A Teesside charity that has inspired 1,000 UK business leaders to sleep rough for the night is set to reach the £1m fundraising milestone for charities working to fight homelessness and poverty.
Believed to be the first charity of its type in Europe, over the past three years CEO Sleepout has resulted in corporate CEOs, company chairmen, MPs, mayors, bishops and other senior businesspeople give up a night in their warm beds to experience life on the street.
Raising £800,000 so far, sleepouts have taken place at Wembley Stadium and The Oval in London, Goodison Park in Liverpool, Villa Park in Birmingham, Lancashire Cricket Ground in Manchester, St James’ Park in Newcastle, Cardiff Castle, Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium and Preston Park Museum in Stockon-on-Tees.
With further events set to take place in Nottingham, The Alnwick Garden in Northumberland and at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London this month (October), the charity’s founder and chairman Andy Preston says a £1m fundraising milestone will be achieved.
It will be some achievement, especially when it is considered that Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation – another charity Preston founded, five years ago – is close to achieving a £2m fundraising milestone.
Born and raised in Middlesbrough, Preston now bases his charities and business interests in the town, and it’s a matter of great pride to him that 15% of all funds raised through CEO Sleepout across the country goes back to Teesside to fund local projects.
He held the first sleepout on home territory, with Middlesbrough FC’s Riverside Stadium playing host to 40 business leaders in 2013.
With £30,000 raised and lots of encouragement from those who had taken part, he then realised it was a fundraising scheme that could work just about anywhere else too.
A former London-based hedge fund manager, Preston returned to the North-East in 2008 and now invests in and advises several local technology start-ups.
Preston uses his persuasive powers and best arm-twisting techniques to convince high-powered business leaders to give up their time and their beds, whilst using their contacts to raise as much money as possible in sponsorship.
Much of the cash raised by the executives who give up the comforts of their warm beds for a night in the cold has already gone to causes around the UK.
CEO Sleepout has forged strong partnerships with leading charities in the fight against homelessness and poverty including Depaul UK, the Cardinal Hume Centre and the Church Urban Fund.
The most successful event so far was held at The Oval cricket ground in October last year when more than 100 business leaders raised £180,000.
Next up, on October 13, Notts County FC’s Meadow Lane will host nearly 90 business leaders for the night, while October 31 will see London host its third – and biggest – CEO Sleepout when around 200 fundraisers make the pitch at Lord’s cricket ground their bed for the night.
Unsurprisingly, getting high-powered business leaders to sleep rough for the night isn’t always easy.
Preston reveals: “Sometimes it’s like you have to get people in a psychological headlock and put them under all kinds of emotional pressure to get them to commit, while others are immediately keen to do something positive for the community.
“The truth is that most business people are busy and want to get on with their comfortable lives. What we are doing is interrupting that life in a small way and most don’t want to hear that message. But we’ve found 1,000 business people, some more willing than others, to join us so far.”
But Preston isn’t asking them to do anything he wouldn’t do too. So far, Preston has slept rough 14 times.
“Sleeping rough is an uncomfortable inconvenience,” he says. “But it can also be fun, enlightening and very often it’s good for business, as people meet fellow participants, forge new contacts and do business.”
Participants are allowed – and advised – to wear warm clothes and bring along a sleeping bag, while they are given overnight access to toilets and hot drinks.
So what drives a busy businessman to commit so much time to making this unique project work?
“There are three reasons,” explains Preston. “It raises many thousands of pounds, which improves the lives and opportunities of those who are homeless or suffering from other forms of poverty.
“What’s really important is that it raises issues of homelessness and poverty in different cities across the UK, making people think about the issues and see them in a different way. Linking the business community to that is really powerful because we need people with influence and financial strength, who are often so far removed from the realities of poverty and the challenges people face.
“The last thing – and this is a big driver for me – is that a very small amount of the money raised in each city is retained by CEO Sleepout to fund projects fighting homelessness and poverty back on Teesside.”
But Preston remains focused on growing CEO Sleepout on a national basis.
He says: “Despite the title of the charity, you don’t have to be a CEO to take part, though it is for leaders within organisations. We’ve had hedge fund CEOs, chairmen, MPs, mayors and several bishops take part so far, and I’m in talks with business leaders in cities right around the country for further events in 2017 and 2018.”
Among the cities hosting sleepout events next year include London, Manchester, Newcastle, Durham and Middlesbrough, while Preston is in talks with businesspeople in Leeds and Derby too.
“It’s all about raising new money, not claiming funds that might otherwise have gone to a local hospice or another very worthy cause,” he adds. “The real goal is to get affluent people to increase their giving by a small amount.
“CEO Sleepout could become a colossal national phenomenon that raises many millions of pounds each year.
“I know that’s possible but, truthfully, I don’t know if I can make that happen, so I’d love someone to join me or even take it over from me and make it happen.”
For more information about CEO Sleepout UK, visit www.ceosleepoutuk.com
• Pictured (above): CEO Sleepout founder-chairman Andy Preston with fellow fundraisers Dave Allan and Claire Preston at an event on a Victorian-style street in Preston Park Museum in Eaglescliffe, Stockton.