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Basildon Young Catholics Sleepout for Charity


Photo of the whole group

On Friday 23rd May more than fifty young adults aged 15-17 from the Catholic Parish of Our Lady and All Saints, Basildon, slept in the church car park to raise money for a local homeless charity and parish youth projects. They are preparing for their Confirmation, on 8th June, and during the evening they heard from Phyl McLaren, a volunteer for Project 58:7 which provides food and clothes for homeless people in Basildon. Phyl shared personal experience, and stories of those who come to Project 58:7, and afterwards the young people described it as ‘Eye-opening,’ ‘moving,’ ‘inspiring,’ ‘shocking,’ ‘really powerful.’ One said, “It made me think very differently about the homeless – I always thought it was their fault because they didn’t get a decent education, or a proper job, but now I know it can easily happen to anyone.” Another said, “I had never thought about what it means to sleep outside every night – no electricity, and no security. We are a big group tonight – imagine this on your own.”

Photo of some of the group

After a quiet and reflective prayer time and celebration of Mass the young people went out into the night. “At first I thought we were doing a sponsored all night chat” said their Parish Priest, Fr Dominic Howarth, who also spent the night outside, “But of course that was a mix of the great friendship in the group, and some nerves – these young people have never experienced anything like this. In the morning a lot of them spoke about being frightened – you are pretty vulnerable when all you have is a sleeping bag. I think this really hit home when a fox strolled by – it was not bothered about the young people at all, but they realised just how open they were to the elements, and to the wildlife – and they could easily imagine the vulnerability of being in the doorway of a city street as pubs and clubs were closing on a Saturday night.

Photo of some of the group

It was a cold night – and then it got wet. “We had given them the option of sleeping in the hall if it rained,” Fr Dominic said, “And when it first started raining almost all of them came in. But then something changed – one of them said, ‘the homeless can’t just go inside. We have to do this properly.’ And gradually they all went back out. It rained pretty hard, and they braved it until first light, at around five o’clock. Then we made coffee, and chatted about it. It is an experience they will never forget. One of them said – ‘I will never judge a homeless person again.’ And another one said, ‘You have to be so mentally strong to be outside all night – I never realised. And if I had to go back out there for a second night, and a third night, I would be so depressed.’”

Photo of some of the group

The night finished with bacon rolls, brought to the hall by parishioners who wanted to encourage the young people in all that they were doing. The sponsored sleepout has raised approximately £3,000, which will be split between Project 58:7 and a fund to support young people from Basildon wanting to travel to Krakow, Poland, in 2016, to celebrate World Youth Day with more than three million young people from every country in the world. Fr Dominic said, “We are blessed with our youth co-ordinator, Adam; together we believe in creating as many opportunities for young people as we can. Tonight has changed hearts – for ever. And the young people have really lived what Pope Francis is talking about as a defining feature of the Catholic Church – that we must be alongside the very poorest in our world. This is exactly what Jesus did.”

Photo of some of the group
Photo of some of the group

Notes: Project 58:7 is an ecumenical project, run by “Churches Together in Basildon.” The name comes from Isaiah 58:7, verses which speak of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the orphan.