Preparations are well underway for our flagship fundraiser, Simon’s Big Sleep Out!
As it gets closer, we’re talking to our CEO Natalie Moran all about what makes this event so special, her own experience of taking part, and why your support is needed more than ever as we work to break the cycle of homelessness.
How are the preparations going for Simon’s Big Sleep Out - are the team excited?
Everything is really coming together nicely! All the main components were sorted fairly early on, so it’s made for much smoother event planning this year!
It’s been so hard post covid. Two years ago, we were in a position where we really didn’t know whether the event would be able to go ahead, or how much support we’d get. So, heading into this year it's been a little less stressful!
The team are always excited about this event. It’s just, well it’s us! It's who we are and what we do! This year has also been extra nice, as we have some new members of the team who are really excited to be involved with the sleepout for the first time.
Andy, our new senior fundraiser, and I have been working closely together on the event. It’s been great to see his passion to make a difference, and his dedication to making this event a success. As an experienced all round fundraiser, this is probably one of the few fundraising events he has never taken part in so he’s up for the challenge!!
As the CEO of Simon on the Streets, what challenges are you facing in the current climate?
It's tough out there…for so many reasons. We know how much people are struggling on a day-to-day basis. Not just the people we support on the street, but friends, family and businesses too.
As a charity we have to be realistic about what we can and can’t achieve, particularly in terms of how much we can expect people to give and how able they are to support us. For example, I had to make the difficult decision this year to not go ahead with our planned Ball. We all love the event, but in all honesty, that kind of occasion just didn’t seem appropriate in the current climate.
It’s a big ask for people and also a lot of work for us as a charity. When we’re fundraising, we need to know that our fundraising efforts will be successful. Personally, I think that in itself would have been a challenge this year.
It’s something that people don’t often talk about, but the truth is that it’s important to focus our fundraising efforts in the right way, particularly because homelessness is a rising issue and we want to ensure that we can meet the rising demand for our services. As an independent charity that’s always going to be tough.
This is a charity with a very strong mission and a clear set of values. What are your hopes for the future when it comes to tackling the rising issue of homelessness?
The big hope is that we won't be needed. But realistically of course, we’re going to be here, and be needed, for a long time. On that basis, my hope is that, in time, we can support as many people as possible. I see the value in the support we provide, and how that enhances the outcomes of the individuals we work with. That in itself drives my need to ensure that we can support people in more cities, other than just in Leeds and Bradford.
But we can’t be everything to everyone, and when it comes to tackling the rising issue of homelessness, working together with other services, for example in addiction, mental health, primary healthcare etc, is the way forward.
We also have to not just listen, but really hear what the people we’re working with are telling us. We’ve got to dig deeper, and gain an understanding of why people may be choosing to be on the street rather than in the accommodation they've been provided. Or indeed why they won’t go into emergency accommodation, or why they have fled their family home. We’ll be discussing the issue of entrenched rough sleeping in the coming months so keep your eyes peeled.
You’re a very ‘hands on’ CEO, it’s clear that you’ve got a real passion for the work you do. Can you tell us a little bit about what drives you?
Ah, what drives me?
We had a team meeting recently where everyone shared their feedback of some of the work they’d been doing that week. Someone who had just got their forever home, and our team were helping them to make it their own. Another member of staff had been working with someone who was suffering from severe self neglect - this led to a sharing of experiences to help find a way forward. Then we had the fundraising team talking about a company they had met with that week. They’d just completed the 3 peaks challenge, and they talked to the team about our next corporate social to arrange who from the team was coming along to speak about the work they do.
At one point I just sat back and thought, yes. This is what it’s all about. This job for me is a privilege, and leading this incredible team of people who are literally helping to change people's lives every day is the best feeling in the world.
You’ve obviously attended this event before. What was the experience like?
We’re always very clear when we talk about Simon’s Big Sleep Out sleep that it’s not about trying to replicate someone’s journey. We’re not trying to pretend that one night on the street sleeping out is in any way comparable to what the people we support feel every day.
However... it really was the most humbling experience for me personally. During the night I felt frightened. Every noise unnerved me. And I felt very alone. I hadn’t expected to feel like that, after all there were 102 people bedded down around me.
When I left the site in the morning and drove back home, knowing I was going home to my partner and son, a hot shower and a warm bed, I felt an incredible sadness. I’d like to think I never get complacent in this job and never take the things I have for granted. But I began to think that maybe I had. And I cried all the way home.
I was immensely proud of how the event had come together, of how so many amazing people had supported us on the night and how much money we had raised. But it also hit home just why Simon's Big Sleep Out is our flagship event. It matters. It's who we are, it’s what we do. And it’s a reminder of how many small things we all take for granted.
Do you have any advice for those taking part?
I think if it’s the first time, just go with it! Prepare to be cold, wet and without your creature comforts for the night. But, also be prepared to feel quite emotional, because what you’re doing is a big deal, and will make a difference to the lives of so many.
Also prepare to come together with fantastic people, learn more about the work we do and feel a real sense of community and purpose. Homelessness sadly will be here for a long time to come. But so will we.
Simon’s Big Sleep Out will take place on Thursday 19th October 2023 outside Leeds Civic Hall. Will you be joining us? Bring your friends, family, colleagues and teams, and help us to break the cycle of homelessness. Sign up here.