More than 100 people brave the cold for a taste of what it is like to be homeless
- Credit: Geraldine Scott
More than 100 people braved the cold to get a small idea of what it is like to be homeless on the streets of Norwich.
A record number of people turned out to sleep rough for the Sleep Out from 8pm on Friday to 7am on Saturday, all in the name of fundraising for charity the Benjamin Foundation.
The charity helps give young homeless people the skills needed to live independently, while also providing them with accommodation.
And the Sleep Out - now in its third year - is one of its biggest money makers.
Richard Gunstone, 66, from Hethersett was taking part for the first time after reading about the event in this newspaper - so far he's raised around £800 and hopes to bring in more.
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He said: 'When I read the article I was quite touched by what I read and I thought it's quite something for people to sleep out and support the homeless. I worked in London for a while and saw the extent of homelessness there, and you see it here in Norwich too.
'I went home and thought Richard, don't just talk about it - do it, so I signed up and started to build up the sponsorship.'
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But Mr Gunstone was under no illusions about the task ahead. He said: 'I'm not afraid of the cold as I worked for many years on a farm, but it is going to be difficult. I've got my sleeping bag I borrowed from my daughter - she's not going to need it as she's in Sydney, Australia - she said if I can't sleep to call her because she'll be awake.'
Brian Bush, 51, had come prepared with many layers of clothing. He said he had joined up 'because we need to do more to raise awareness of one of the many plights in our country'.
He said he expected the night to be exciting but also to be an eye opener.
Mr Bush, who has raised £1,500, added: 'I think one of the problems is most people think homeless people are there because they choose to be, but we're all just one step away from homelessness.'
Simon Gravell, a well-known Big Issue seller based on Norwich's Haymarket, was selling the magazine at the event. He said while he was too old to access the Benjamin Foundation services, he supported what they did. He said: 'I hope people get an understanding of how hard it is out there for people, especially young people. I was quite lucky because I'm quite a mature bloke but I see criminal gangs target young people on the street, they get them to do the shoplifting, send them into Tesco to steal the beer. So it's very hard for a young person, especially if they are frightened and vulnerable.'
He added: 'As a homeless person I've found Norwich to be one of the most understanding places and I've been homeless as far up north as Newcastle, across to Exeter because once I lost my place I had nowhere so I just wandered. And I found Norwich to be one of the best cities in Britain.'
Early estimates suggested more than £25,000 could be raised on the night, a feat Chris Elliot, from the Benjamin Foundation, said would help tremendously as local authority budgets were being cut.
'Most importantly we're here to raise money,' he said. 'We're in our third year and we're really pleased we've got 125 signed up, which is a record. Mostly it's new people as well, they've taken themselves out of their comfort zone.'
Mr Elliott said not only would the participants feel the cold tonight, but they would face some of the other difficulties of sleeping rough.
'There's the cold but there's also the noise in the city, whether it's people going home from the pub or cars screeching. Then it's quite light, there's the street lights. And we're going to be in a big group but it's a difficult place to be in when you're on your own.
'By 7am people will be a bit more aware.'