Here I am (right) with Stephen Robertson CEO of The Big Issue Foundation
After taking part in 3 sleep out challenges, I decided to sign up for The Big London Night Walk 2016. This took place on the night of Friday 11th March.
I left work a little earlier to catch the 1523 train from Taunton to Paddington. The last time I travelled by train was to the Sleep Out in London last summer and the train didn’t actually make it! I put in a claim and today’s travel was using the replacement ticket I was sent in the post.
I arrived in London around 5.45 which left me just over a couple of hours until I have to be at the start point in Waterloo. I started my walk from here through the busy streets to Marble Arch and into the traffic free Hyde Park, walking across to the Serpentine then to Hyde Park Corner. From here, I walked along Piccadilly to Piccadilly Circus then down to Leicester Square where I stopped for something to eat at Burger King and to make the most of a sit down before my long night ahead. I moved on to Covent Garden then down to the Embankment and crossed Waterloo Bridge to the start and finish point at St. John’s Church where the registration was open and lots of people were also arriving for the event.
In England alone, over 3,500 people are estimated to be sleeping rough on any one night which increased had 30% from 2014 to 2015 while since 2010, there has been an increase of 102%. The south west saw the biggest percentage in rough sleeping over the past year (41%). This is followed by the East (38%), the south east (36%) and the West Midlands (34%). This will increase each year with a shortage of housing and rents increasing. Nearly 100 people a week turn to the Big Issue for an opportunity to help themselves at the time of personal crisis. Last year, the Big Issue Foundation helped over 2,200 individuals take control of their lives. Homelessness could affect anyone at anytime with family breakdown being the biggest cause. I recall a Big Issue vendor I chatted with in Bristol who told me the story of how he became homeless. “I lost my job and fell into debt. My wife left me then I lost the house and all I was left with was a few belongings and my dog who gives me a reason to keep going.” This story is not at all unusual and there are some harrowing tales of life on the streets. Many homeless do not sleep at night as they feel vulnerable on the move and find it safer to sleep during the daytime.
At St. John’s Church, I registered and was given a jacket to wear. The weather was colder so I had plenty of layers on to keep me warm. I chatted to other people there including people who had come on their own from across the country for this worthy cause. We were treated to some entertainment from the wonderful London City Voices Choir who sang a few songs including One Day Like This by Elbow and ELO’s Mr Blue Sky. CEO of TBIF Stephen Robertson gave a talk about the Big Issue’s work and James Bowen with Street Cat Bob also took to the stage. James admits that it was Bob who saved his life. If you have not read his books, they have sold millions across the world and a film has just been made with Street Cat Bob appearing as himself.
Chatting to a few more people, I met Big Issue Vendor George who told me his story about coming to London to restart his life but shortly after, his cousin who he was staying with died and George found himself homeless. George stays positive on life and is an inspiration to others. I met Jane who had travelled up from Fowey in Cornwall to take part so we agreed to walk together. It was around 10:15pm when we started the walk.
The Big London Night Walk took us across Waterloo Bridge to Victoria Embankment and along to Westminster Bridge which we then crossed and down some steps to Albert Embankment. Here, there was someone wrapped up in blankets to keep warm and asleep, a reminder of what we’re doing this for. A little further and 2 miles completed, we arrived at our first checkpoint, Beaconsfield where we could have a coffee from ‘Change Please’ – a project between The Big Issue Foundation and The Old Spike Roastery which sees homeless people being trained as baristas and selling fresh coffee from mobile carts, earning an income to help turn their lives around. Inside Beaconsfield, we watched theatre group ‘On The Button’ performing their play ‘Britain’s Got Tenants’ which told the history of social housing with story and song. From here, it was along the Thames and across Vauxhall Bridge and along to Parliament Square just in time to hear Big Ben chime midnight and a chance to sing Happy Birthday to a fellow walker! Crossing the road, we entered Whitehall passing Downing Street and along to Trafalgar Square before heading into Pall Mall and St. James’ Square which I recognised as one of my sister’s used to work for a company here. Around the Square, into Duke of York Street and Jermyn Street, we had now completed 5 miles. We crossed Piccadilly which was jammed with traffic at 12:30, through some back streets into Soho to our 2nd checkpoint at the Samaritans HQ. It was busy here with walkers having a rest and more refreshments available. Continuing the walk, onto Wardour Street and into Oxford Street, we arrived at Tottenham Court Road where we nearly took a wrong turn as we headed into Great Russell Street and past the British Museum and into Bloomsbury Square towards North East London. With 7 miles completed, it was getting tough now after a long day at 2.30am and as we passed Angel tube station into Islington, we were relieved to have another break at Checkpoint 3, St. James’ Church where we stayed until told we needed to move on 3am! It was a short walk to the 4th and final Checkpoint at Shoreditch Town Hall which is a wonderful building with a lot of history. The streets were still busy with late night revellers as we started the last stretch of the Night Walk passing underneath Barbican and as we went along Aldersgate Street and The Museum of London, I recognised this as the location of my abseil finale when I took part in the first ever London 3 Peaks challenge! The streets were deserted and quite eerie as we passed St. Paul’s Cathedral and as we walked down Peter’s Hill onto Millennium Bridge, there were amazing views of the city lights from the Thames as the city slept which included the gulls lined up along the rails of the bridge. Everything was quiet at last. The last mile was over the bridge and onto South Bank, past Tate Modern, the OXO Tower and under Blackfriars Bridge and back into Waterloo for a welcome by Stephen Robertson who congratulated us on completion and a medal. Back inside St.John’s Church, we were glad to sit down and Jane opened her bottle of chocolate whisky she brought back from a trip to Malaysia and had been waiting for the right occasion which we enjoyed a toast together. I had been intending walking back to Paddington for my 8am train but having been up for 24 hours, worked, travelled to London, walked all night, I deserved a rest and got the tube!
Having taken part in The Big London Night Walk, this was a wonderful experience and let you experience London in another light. We were very lucky that tonight was a dry, clear night though a bit chilly. It would have been another story had it have been poring with rain or even snowing. We did that walk through choice – too many do that every night, not by choice.
Here are my Fitbit Stats for the past 24 hours: 49,542steps. 22.1 miles. 33 floors climbed. 3862 calories burned.