Sky Sports' Johnny Phillips: Time to bed down for a very worthy cause

One of the nights which made the biggest impact at Molineux last season had nothing to do with events on the pitch.

Karl Henry, at the front with: Tom Haden (Good Shepherd), Carl Ikeme, Matt Murray.
Karl Henry, at the front with: Tom Haden (Good Shepherd), Carl Ikeme, Matt Murray.

The Wolves Foundation’s inaugural Sleepout, back in November 2019, was a resounding success.

Supported by former players Matt Murray, Carl Ikeme and Karl Henry, it raised over £50,000 for the Foundation and charity partner the Good Shepherd. But just as importantly it had a profound impact on the 150 Wolves supporters who took part and brought into focus the physical and mental stress of rough sleeping.

The event returns next Friday – and you can be part of it – but owing to the current lockdown the second Molineux Sleepout will be a virtual event with participants sleeping in an outdoor space of their choice.

“It exceeded our expectations last year and it made us think a lot about rough sleeping,” says Wolves Foundation administrator Jeanette Walker, who was involved with organising the first event.

“On one level it was nothing like the experience that rough sleepers have to go through, we had the security of the stadium and there were hot drinks available. But it made us think about the people that you see on the streets.”

Alongside the foundation staff there were four stewards who gave up their pay on the night to help patrol the event. Supporters slept out in the Stan Cullis Stand, but there were many who stayed awake through the night. Several fans found a football and enjoyed an impromptu kickabout in Wolfie’s Den in the concourse. A small number of the participants were formerly homeless, and they were able to share their experiences of life on the streets.

Wolves fan Manny Singh supplied boxes of samosas at last year’s event, before heading off to work later on in the night. This year he is taking part in his back garden.

“I’m going to try and do it authentically with a bit of cardboard on the floor,” he explains. “It’s a challenge but it’s not the same as somebody who is genuinely homeless. For anyone wanting to get involved, it’s not just about going outside, you can get your kids involved sleeping on the floor at home, it’s about taking part.

“Being on my own this year will bring it home how hard it is for the homeless, especially as it gets to one or two o’clock in the morning. It must be so mentally tough being out on the streets all night.”

“I’m doing this one with my daughter and my friend Julie from the stadium office,” Jeanette continues. “We’re going to be sleeping at some stables in a field where we keep our horse, which is a luxury in our life.

“We’re probably going to be surrounded by rats rather than people this year. It’ll feel quite exposed, but it’ll be good to do it that way as people who sleep rough every night are exposed.”

The Wolves Foundation and the Good Shepherd, with premises just across the road from Molineux, are intrinsically linked. The charities will once again split the funding raised from the 2020 event as they continue to support more people who are at risk of homelessness and exclusion.

The Good Shepherd began as a charity providing food for rough sleepers and those in poverty and, while still delivering a daily takeout service during the pandemic, the organisation also offers help in areas such as benefits and accommodation advice, mental health, addiction and self-care.

“Pre-Covid we were offering showers and a breakfast club, but we really want to wrap our services around the food provision,” head of operations, Tom Hayden, explains. “The end game is to get people back into housing, education and employment. If you’ve not got a home there’s a massive range of issues that come with that.

“At the start of the pandemic the ‘Everyone In’ initiative at local government level had a positive effect on getting people off the streets. The council saw 160 people go through the Red Wings hotel alone and there were so many charities involved, it was fantastic.

“But there’s still a lot of people in emergency accommodation. What we have seen a big increase in is people coming to us for food services and advice. People who have never used foodbanks have had to turn to them because of the pandemic. We had 180 people turn up on our busiest day this year.”

Taking a step back and digesting that figure is difficult. There was a sharp rise in both homelessness and foodbanks after the government’s austerity policy was initiated in 2010.

Prior to that, the idea of foodbanks being commonplace in society was unthinkable, but over the course of the last decade they have sadly become normalised within society.

And with the coronavirus pandemic adding further hardship, it is almost impossible to envisage a day when foodbanks will be redundant.

Former Wolves goalkeeper Ikeme became an ambassador of the Good Shepherd last month and he is only too aware of the fine line that now exists between survival and a descent into a much darker place.

“At times we are all only a few steps away from being in a really rough position and everyone needs a helping hand,” he says. “I had help making it in my career, and if it wasn’t for certain people at certain times I wouldn’t have got to where I did.

“That is what is so important about the Good Shepherd, it’s not just about providing food to people but also helping them get back on their feet so they can support themselves.

“It is a tight-knit community in Wolverhampton, the people in the city have got a big heart and we have seen plenty of times how they can work together to make a really big impact.”

Admission is £10 for adults and £5 for children and the entrance fee ensures you can get involved with plenty of virtual events on the night, with Zoom calls from some well-known Wolves faces, as well as an opportunity to win a signed Wolves shirt if you can raise over £50 for the event.

Whatever support you can offer will be hugely appreciated. As we head into a Christmas period like no other, the 2020 Wolves Foundation Sleepout brings into focus that community spirit we need more than ever before.

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