemused – never seen me on 0% beer before!
We get in, drop our bags. Delicious broccoli soup and bread on offer, courtesy of Lord’s who give up the venue for free and staff it all night. Return for seconds…
We, brave or foolish, gather for a pep talk and motivational speaking; a hug from the amazing Bianca, CEO of CEO Sleepout, who motivates us all, introducing the streets-to-no-longer stories of those who been there, survived and with the help of wonderful charities, got out and built contented and meaningful lives.
We’re here to raise money so more can be helped. It’s not just about giving someone shelter – they need safety, support, mentoring, housing, work, opportunities, encouragement. When we see people sleeping rough, often rightly imputing a drug/drink habit, we don’t see the journey that led to the streets. Escape from violence and abuse, loss of work, then of home, then of any remaining friends offering sofa-surfing. A lifestyle choice? Really? For me tonight IS a lifestyle choice; yesterday I was in a cosy home surrounded by loving family, with a fridge full of food and I know I’ll be back there in just 12 hours.
Looked round the room, can’t see anyone who looks older than me…
Time to leave the warm. Team photos, then splinter into small groups looking for a nice spot. Option 1: stretch out on concrete between rows of seats; can’t see an option 2. An early night for CEOs, so plenty of time to get your bedding sorted and then chill (literally) with friends, colleagues, all these new folk too. All very British – can’t talk to strangers unless there a crisis to talk about. Only alternative is dive into social media, make sure absolutely bloody everyone knows how awful this is really going to be so they DONATE. (My “earnings” almost double in the 12 hours since leaving home). Hot tea is served…
Quite mild across London; radio promised 10C. But not at the top of the Tavern stand. The back wall is four foot high with a massive gap to the roof with seriously cold breeze coming through; They didn’t measure temp from up here. Still, a bit of shelter between the rows of seats where we cram in. Slowly folk will settle. I hope.
There are great charities here and a few hundred of us raising money. I’ve just checked my phone and you’ve all smashed the target I set! £4k in donations and Gift Aid on top. I’ll revise the target! Sleep well all!! And thank you!
Time to stop blethering and settle. Got torch and book. Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris – I know, how posy, but I haven’t read it since at 16 I abandoned school and family (by arrangement, no trauma…) and went to look for work. Paris first, then Brussels. But were weren’t in the EU; I was unemployable. Freedom of movement came a year later. So I wound up in a bedsit in Clapham; job packing cheese in the Farringdon Road… So I wasn’t homeless but as I trudged the streets trying to get work, I met for the first time many who were. Orwell can make you laugh while telling you tragic tales.
Torch off. Lights stay on though
Turn over and bang knee and elbow on something. Awake. Which means I have been asleep! And unlike last year it’s.. QUIET! No sirens! No helicopters… soon asleep again.
Tried to roll over – space is about 90cm, which isn’t bad except for the raised seats either side so you can’t, as in a proper bed, stretch sideways, and spread out… like goat class on the red eye, except you are at least flat. Check for aches and pains – not bad, till both legs cramp as I try to stand up!
Not so sure the second cup of tea was a good idea, it’s a long walk to the toilets. But HOT WATER awaits; if you hold the inside of your wrists under a hot tap, the heated blood seems to circulate right through you in minutes, Bliss; AND, it works in reverse – hot day, cold tap, cool body. Oh, OK, you did know that.
Back in my coffin. Pillow is WET… heavy dew I guess… ambient noise level rising … the first hint of daylight over the Compton and Edrich stand, London waking up, traffic begins down St John’s Wood Road…but, sleep again I presume, because next thing I know…
Awake! Now it is noisy – lorries hurtling along down below, a hubbub as sleepers – and those who didn’t – rise, start packing up, exchanging war stories, moaning and laughing together. So I might as well. In the space and in this light, no sense trying to cram everything neatly back into the bags.
Hot tea and a bacon butty from the Raid Response Team – bliss!
I’ve slept a little but am stiff and achy; not all the moving (so to speak) body parts (and not only the ones due for surgery) enjoyed the cramped space on cold concrete as the dew formed, nor the four-mile walk from home.
But, did it!
And with my friends Shona, Jessica, Rebecca, David and Matthew from ScotsCare and the Caledonian Club, all members of the Scots in London network, we’ve raised over £30k, and still counting, much needed for ScotsCare. Overall the event raised around £280,000!
For us to give up a night was a lifestyle choice… and we’ll do it again as long as people escaping poverty, abuse and homelessness are sleeping rough. Tonight I’ll catch up on my sleep in a comfy bed in a warm house surrounded by family.
So yes, I do know how lucky I am.
All my donors are amazing: I will thank each and every one the next few days – unless you are Anon and haven’t owned up to me yet!
– Paul McFarland
You can still donate to Paul’s page here: