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Wycombe Homeless Connection hosted its annual Big Sleepout on November the 18th to raise vital funds for its ongoing work.

It was the third and biggest yet ‘Big Sleepout’ organised by Wycombe Homeless Connection. A year ago the sponsored event raised a huge £46,000 and we hope to beat that this year.

A total of 112 individuals hunkered down in All Saints Churches in Wycombe and Marlow, braving freezing temperatures, protected only by cardboard boxes and sleeping bags. They were supported by volunteers offering hot drinks through the long night, but many could not sleep due to the loud music played at the pub next door. As Anthony Croft said:

“The DJ was frustrating but I suppose it made it more real – homeless people must always be questioning ‘where can I kip tonight?’ – and it’s not like they can always choose where.”

MP Steve Baker, a regular WHC night shelter volunteer, dropped in to the High Wycombe event to offer his best wishes to all taking part.

              "The Mayor's Parlour"

The Mayor of High Wycombe, Cllr Zia Ahmed, was one of four WDC councillors taking part.  WHC is one of Cllr Ahmed’s two Mayor’s Charities this year. Explaining his interest, he says:

“I chose WHC as one of my charities to support this year as I really wanted to get an insight into what it's like to be homeless in our town. I also knew that WHC needs to raise significant funds to carry on its vital support work. There are 80,000 people living in Wycombe: if they each donated £3 every year that would easily fund the entire project. It would be so wonderful for the whole community to come together in that way.”

Deputy Mayoress Morag Simmons enjoyed the challenge, despite discomfort and plunging temperatures:

“The whole night was amazing, absolutely amazing. I’m a first-time ‘sleepouter’ but would do it again.”

However, Lynn Gooch was less upbeat:

“It made me think that people have to sleep rough every night – I couldn’t do that. I’m fit and well, and the cold from last night is already affecting my chest. It’s clear that you’d get sick very fast in these cold conditions.”

Nick Gallant added, “I was well-prepared, I had layers and cardboard, but even that didn’t make much difference; I still had a poor night’s sleep”.

WHC helps around 450 people every year who are homeless or at severe risk of it. A tiny staff of support workers and 400 active volunteers help an average of 14 people every day who attend our Support Centre on Castle Street, open every weekday morning. They also provide the Wycombe Winter Night Shelter, running January-March in a rota of seven local churches.

The charity needs to raise £190,000 annually to keep these services going.

       Shelter with a message in Marlow

Supporters in Marlow were keen to do their bit as well. Rector of Marlow C of E Churches, Rev Dave Bull, slept out this and last year, along with 36 others. He said:

“Jesus worked with the most disadvantaged people, and was in fact homeless himself. God cares very deeply for the most excluded in society, so I think the Church should too. I’m passionate about trying to help those who don’t have the things we take for granted.”

Luckily for the Marlow ‘sleepouters’ Rev Bull switched off the clock chimes at All Saints Church for the night. Together with the town’s bridge being still closed to traffic, the Marlow ‘sleepouters’ enjoyed a quieter, if no warmer, night than their Wycombe counterparts.

Both churches offered a warm welcome, ice breaker games and a short talk about the work of the charity before ‘sleepouters’ headed out into the cold. Staff from Tesco provided bacon butties to the Wycombe participants in the morning in an effort to warm them up after their gruelling night in the shadows.

With sponsorship and donations still being received, it is still too early for Wycombe Homeless Connection to give a final result, but WHC Chair of Trustees Sheena Dykes is delighted with the level of interest in this year’s event:

“WHC is a small, local charity and it’s so important to us that we’re supported by the whole community. Homelessness can happen to anyone, and so if you feel lucky that you don’t have to sleep rough, we urge you to look at our website to see how you could get involved as a volunteer, pray for our work, or give a donation to enable us to continue.”