By Sophie Griffiths, Business Director at Coley Porter Bell
It’s Thursday afternoon on a cold November day. Thermals - check. Waterproofs - check. Dutch courage - check!
The secret location of the Sleep Out was revealed only a few days earlier to be Greenwich Peninsula. "Greenwich Peninsula" we're all thinking..... Isn't that exposed on both sides to the wind and the river..? Yes... Yes it is. My god, it's going to be cold.
We arrive in style by boat, and after getting lost and trekking around the glamorous underpasses of Greenwich Peninsula, (a rather dystopian scene in the cold and dark, traipsing along with our sleeping bags) we finally find the site.
It's flat and exposed, right beside the river and looking back over to the twinkling lights and skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. A contrast not lost on anybody.
Once in, and with trepidation, it's time to find our 'beds' for the night.
The site has had huge, basic tents set up. Cold and draughty, they are enough to keep the rain off, if it comes, but not much else. There is tarpaulin on the ground and a layer of cardboard. Luxury for some. We each pick a spot and scrawl our name on the Centrepoint regulation 'jiffy' bag, within which we place our sleeping bag and extra layers for later.
Next up, it’s time for some grub. An army tent is serving steaming hot stew and curry. We huddle together on a bench like penguins for warmth while we eat, bond and drink cider. (The wine ran out long ago). The wind is howling but thankfully there is no sign of rain.
After managing a slightly skewwhiff and blurry team picture, we sample some of the ‘entertainment’ - Christopher Biggins has arrived to read us all a bedtime story. Enrobed in fur, he is a strange, incongruously glamorous presence on site amongst the goretex.
And now to bed. Extra layers are donned and teeth are brushed in the portaloos. Again, a luxury for some.
What is it actually like sleeping there? The ground is hard, but the Michelin-man layers of thermals, jumpers, coat and sleeping bag help to cushion. It is cold, but then we knew that. Luckily the temperature didn't dip below freezing. It is noisy - with the sounds of the city and nearly 1000 other people sleeping out, some trying to sleep, some trying to hold off the prospect for as long as possible. Once bedded down, the logistic of getting out of your makeshift cocoon to use the portaloos is a grim prospect.
But the mental preparedness is the biggest factor. None of this is truly hard because all of us know - it's just for tonight. Tomorrow there will be a hot shower and clean clothes. Tomorrow there will be my own bed.
The next morning is tough. Waking up after little to no sleep, feeling cold and stiff. The grim portaloo beckons.
After packing up our sleeping bags in a dozy haze, we walk slowly to the tube, disheveled, a bit broken and desperate for a hot shower.
We stand self-consciously between the smart looking commuters, already making their way into the city. No one blinks an eye lid.
Waking up the next morning in my own bed, I have never been so consciously grateful of how lucky I am. It was tough, and the exhausting day after in the office was even tougher, but of course, it was nothing compared to what so many go through.
Nearly £21,000 was contributed by the Ogilvy team – it can pay for up to 35 vulnerable young people to receive specialist, one to one psychotherapy to overcome trauma, abuse and neglect and turn their lives around.
A week later, with the temperature plummeting again, Centrepoint have raised at least £472,324 – an astonishing amount. It will all go to housing homeless young people, some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Centrepoint take them in for 2 years, providing long term shelter with a safe, warm room of their own as well as the physical, emotional and medical support they need to get their young lives back on track.
If you’d like to donate to help the cause, you can do so here.