Ex­clu­sive: Why this Sleep Out will be the last

Nearly 10,000 peo­ple will sleep out in Ed­in­burgh, Dundee, Glas­gow and Aberdeen – but fundrais­ing tar­get will fall short

The Scotsman - - Front Page - By BRIAN FER­GU­SON

So­cial Bite founder Josh Lit­tle­john is to wind up his Sleep in the Park event after two years – as it emerged that his na­tion­wide fundrais­ers will fall short of their tar­gets. The so­cial en­tre­pre­neur said he was work­ing on ideas for a dif­fer­ent event next year

So­cial Bite founder Josh Lit­tle­john has re­vealed he is to wind up his “Sleep in the Park” event after just two years – as it emerged that the na­tion­wide fundrais­ers will fall short of of­fi­cial tar­gets.

He ad­mit­ted it had proved more dif­fi­cult than he ex­pected to per­suade peo­ple to sleep out overnight to raise aware­ness of home­less­ness.

But the award-win­ning so­cial en­tre­pre­neur said he was al­ready work­ing on ideas for a “new and dif­fer­ent” event to launch next year.

More than 8,000 peo­ple who braved sub-zero tem­per­a­tures in Princes Street Gar­dens in Ed­in­burgh last year raised more than £4 mil­lion for sev­eral ini­tia­tives aimed at tack­ing home­less­ness.

Mr Lit­tle­john said nearly 10,000 peo­ple will be rais­ing around £3.2m at mass sleep­outs in Ed­in­burgh, Dundee, Glas­gow and Aberdeen to­day. But he ad­mit­ted plan­ning this year’s event, which will see Scot­tish singing stars KT Tun­stall and Amy Mac­don­ald travel by he­li­copter to per­form in all four lo­ca­tions, had in­volved “four times the work” than last year’s fundraiser.

Mr Lit­tle­john, who has won the back­ing of Ge­orge Clooney, Leonardo di Caprio and Prince Harry for his So­cial Bite chain of sand­wich shops and cafes, said he was “re­lieved” so many peo­ple had signed up to take part in the sec­ond Sleep in the Park event.

All par­tic­i­pants must pledge to raise at least £100 to se­cure a place at the event, with cor­po­rate teams be­ing asked to pay a min­i­mum of £3,000.

The top fundrais­ers re­ceive a per­son­alised Christ­mas ham­per from Nicola Stur­geon and the chance to meet No­bel Peace Prize win­ner Malala Yousafzai at a gala Sleep Out “thank you” din­ner in March.

When the ex­panded event was an­nounced in the sum­mer, Mr Lit­tle­john said he had hoped to sign up 12,000 peo­ple and raise at least £6m as part of a drive to “erad­i­cate” home­less­ness in Scot­land within five years.

Mr Lit­tle­john said: “It’s a re­ally dif­fi­cult event to do two years in a row. A lot of peo­ple who did it last year viewed it as a once in a life­time ex­pe­ri­ence. It is a lot of ef­fort for peo­ple to raise money from their friends and fam­i­lies, and ev­ery­thing else that is en­tailed with it.

“I’m re­ally de­lighted to get to the level of par­tic­i­pa­tion and fundrais­ing that we have.

“It could have gone the other way. We could have re­ally strug­gled. I’m re­lieved and very grate­ful to ev­ery­one that has signed up and got be­hind it.”

Around 4,000 peo­ple will take part in the Ed­in­burgh event, which will be staged in Princes Street Gar­dens again, where Lulu, Ad­mi­ral Fal­low, Siob­han Wil­son and Martha Ffion will be per­form­ing.

Fright­ened Rab­bit will per­form for the first time since the death of front­man Scott Hutchi­son in May when they head­line the Sleep in the Park event in Glas­gow, which The Twi­light Sad, Kathryn Joseph and an­other “sur­prise act” will also be ap­pear­ing at.

Kyle Fal­coner, Father­son, Hunter & The Bear and Withered Hand will per­form for about 1,500 par­tic­i­pants in Dundee.

A to­tal of 1,800 peo­ple have signed up to sleep out in Duthie Park in Aberdeen, where Ed­die Reader, Kris Dr­ever and the Ne­vis En­sem­ble will be pro­vid­ing the mu­si­cal en­ter­tain­ment.

Mr Lit­tle­john added: “It’s def­i­nitely been more of a chal­lenge this year but it was def­i­nitely the right thing to do to spread it ge­o­graph­i­cally.

“If we’d just done it in Ed­in­burgh we’d have got a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in par­tic­i­pa­tion.

“We’ve not just done an­other event for the sake of it. We had a tar­get to raise £1.5m this year to put to­wards our ‘Hous­ing First’ pro­gramme to lift more than 800 rough sleep­ers out of home­less­ness across Scot­land.

“It will def­i­nitely be a dif­fer­ent kind of event next year. I do have an idea I am work­ing on at the mo­ment. It won’t be the same kind of thing.”

Lit­tle­john first came to promi­nence six years ago when he and busi­ness part­ner Alice Thomp­son launched the first So­cial Bite sand­wich and cof­fee shop to help cre­ate jobs for home­less peo­ple.

So­cial Bite has grown into a chain which has five re­tail out­lets through­out Scot­land, two large staff can­teens, a cen­tral pro­duc­tion kitchen and a cor­po­rate cater­ing busi­ness.

Some 10,000 peo­ple are ex­pected to take part in mass Sleep in the Park events in Ed­in­burgh, Glas­gow, Aberdeen and Dundee tonight, rais­ing an es­ti­mated £3.2 mil­lion to help tackle the scourge of home­less­ness in Scot­land.

And, while the fig­ures are lower than the hoped-for 12,000 and £6m, the amount ex­pected to be raised is still a size­able sum and ev­ery­one in­volved – es­pe­cially event or­gan­iser and So­cial Bite founder John Lit­tle­john – can be proud.

Lit­tle­john ad­mit­ted that it had proved dif­fi­cult to or­gan­ise the event two years in a row and that he planned to do some­thing dif­fer­ent next year, while adding he was “re­ally de­lighted” and “re­lieved” by the level of par­tic­i­pa­tion.

The Scots­man very much hopes Lit­tle­john re­alises how much good he is do­ing for some of the most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple in the coun­try, but also that such a large prob­lem can­not rest solely on one per­son’s shoul­ders.

His ex­traor­di­nary suc­cess has and con­tin­ues to demon­strate what can be done by peo­ple of in­tegrity, com­pas­sion and drive – an ex­am­ple to us all.

Josh Lit­tle­john says he is work­ing on a new plan for next year

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