Last night, I slept outside. It was one of the coldest nights of the winter so far here in Edinburgh, and all I had to protect myself from the cold was a sleeping bag, lots of layers and a very orange survival bag.
Still, that was a lot more than a lot of Edinburgh's homeless have. Which is why I never thought that this was going to be anything like the real 'experience' of sleeping on the streets. We had free hot drinks, a concert, safe spaces to sleep and even a bedtime story.
But it brought it all home. The cold, the darkness, the anonymity of sleeping among people you don't know.
But let's backtrack a little. The world's biggest sleepout is called Sleep in the Park and took place yesterday in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens. Around 8,000 people attended, among them many celebrities, politicians and businesspeople.
Participants had to raise at least £100 to take part and donations topped £3.6m at the beginning of the evening. Thanks to some very generous donations, I managed to surpass my goal of raising £750.
By raising funds and working together, we can stop the sticky plaster mentality and get to the root issues with a plan to eradicate homelessness over a 5 year period by providing people with housing, rehabilitation, job opportunities and the support they need to get back on their feet.
Part of the money I raised are royalties from the Snow and Seduction anthology. For the three months the anthology is available to buy, I'm giving half of my royalties to Sleep in the Park. If you want to find out more about Streets of Winter, my anthology story which is set in Edinburgh, here's the blurb:
Emily never expected to find herself on the streets of Edinburgh, looking for a place to stay. In the midst of winter, a park bench doesn't sound very inviting.
Part of Sleep in the Park was a large concert (aka 'busking') with headline act Liam Gallagher (and yes, he played Wonderwall!) as well as Amy MacDonald, Rob Brydon and Bob Geldolf.
Throughout the evening, we were told personal stories by some of the people employed by Social Bite, the charity all the money goes to.
While some of the stories were incredibly sad and moving, it brought it all a little closer. Connecting a story with a face always helps.
My personal highlight of the evening was being read a bedtime story by John Cleese, the actor and comedian famous for Monty Python. His fairy tale was just as surreal and funny as you'd expect, and the laughing helped with getting a little warmer.
Then it was off to bed...
It was bloody cold. For some not-very-clever reason, I'd chosen a space on a gentle slope - bad idea. The emergency bags we'd been given were very slippery on the tarp and I kept sliding down the hill.
Did I mention it was cold? No matter in which position I tried to get some rest, there was always one body part turning into ice. I should say at this point that I was wearing 3 pairs of trousers, 4 shirts, a fleece jacket, a coat, two pairs of socks, gloves, a hat (on top of two hoodies) and a scarf. Plus a sleeping back and a sleeping bag liner.
It wasn't enough. Imagining how people sleep outside every day in a lot less than that... wow. I didn't get any sleep at all and was glad when at 5am others slowly started to get up.
My bag and boots were completely covered in frost. Luckily we didn't get any rain or snow, but apparently it went down to -6 C during the night.
So now that I'm back in my warm living room, what did I learn? Has it changed anything?
I am more aware of what's going on in my city and my country. There are around 11,000 homeless people in Scotland, although only 281 of them sleep rough (many others stay in temporary accommodation or sofa-surf). It's not an insurmountable number. There are things that can be done, and with so much support from both business, government and us normal people, we can do something about it.
Money raised during Sleep in the Park will go to:
Thank you to everyone who donated! You're all amazing and together, I hope we'll have made a difference!
Storyteller. Tea drinker. Bunny cuddler. Highland walker. Scottish by choice.