Sleeping Rough…

CHESS

As you know from my previous blog, I have a soft spot for charities and like to do what I can to get involved and help a good cause so, equipped with my partner in crime we went in search of a new venture.

I have always wanted to take part in a soup kitchen for the homeless and this is where I began my search, using Google as my research tool I stumbled across CHESS, a homeless charity in Chelmsford.

CHESS stands for: Churches, Homeless, Emergency, Support Scheme and is a charity which looks to help the homeless back on their feet.

(Please see below link for more information)

http://www.chelmsfordchess.org/

After reading through the website myself I decided that this was definitely something I wanted to get involved in, the weather was turning colder and colder and anything I could do to help those less fortunate would be worth it! So I took the opportunity and signed up to volunteer, if accepted I would be cooking meals for people staying in the homeless shelter – a concept slightly daunting considering the most imaginative thing I cook myself is spag bowl with a jar!

After applying I received an email from one of the people working at the charity, she invited me to come to the shelter for a chat, to have a look around and discuss exactly what I would be doing.

So off I went to the shelter, I was shown around the small accommodation which houses eight homeless people at a time, with a waiting list of god knows how many!

All of which made me realise:

1. How lucky I am and 2. How there needs to be more places like this available!

I accepted the chance to become a volunteer from this meeting and signed up to my first shift (shadowing another cook till I get my head around cooking for the masses) – The whole experience is extremely rewarding and although it can be a tough environment at times, your meeting these people at their most down and vulnerable, you also get those who appreciate what you’re doing; all of which warms my heart!

My advice would be to give it a go! You can sign up to as many or as little shifts as suits you and the feeling that you’re making a difference to somebody else’s life or even their day is 100% worth the 2 hours you take out of yours to do it!

Now not only did I manage to become a volunteer from this random Google search, something a little different also caught my eye:

There was an article for the CHESS 8th ANNUAL SLEEPOUT; the event entailed members of the public giving up their warm homes and comfy beds for the evening to spend a night on the streets in an attempt to raise money for the winter project. I immediately text my charitable pal Kareen and we signed up!

(The winter project allows the shelter to open for longer hours and to provide meals for the rough sleepers as well as accommodating them in nearby hotels which have an agreement with the shelter.)

The sleepout was to take place on November 29th, previous years had seen rain and snow so we were praying for reasonable weather although we knew one fact

It’s going to be bloody freezing!

We equipped ourselves with “survival bags” – big orange sacks! Cardboard – for insulation and sleeping bags.

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The day finally arrived and we got to Chapter House by Chelmsford Cathedral around 7.30pm to register and claim our free hot meal (rice and curry – of which I only had rice not being a curry fan!) The next hour or so consisted of being papped by the local newspaper and asked for our insight on the event as well as inspiring speeches from previous tenants of the shelter and a charity auction (which Kareen happened to win some beauty treatments in).

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We were having a lovely time, laughing/joking /eating/enjoying the warmth of the hall and then…..

They kicked us out into the cold!

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It was time to set up camp – we decided the best place to go would be a corner of the Cathedral grounds, however it seemed everyone else had the same idea so we accepted just being against a wall, to shield us from the wind.

We laid down our cardboard and attempted to shove our sausage like bodies, stiff from all the layers, into a sleeping bag which then had to be slipped unattractively into a giant orange sack (or survival bag).

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Safe to say this wasn’t the most comfortable nights sleep I’ve ever had but I’m astounded to admit… I actually slept!

I awoke around 4am absolutely freezing and was glad to have taken the advice of a guy earlier in the evening; he warned us that we should remove out top layer (mine was a big furry coat) that way when it gets extra cold later on we will have another layer to put on, whereas if you keep all your layers on now… you’re screwed!

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FINALLY 6am came and we rushed to the finish line… free bacon sarnies!

It was a great experience and something I would defiantly partake in again, you get a real sense of community when a bunch of random people make such a sacrifice for the good of others!

We only did it for one evening – a few hours of cold – but these people are living like this every day! And probably with less layers and equipment to keep them warm.

It’s events like this, and charities like CHESS that keep these people going, give them a fighting chance and let them know that they aren’t alone and I for one am extremely proud to have been part of it!

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If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, donating or becoming a member of CHESS please follow the link to their website where you will find all the information you need.

Our next event will be on February 15th in Chelmsford town where we will be raising awareness and giving out soup!

Laura X

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