Jeff Gridley’s week of sleeping rough on some of the coldest – and wettest – nights of the winter has come to an end, with the Croydon dustcart driver saying, “It was pretty tough.”
Gridley thinks he has raised more than £2,000 towards Croydon Nightwatch, the local charity which provides food and support to the borough’s homeless, poor and vulnerable, through his efforts.
With no money, never mind a cash card, no mobile phone and no roof over his head, Gridley had an uncomfortable taste of life on the streets for the week, and for long periods was out of contact with his fellow volunteers from Nightwatch, who had no idea how he was getting along.
“What you don’t realise beforehand is just how tiring it can be,” Gridley told Inside Croydon this morning, having returned to his home in Old Town and having had his first hot shower and proper breakfast since last weekend.
“You seem to spend all the day walking around, aimlessly, with no where to go, nothing to do,” he said. “I was probably getting up around five o’clock most mornings and then just walking round, until about 12, when I’d go to the Salvation Army to get some lunch.
“Then you’d be wandering around again, until eight or nine o’clock at night. It was pretty tough, hard on the legs. By Wednesday, I’d really had enough.”
The volunteers at the Salvation Army – who were not aware of Gridley’s true circumstances – were sufficiently concerned to refer him to Thames Reach, the London-wide rough sleeper service, to get help. There was genuine concern for his well-being. Eventually, Gridley told the volunteers about his challenge, and a payment has been made for the food provided.
It was the grinding boredom which Gridley found hardest of all. “Imagine leaving your house at 6am and just walking and walking, going nowhere, for hours, all day. The sheer boredom is so tough mentally.”
On Monday, Gridley joined Croydon Central Library, where he saw a lot of NightWatch regulars – being inside, in the dry and warm, is a popular way of passing the time for many rough sleepers.
For a couple of mornings, the hopelessness of a day on the streets saw Gridley do what many of those sleeping rough end up doing: “I just didn’t come out of the sleeping bag – there was no where to go, nothing to do.”
Without lunch at the Salvation Army for two days, when he was just too exhausted by life on the streets to get out of his sodden sleeping bag, it meant that Gridley’s only food on those days was that provided by NightWatch’s soup kitchen in Queen’s Gardens.
Keeping clean when living on the streets was a real problem. Showers and hot water are not available, and Gridley relied on wipes. By Wednesday night, when he arrived at NightWatch, the terrible wet weather of the past week was taking its toll. “He was so damp and cold, we gave him a clean set of clothes from our store,” a NightWatch volunteer said.
As well as the boredom, the isolation also started to affect Gridley. “He’s chatted to some of the NightWatch regulars, and no one’s been unfriendly, but there’s not been much desire for conversation as no one wanted to hang around in the rain.”
By Wednesday night, Gridley had so lost track of time, he had to be persuaded by volunteers that it was his fourth, and not his third, night out. Another NightWatch regular offered to take Gridley to a lunch club organised by the East Croydon United Reformed Church on Thursday.
Until last night, Gridley had bedded down in the loading bay of a disused factory on the Purley Way that he had identified as a likely spot to sleep when he was doing the rounds in his Veolia truck before Christmas. But even that did not provide enough shelter to keep him – and his sleeping bag – dry or warm.
“The sleeping bag was absolutely drenched, and was so, so heavy. Imagine having to carry that around with you all day – as some people do.”
Gridley tried to leave his sleeping bag behind each day, but he did carry a large bag of other clothes with him during the day. On one occasion, another homeless man asked him about the bag. “I bury mine in Beddington Park,” was the advice offered to Gridley.
Gridley said he had no trouble from any other homeless people, nor was he subjected to any intervention by any authorities or agencies during his five nights sleeping rough. Last night was spent on a bench outside Taberner House. “I wanted to see what it was like for the people who sleep there – and they seem to be left alone until the office workers start to arrive at seven or eight in the morning, when the police do sometimes move them on.”
Would he do it again? “Yes, I think so. I learnt a lot about what life sleeping rough can be like.
“But I’m looking for a different challenge now, to raise more money for the charity. So if anyone has any ideas…”
- If you wish to add to the cash raised by Jeff, please go to: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JeffGridley
- Croydon Nightwatch was Inside Croydon’s designated charity at Christmas 2013. Find out how you can help by visiting their website
- How did your Croydon MP vote when parliament was asked to reveal a government report on food banks?
- Food Bank Britain 2013: some uncomfortable truths
Coming to Croydon
- STDLCC Screening: Museum Hours, Jan 13
- “Croydon Communities Consortium” meeting, Jan 14
- Norwood Society talk, Upper Norwood Library, Jan 16
- Croydon Ramblers, Chelsham walk, Jan 19
- STDLCC Screening: The East, Jan 20
- STDLCC Screening: Winter Nomads, Jan 27
- Coulsdon and Purley Debating Society, Feb 3
- Babylon at the Spread Eagle Theatre, Feb 4-6
- Steve Knightly at Stanley Halls: Feb 5
- Purley Swimathon: Feb 8 and 13
- Norwood Society talk, Upper Norwood Library, Feb 20
- Coulsdon and Purley Debating Society, Mar 3
- Norwood Society talk, Upper Norwood Library, Mar 20
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at email@example.com