Football matches were replaced with a cardboard city for the first sleep-out in Bognor Regis.
Dozens of supporters of homelessness charity Stonepillow took the chance to ditch their comfortable beds for the hard pitch to raise money by calling Bognor Regis Town’s ground their home for the night.
The experience under a clear sky at the Nyewood Lane stadium left a lasting experience – and has brought in more than £5,000 to help Stonepillow help people who sleep rough every night.
The inaugural event was so successful the charity already has agreed with hosts at the football club it can be repeated next year and staff are hoping more will participate in 2020.
Among the 30 who joined in last Saturday included a group of eight Chichester College students and two additional support lecturers.
Vikki Andrews and Clare Franklin provide communication skills to the students who have a degree of learning difficulties.
Clare said: “The idea for taking part came when the group were talking about period poverty. The students started collecting sanitary products to donate to the local hostel.
“They then decided they would come to this and raise some money for Stonepillow.”
Vikki said: “It’s been an awesome experience. It just brings it home to the students how difficult it is to sleep rough.
“To have that poor quality of sleep, and then have to get up and move on the next day.
“In contrast, we’ve only had one night of it and we’re off home to a nice bath and a lazy day on the sofa.”
The night was dry and still but that also meant the temperature dipped to 2C to bring home to those who took part the reality of how cold it can be to live in the open.
“It was cold but it was still nowhere near how cold it would be to sleep rough in the winter,” said Vikki.
One of the students of Vikki and Clare who spent the night under a cardboard shelter was Isabelle Lack, 24.
She said: “I enjoyed it. It made me think about what it is like on the streets. I enjoyed making the shelter as well.”
The students hoped to have raised £500 from their night under the stars.
Stonepillow’s PR and events manager Laura Bulbeck said, by Monday afternoon, £5,200 had been donated to those who slept out and more was expected.
Laura, who was up all night helping at the event, said it was fantastic for a first event.
“We have so many projects in Bognor Regis and we want to connect more with the community there.
“There is more need in the Arun area, where there are more homeless people, than in Chichester and people we know were at the sleep-out.
“Some of our clients and staff helped with the set-up and there was a nice community vibe.
“We’re looking forward to next year and we’re hoping many more sleepers will take part as there is ample space on the pitch.
“We’re very grateful to our sponsors, Kiwi Recruitment and Bognor Regis Town Football Club,” added Laura.
Before the event, club manager Jack Pearce said: “It’s an absolute pleasure to be able to contribute something back to our community by staging the event for such a worthwhile cause. We’re delighted to be helping by hosting the Bognor Big Sleep Out.
Club secretary Simon Cook added: “We’re thrilled to work with Stonepillow and very much admire the work they do.”
The Bognor Regis event follows on from the well-establised sleep-out which Stonepillow has held on the Cathedral Green in Chichester in the autumn during most of Stonepillow’s 30 years of existence.
The charity operates hostels and hubs in Bognor Regis and Chichester, with a recovery service and supported accommodation.
It has a social enterprise project, Stonepillow Restore, which recycles donated furniture and white goods, such as fridges and freezers, and uses them to provide training for its clients and long-term unemployed people and sells them to boost its funds.