Wells-next-the-Sea: Raising awareness of homelessness

Five churches - including Quakers, which constitute the Churches Together group in Wells-next-the-Sea, took an initiative to raise awareness of homelessness. They have organised a sleep-out in December for two years to raise money and draw community attention to rough sleeping.

Rough sleeper
'Homeless rough sleeper' by Blodeuwedd

We have organised sleep-outs in December both to draw attention to the issue and raise money for the Church Urban Fund. Although there is poverty in our town there is no rough sleeping.

The purpose of the sleep-out was to not only raise awareness of homelessness but also to raise funds. As a collective action, Quakers were but one faith group involved in the event.

One young person heard on social media that there was a nationally promoted initiative to organise sleep-outs. The word was shared among the Churches Together members, we thought it was a great idea and agreed to do it in our community too.

All of the arrangements for the event were organised by email. We were in regular contact with each other as a group. We found a date that everyone could manage so we could all participate.

We organised our sponsorship individually and publicised the sleep-out with posters. We also sent a press release to our local newspaper and shared the event as best we could on social media. On a practical level, we selected a spot on the town green called The Buttlands. This was near the Catholic Presbytery, who kindly provided a nocturnal toilet facility. We organised to have a large frame tent where we sang together before retiring to our own individual tents. We had to put the tents up in the dark and the rain, one of many challenges people face every day.

We were an ecumenical group of Anglicans, Methodists and Quakers, including the then Methodist minister. As well as those who did sleep out others supported by providing hot water bottles, hot drinks, blankets and a communal hot breakfast the next morning.

In the first year, nine people in the community did the sleep-out and raised £2,500.

The second year, seven did the sleeping but still raised a worthwhile sum. It looks as though this will now become an annual event in our Churches Together calendar.

It was a social as well as a religious event. Both nights it was cold, though not freezing, so it did involve being uncomfortable. We were there to experience for one night what some do every night.

The fellowship was good and Quakers, Methodists, and Anglicans in our community took part. We recorded our efforts in the minutes of our Churches Together Committee Meeting Minutes and have just agreed to do it again in December 2018.

The sleep-out, local news publicity, awareness and fundraising were all positive outcomes.

Although we are a small community of two thousand or so people we 'punch above our weight' and try to do things as an ecumenical community. Bringing Churches together in this way helps the community flourish. It was good for Quakers to join with other churches in this practical piece of social witness.

If you want to organise your own sleep-out, the example from Friends in Wells-next-the-Sea gives some great ideas, inspiration and direction. Don't forget to include Friends of all ages. If you have children in your meeting, speak to them – they may bring insightful and new perspectives!

How to promote your event

  • Hand out flyers to explain what you're doing and why. Designate a few people from the group to engage passers-by in conversation and answer questions.
  • Ask people to sign a petition, or share their message or opinion.
  • Give a talk about why you're taking action, or invite different people from the community to speak about the issue.
  • Think about expression of your faith as a group, you may wish to gather in stillness, or have music and singing. Or both!
  • Post updates, photos and videos on social media as the action happens.

Ways to share your event: before, during and after

  • Tell your area meeting about your activity.
  • Encourage other Friends in the area to get involved and spread the word.
  • Tell your local media about it by sending a press release with eye-catching, positive photos.
  • Share photos, videos and updates through your meeting's social media accounts.
  • Write an article in your meeting's newsletter.
  • Write about it on the Our stories blog – an online space for sharing action being taken by Friends around Britain.

Image of rough sleeper by Blodeuwedd (offsite link) CC licence (offsite link).