A Teesside charity that has inspired 2,000 UK business leaders to sleep rough for the night has achieved a £2 million fundraising milestone in a fight against national homelessness and poverty.
And, with 15 fundraising events scheduled across the country in the forthcoming months, the charity’s founder and chairman Andy Preston is predicting £2.5m will be achieved by the end of 2019.
Believed to be the first charity of its type in Europe, over the past six years CEO Sleepout has seen corporate CEOs, company chairmen, MPs, mayors, bishops and other senior businesspeople give up a night in their warm beds to experience life on the street.
Sleepout events have taken place at Wembley Stadium and The Oval in London, Goodison Park in Liverpool, Emirates Old Trafford in Manchester, Villa Park in Birmingham, St James’ Park in Newcastle, Cardiff Castle, Mowden Park in Darlington, Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium and Preston Park Museum in Eaglescliffe, Stockton.
There have now been 50 sleepouts across the country, with further events set to take place in Newcastle, Portsmouth, York, Durham, Doncaster, the Black Country, Nottingham, Darlington, Manchester, Stockton, Watford, Sheffield, London, Hull and Northumberland.
Businessman Andy – who is also founder-chair of Teesside Philanthropic Foundation, which itself recently achieved a £3m charity fundraising milestone – says it’s a matter of great pride that 15% of all funds raised through CEO Sleepout across the country come back to Teesside to fund local projects.
One of the key beneficiaries is The Fork in the Road charity restaurant on Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough, which provides training, experience and job opportunities for recovering addicts, ex-offenders and the long-term unemployed.
Middlesbrough-born Andy organsied the first sleepout on home territory, with Middlesbrough FC’s Riverside Stadium playing host to 40 business leaders in 2013.
With £30,000 raised and lots of encouragement from those who had taken part, he then realised it was a fundraising scheme that could work just about anywhere else too.
Preston says he uses his “persuasive powers and best arm-twisting techniques” to convince high-powered business leaders to give up their time and their beds, whilst using their contacts to raise as much money as possible in sponsorship.
Much of the cash raised by the executives who give up the comforts of their warm beds for a night in the cold has gone to causes around the UK.
CEO Sleepout has forged strong partnerships with leading charities in the fight against homelessness and poverty including Depaul UK, the Cardinal Hume Centre and the Church Urban Fund.
Unsurprisingly, getting high-powered business leaders to sleep rough for the night isn’t always easy.
Preston reveals: “Sometimes it’s like you have to get people in a psychological headlock and put them under all kinds of emotional pressure to get them to commit, while others are immediately keen to do something positive for the community.
“The truth is that most business people are busy and want to get on with their comfortable lives. What we are doing is interrupting that life in a small way but we’ve found 2,000 business people, some more willing than others, to join us so far.”
But Preston isn’t asking them to do anything he wouldn’t do too. So far, Preston has slept rough 14 times.
“Sleeping rough is an uncomfortable inconvenience,” he says. “But it can also be fun, enlightening and very often it’s good for business, as people meet fellow participants, forge new contacts and do business.”
Participants are allowed – and advised – to wear warm clothes and bring along a sleeping bag, while they are given overnight access to toilets and hot drinks.
So what drives a busy businessman to commit so much time to making this unique project work?
“There are three reasons,” explains Preston. “It raises many thousands of pounds, which improves the lives and opportunities of those who are homeless or suffering from other forms of poverty.
“What’s really important is that it raises issues of homelessness and poverty in different cities across the UK, making people think about the issues and see them in a different way. Linking the business community to that is really powerful because we need people with influence and financial strength, who are often so far removed from the realities of poverty and the challenges people face.
“The last thing – and this is a big driver for me – is that a very small amount of the money raised in each city is retained by CEO Sleepout to fund projects fighting homelessness and poverty back in my Middlesbrough hometown and across Teesside.”
But Preston remains focused on growing CEO Sleepout on a national basis.
• For more information about CEO Sleepout UK, visit www.ceosleepoutuk.com