Sleep in the Park a “brutal” wake-up call for care workers who took part

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A group of care home workers swapped their uniforms for sleeping bags last week as they braved sub-zero temperatures to take part in Sleep in the Park.

The team of 20 Balhousie Care Group participants raised almost £16,000 as they joined 9.000 others, including celebrities, politicians and business leaders, as they bunked down in Princes Street Gardens to raise awareness of homelessness.

A highlight for the staff, who were joined by Balhousie Care Group chairman Tony Banks and CEO Steve White, was meeting Sir Bob Geldof and making it into the event’s Top 10 corporate fundraisers. But as the temperatures dipped, the “brutal reality” of the event sank in, said the staff, each of whom had a different reason for taking part.

For Elaine Smith, a care assistant at Balhousie Wheatlands home in Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire, it was a personal challenge and one that was highly emotional. She explained:

“Five years ago I lost my son to an accident at work. It should never have happened. He was my first child and just 22. He shouted goodbye that morning and never came home. I honestly thought I would die due to a broken heart. Over the last five years I've hit rock bottom; I’ve had every bit of mental health care and counselling that anyone could ask for. Slowly, thanks to family, friends and my work at Balhousie Care, my confidence has started to come back.

“But since the accident, one thing I've always said was that if miracles could happen, I would go homeless on the streets every night just to have my son David back. It’s a quote that has always stuck, so when Sleep in the Park came up, I jumped at the chance to take part.”

Said Yvonne Manson, Dementia Consultant for Balhousie Care Group and another participant:

“There are no words to describe what it was like to sleep out in the cold. It was a brutal reality but I found myself reflecting on how it was one night for us and that for many this is a daily reality. The experience is something I will never forget.”

For Chloe Hunter, also a care assistant at Balhousie Wheatlands, the cause was close to her heart. One of Chloe’s family members had been homeless. Chloe said:

“The hardest part for me was the cold, and I was so hungry but because I was so cold I couldn’t even feel the hunger pain. I hate to think people sleep like that every night.”

Claire Coleman, a support worker at Balhousie Orchard Court in Balbeggie, said the experience had made her think more deeply about homelessness.

“I felt sad, the fact I can come home and get heat but the homeless do not have that privilege. It actually made me feel guilty to an extent. I would definitely take more time for the homeless and consider them more.”

There are an estimated 1500 people across Scotland sleeping rough, according to a report by charity Social Bite, which organised Sleep in the Park.

Taking part in Sleep in the Park has strengthened Balhousie’s resolve to highlight social issues such as homelessness and loneliness among its employees, residents and local communities, said Balhousie Care Group CEO Steve White.

This Christmas Day, Balhousie’s 25 care homes across the north east of Scotland will open their doors to people in the community who are elderly or isolated to join in their festivities.

Steve said: “With 25 care homes in 25 local communities, we are in a perfect position to highlight social causes. As a business we’ve always been community collaborators and supporters of charity, but last Saturday’s experience at Sleep in the Park made us even more determined to do so.

“Last Saturday was a wake-up call in so many ways. After a freezing night, Tony and I resolved to up Balhousie’s game and draw attention to basic human issues. We see it as our duty, not only as successful business people but as human beings.”

Social Bite, which addresses homelessness through its cafes, restaurants and free food distribution in Scotland, hopes to raise £4m through the event. Among those who took part in the Sleep in the Park event were Bob Geldof, John Cleese, Liam Gallagher, Deacon Blue and Amy Macdonald.