IT’S said the darkest hour is just before the dawn. For me this morning it was the coldest.
As the wind whipped through Fratton Park it tugged at the edges of my sleeping bag, releasing the warmth of the cocoon I had created pitchside next to the advertising hoardings at the Fratton end.
The only sounds were the flapping of the flags atop the north stand and the muffled snorings of a number of those scattered in front of the ranks of empty seats, from which Jimmy Dickinson peered imperiously down.
I’d brought plenty of layers, even a hat, gloves and two pairs of socks. But most were still in the sports bag I was using as a pillow. It felt bitter, the wind biting. And this is on a fairly mild spring morning.
I must have drifted back in to the fitful sleep which had not taken hold of me until around 2am, safe in the knowledge that warmth, food and a shower were not far away. And tonight I’d be back in my own bed.
The CEO Sleepout in Portsmouth was never meant to replicate what life is like as a rough sleeper. The gathering of business and community leaders from across the area was a symbolic conclusion to an initiative to raise awareness of homelessness and raise money in support of some great local causes.
As we gathered in the Alliance Lounge at Fratton Park last night we heard from CEO Sleepout UK founder Andy Preston, who welcomed us all and introduced the work of The Society of St James, Portsmouth Street Pastors and Pompey in the Community who all do so much great work across the city to support some of the most vulnerable among us.
It was a ‘pre-match’ pep talk to the assembled crowd of people from all walks of local business life and certainly drove the message home as to why we were there. We lingered in the warmth of the lounge for as long as possible, the bar was open and there were new business connections to be forged. And when the time came to head outside that shared warmth remained as we bedded down within the locked confines of Fratton Park where the greatest threat would came from the automatic sprinkler system which doused those by the corner flag on the south side.
And we all awoke today, bleary-eyed and tousle-haired, comparing notes on how many hours kip we had managed. None of us felt any the wiser to what life is like as a homeless person. But we all knew we had joined together to play a small part in the fight against homelessness and poverty in our city.
* And it’s not too late to join in. Any small donation to Mark’s JustGiving page would be greatly appreciated.