I TOOK part in the Big Basingstoke Sleep Out 2024 to raise awareness for Julian House, a charity supporting vulnerable and at-risk individuals.

To be perfectly candid, I was slightly nervous. I'm not the biggest fan of camping at the best times, and the idea of sleeping on nothing but a roll mat resurfaced memories from DofE that I'm not certain I wanted to relive.

However, this wasn't about me, it was about the many people who experience homelessness, and raising vital funds for Julian House to continue their outreach support in Basingstoke.

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Basingstoke Gazette: Gazette reporter Lola Crossman with her dad Graham

I dragged my dad along, who to his credit, was an excellent sport, and impressed the security guards with his ability to sleep anywhere, at any time even in chilly, cold temperatures and on the hard ground.

Upon arriving at the May's Bounty cricket ground, where the event took place, there was an incredible sense of community. Everyone was conversing and more than happy to help each other set up their makeshift cardboard shelters for the night.

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I even got the opportunity - with Gavin Osborn who coordinated the event - to chat with many of these people about their reasons for abandoning their beds, and why they chose to brave the cold on Friday, March 15.

More than 120 people took part, including a number of children, which gives me a huge amount of hope for the next generation. Speaking to these children, their compassion was clear and unrivalled, they simply found it necessary to help.

As far as my night went, after chatting with my fellow campers, I stood by and watched while my dad created our sleeping situation (sorry dad) which involved a sheet of cardboard, with roll mats on top, and a sleeping bag in a larger plastic bag.

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I struggled to sleep through the night mostly due to the noise machine of snoring I had next to me, which was relentless, and on a volume high enough that your phone would display a warning, also known as Graham, my dad.

In the morning, we were greeted with croissants, brioche, and coffee, as we all disassembled our shelter for the night, most of us in clothes that could only be described as airport attire, ie. a million layers, hoodies, and jogging bottoms.

All in all, whilst I acknowledge that our single night in the great outdoors does not even come close to the harsh realities of homelessness, I can say I left with a greater understanding of what people are going through.

That is to say, if you can donate to Julian House, anything helps to ensure they can continue their vital work in supporting anyone facing homelessness, here: julianhouse.enthuse.com/cf/big-basingstoke-sleep-out