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It’s 5.07 in the morning and I’ve just woken up by a tree. It’s not just any tree; it’s a tree in the grounds of QinetiQ head office in Farnborough. Above me is a blue sky with the sun catching the few clouds and turning them pink. It’s a quiet beautiful morning. Slightly less beautiful are the bugs that are eating me now that I’ve crawled out of my sleeping bag – I’m not quite sure whether it is me or the Jaffa Cake I’m eating, they are interested in. I suspect both!

It is not – let me assure you – the kind of place I normally wake up, I do have a home and a bed. But that’s precisely why I have slept the night in the open under a tree. Looking around me I can see my colleagues Olivia and Rachel from Commerce Decisions still fast asleep in their sleeping bags. I’ll wake them up in a minute and pretend I’m taking photos of them without their make up on! About 20 to 30 other colleagues from our parent company QinetiQ are still asleep or slowly starting to get up and stretch.

What are we up to? There is a charity in Farnborough called Step by Step that provides support to the young homeless. One of our colleagues in QinetiQ came up with a fundraising idea to support the charity. A sponsored sleep out for the night, in order to understand a little of what it’s like for those unfortunate people who have hit such hard times that they have found themselves without a place to stay.

Now I’m a guy who loves walking up mountains and tearing about on bikes, so this seemed like a bit of fun whilst supporting a worthwhile cause. It turned out to be fun, but also eye-opening.

Fun because as a corporate event we had a BBQ and plenty to eat and drink, we played 5-a-side and rounders whilst the sun set. One of the guys had a unique modified bicycle with an impressive sound system that played music late into the evening – he rides it all the time! There was all the good stuff you get in these situations; meeting new people, good conversations, putting out grass fires….

But the interesting part was the more important. A representative from the Step by Step charity gave us an interesting talk on what they do. The story of how these kids are bought off the street, given hope and given a chance at a future brought a sharp focus to what we were doing that night.

Sitting up that morning I realised of course that few, if any, homeless people get to drink Pimms, eat burgers or play fun games before getting a night’s sleep in safe secure surroundings. It was, however, eye-opening because despite it being a warm summer night it was surprising how cold and damp it was; I needed all the warm layers, the hat I’d brought and my mountain-spec sleeping bag. I wondered, too, how many of these people had Jaffa Cakes to eat and water to drink when they woke up? A camping holiday in the mountains is great when you have a warm bed to go back to, but I’d hate to be doing what I did that night on too many nights in the UK.

We raised a few thousand for Step by Step. I’m glad I took part. Like many, I guess I am a little detached these days when I see the homeless on our streets. Having actually gone through this process I realise that the vast majority of them won’t be choosing to do this – it’s just where life has brought them. We should be very grateful to charities like Step by Step that are out there doing what they do to help these kids and others like them start again.

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