A new wave of selfless commitments from CEOs and business leaders is rippling across the UK. Thanks to a series organised events from CEO Sleepout, business professionals up and down the country are swapping their briefcases for sleeping bags and spending a night on the streets!

CEO Sleepout was formed back in 2013 by Financial Markets Trader, Andy Preston. Andy was originally inspired by the sleep out project pioneered by Bernard Fohn in Australia. The concept brings together influential and successful individuals, challenging them to spend a night in the shoes of local homeless people. Money raised for CEO Sleepouts up and down the UK goes towards specially selected local and national homelessness charities.

A night at Old Trafford

Last week Old Trafford stadium was the site of the most recent CEO Sleepout, which was attended by close to 100 local business leaders, including keen fundraiser Julie Wilson. Founder at Rule-5 PR agency and v-content.com, Julie was initially approached by MASH, a charity that provides confidential support to female sex workers in Greater Manchester. MASH is one of the many charities supported by CEO Sleepout. Julie jumped at the chance to help out and set up her own Wonderful fundraising page for the event, which you can donate to now! Julie found herself taking part on the night that hurricane Ophelia made itself known to much of the British Isles, making for a sobering experience.

Julie recently announced she's trying to reach the £1000 mark, all to help some of the UK's most vulnerable people. You can still donate now to help Julie reach this new target. Donations with Wonderful ensure every penny (including Gift Aid) is passed on to the charity, guaranteed.

A New Perspective

We spoke to Julie after her night out in the cold and wind to find out why she was so driven to take part, and what she learned from the experience...

What made you want to get involved?

"Homelessness is a subject close to my heart. You cannot fail to be moved by the extent of the situation in Manchester and I'd been looking for a way in which I could make a meaningful contribution to the charities that work tirelessly to help those on the streets of the city. When I was approached by MASH to participate in CEO Sleepout I didn't hesitate to sign up. I'm no runner and will never complete a marathon. This was something I could do however - sleepout, raise funds and awareness. I'm genuinely delighted to have been able to support."

What challenge did you set yourself?

"Raising funds was of course a clear goal. Of equal importance for me however was raising awareness. A PR Director with over 16 year's industry experience I fully understand the power of communication and wanted to use my skills and contacts as much as possible to spread the word about CEO Sleepout and the work of the fantastic charities involved. It's a subject that touches the hearts of many and I've been encouraged by how many people have wanted to learn more about how they can help."

Tell us a bit more about the night. What was it like?

"Breezy! The evening of CEO Sleepout coordinated nicely with the arrival of hurricane Ophelia and boy did you know it - the noise! There was no way it was going dampen spirits however, the atmosphere was incredible - over 60 people all united in striving to raise funds for the homeless. The evening opened with a reception brew and inspiring welcome speeches from event founder, Andy Preston, and spokespeople from supporters and associated charities Lancashire County Cricket Club Foundation and MASH. There was a window of opportunity to get to know your fellow 'sleepers' before finding your pitch for the night.

I'm no stranger to camping but it's the first time I've slept in an urban environment, without the comfort of my airbed of a canvas cover - it was a brilliant experience and one I'm grateful to have had. Taking shelter behind a wall and my immediate fellow sleepers - Clare, Tine and Sarah - all relative strangers at the start of the event and friends by the end - settled in on our beds of cardboard. I'll not lie, we didn't get huge amounts of sleep with Ophelia keeping us awake, it didn't matter however as it was all part of the experience. In the morning everyone departed straight for work. Yes, really."

Do you feel any differently about the issue having spent the night on the streets? What has the experience taught you?

"I think we all know that rough sleeping on the streets is hard. My experience with CEO Sleepout has taught me so much more however. Time spent with the incredible team at MASH, Manchester's only dedicated women's charity helping women on the streets, educated me on the challenges faced by women rough sleeping - from the situations that lead to them being on the street in the first place, to the challenges faced in helping them back into a safe and secure environment, I cannot praise their work enough. The actual 'sleepout' made me realise just how lonely life on the street is. They say the city never sleeps and a night spent on them supports that. There's always a noise - a siren, the bang of a door, or the chatter of people around you. For a homeless person there is no quite, just a constant reminder that a richer life (in all senses) is going on around you. If I could encourage everyone to do one thing from this experience, it's to give your time and not just your money. A smile, a hello or a brief chat is as important to someone on the street as a hot drink or a sandwich."

What made you choose Wonderful instead of another fundraising platform?

"I didn't hesitate to use Wonderful as my fundraising platform. It was important for me to know that every penny I raised was going into the hands of MASH and the other charities CEO Sleepout supports. With Wonderful I was confident this would be the case.

A Real issue

In recent years Manchester has seen a catastrophic increase in the number of people sleeping on the streets. In 2010, just 7 individuals were counted during the council's annual rough sleeper count, whereas in 2016 the figure reached a whopping 78. It's also suggested that these figures are gross underestimates of the real number of rough sleepers. Many rough sleepers are periodic, and do not sleep rough consistently every night, so it's difficult to get a snapshot of the numbers. The reasons for increased homelessness in Manchester are many, but include reduced local authority budgets and services for the vulnerable, and a lack of affordable housing for people on low incomes.

Homelessness is just one of many issues faced and tackled by thousands of charities across the UK. If you do one thing in the next few weeks, why not make it something for charity? Whether it's donating to a cause close to your heart, or setting up your own fundraising page, do something truly wonderful.

The links below will help you to do amazing things!