I took part in the Sleep-Out at St Albans Abbey last December for the first time. This is the annual event when people sleep (or not) for a night in the open air round the outside of the Abbey. It’s to draw attention to the plight of the homeless and to raise money for local homeless projects. It was an absolutely foul night in terms of pouring rain, and no tents were allowed.
It is not difficult to keep warm in cold weather if you have the right kit – but keeping dry is another matter. I was immensely impressed by how many people took part in the sleep-out – it must have been at least 500 - and by how young many of them were, including some girls who shouted out “Hey, that’s Tom Walkington’s dad.”
I was raising money for Open Door (St Albans) and last week I went to see the premises in Bricket Road and meet some of the people. Open Door has been in existence for 13 years and is the only “direct access” night shelter in Hertfordshire. There are other night shelters in the county but they only take referrals. Open Door will take in anyone who turns up, provided they have room and subject to no alcohol or drugs.
The district council lets the premises on a peppercorn rent and they get funding from it and the district council. But recent cuts have meant they have had to end the day centre element, and the Open Door Trust still has to struggle to find £30-40 thousand pounds a year itself, which sounds like a lot of money to me given all the competing demands for fund-raising and the relatively small size of St Albans.
You can read more about Open Door here - and the Sleep Out is a practical way of helping them. Coincidentally, Abbe Pierre, the French catholic priest who made homelessness into a cause in France, died this week. He founded the worldwide Emmaus movement – they now have a hostel in St Albans as well. Abbe Pierre used to be voted the most popular man in France year after year – he was a hero.
But I think everyone who volunteers at Open Door is a hero too.