Big Sleep Out at home raises double the fundraising target

Our virtual event, Big Sleep Out at home, saw 190 people from across Berkshire sleep in their garden on Saturday 10 October, to mark World Homeless Day and raise a total of £50,000 and counting to prevent homelessness in Reading – double the event’s fundraising target of £25,000!

Instead of cancelling our much-loved annual fundraiser, we adapted the Big Sleep Out to ensure it was COVID-safe and asked supporters to swap their comfortable beds for a sleeping bag in their garden – all to help raise £25,000 so we can continue ensuring vulnerable people in Reading don’t lose their home and spend night-after-night on the streets.

On the night, participants enjoyed a packed programme of information and entertainment via Facebook Live from 6pm – which included videos from Launchpad clients who were at risk of losing their home; a cardboard den building segment with Launchpad patron Matt Allwright; a quiz with BBC radio broadcaster Michelle ‘Babs’ Jordan; a cook-a-long with Caversham’s Vegivores restaurant; and a bedtime story read by broadcaster Chris Tarrant. Participants then bedded down before tuning back in at 7am for a morning message from the fundraising team at Launchpad.

The individuals, couples, families, businesses, schools and community groups taking part all had access to downloadable fundraising resources on our website – such as printable posters, social media images and instructions on how to set up a JustGiving page – and were asked to raise a minimum of £250. The event’s top fundraisers are Steve Scrace and David Lewis, who smashed their target and raised £2,498.85 and £1,750.33 respectively.

Now in its 15th year, the Big Sleep Out has raised a total of £300,000 so we can continue providing vital information and support for individuals, couples and families who are at risk of losing their home. This includes those who are victims of domestic abuse, army veterans, and people leaving care or prison with nowhere to go; those who struggle with numeracy and literacy and can’t access the benefit system to pay rent; and people battling issues such as addiction, debt management and poor mental health. We offer a drop-in service; housing-related legal advice; and works with clients to stop a housing problem becoming a crisis, which includes providing tailored support plans for periods of three to six months to achieve long-term independence and stability.

Kirsti Wilson, Head of Marketing and Fundraising at Launchpad, explains more about the event:

“We didn’t want COVID-19 to put a stop to the Big Sleep Out but it was a risk hosting the event entirely online after we had such success at the Reading Abbey Ruins in 2019. But once again the people of Reading and our supporters across Berkshire got behind Launchpad. We are bowled over by just how many people took part and by the incredible fundraising total, which exceeded our expectations. It is truly humbling that our community continue to support vulnerable people at a time that is so difficult for everyone.

“Despite the physical distance, there was a real feeling of togetherness on the night of the Big Sleep Out at home – with participants discussing their experiences and sharing photos from their back gardens on social media. While the event doesn’t aim to replicate homelessness, it does give a brief insight into some of the things you might experience if you were sleeping rough and many people taking part were shocked at the cold temperatures and uncomfortable bed – and came away with a  greater understanding of what many of our clients may face.” 

Our next fundraising event would have been Carols by Candlelight, previously held at Reading Minster – but due to continued uncertainty around large-scale events, the service has been cancelled. However, we are planning a programme of events for 2021 – so watch this space!

Check out photos from the Big Sleep Out at home!

Calling all local businesses – batter it out on Broad Street at Launchpad’s Pancake Race!

Our annual Pancake Race will take place on Shrove Tuesday, 25 February 2020 and we are inviting local businesses to batter it out at this egg-citing lunchtime event – all to raise vital funds to open the town’s first work and life skills centre.

Now in its 23rd year, the Pancake Race sees teams of four from businesses across Reading don fancy dress and run in relay races down Broad Street from 12.30pm, flipping pancakes along the way. The teams are egged on by cheering crowds of spectators as they compete for the coveted frying pan trophy and top prize. There are also prizes for second and third place, best dressed, team spirit and the most funds raised for Launchpad.

In 2019, IT support company MFG UK dressed as a bobsleigh team and beat 36 teams to win the trophy and a night’s stay at Novotel hotel. Blandy & Blandy Solicitors and Davis Tate won Clas Ohlson vouchers for coming second and third place respectively; Reading Minster were awarded breakfast for four at Novotel for the best team spirit; Reading University’s School of Law received a meal for four at Revolucion de Cuba for the most funds raised; and the bridal shop, Bride to Be, won vouchers for Fun’n’Frolic for best fancy dress.

This year, all money raised will help us continue our support work – expanding our services and opening our new work and life skills centre so that local people who are homeless, or at risk of losing their home, can learn new skills, build confidence and get back into work. With no government funding, we are relying on the incredible support and generosity of Reading to help raise £80,000 to completely refurbish the centre, before opening its doors to clients in Spring/Summer 2020. The bespoke facilities will include:

  • a training kitchen for cooking and barista courses
  • a DIY workshop and laundry area to help people learn how to maintain a home and practice self-care
  • an IT suite for job searching and online learning
  • a counselling service for talking therapies
  • a space for creative writing, art, photography and wellbeing activities such as yoga and meditation.

Ian Caren, Launchpad’s Chief Executive, said: “Launchpad’s Pancake Race is a real Reading favourite that has been enjoyed by businesses and members of the public for over 20 years. If you work locally and would like to have a bit of fun while raising money for a fantastic cause, don’t miss your chance to take part.

“And if you’d rather spectate, you’re in for a treat. I can’t think of any other time you might see local solicitors, the police, shop owners and estate agents doing their best to flip pancakes while running down the high street in fancy dress – it really is a sight to behold!

“All the money raised at the Pancake Race will help us reach our £80,000 target – so we can refurbish Launchpad’s new work and life skills centre and help vulnerable people in Reading rebuild their lives. We really need the local community to get behind us, so that together we can prevent homelessness in our town.”

To secure your spot and batter it out with other businesses, sign up here. Places will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis and one team per company is permitted.

Launchpad calls on local community for help to raise £80,000 and open Reading’s first work and life skills centre

In celebration of the Launchpad’s 40th birthday, we are asking for the local community to help raise £80,000 to open Reading’s first work and life skills centre – so vulnerable people can leave homelessness behind for good.

We have acquired a unit in Cardiff Road, just ten minutes’ walk from Launchpad’s town centre offices, where people who are homeless or at risk of losing their home will be able to learn new skills, get back into work, socialise in a safe space and build confidence. It’s going to cost £80,000 to completely refurbish so it’s fit-for-purpose and the bespoke facilities will include:

  • a training kitchen for cooking and barista courses
  • a DIY workshop and laundry area to learn how to maintain a home and practise self-care
  • an IT suite for job searching and online learning
  • a counselling service for talking therapies
  • a space for creative writing, art, photography and wellbeing activities, such as yoga and meditation.

Founded as a soup kitchen in November 1979 by the students at the University of Reading, Launchpad plans to open the work and life skills centre in honour of our recent 40th anniversary. The centre is set to welcome clients in Spring/Summer 2020 and the service will initially support up to 200 people who are homeless or at risk of losing their home.

But with no government funding to help renovate the centre, Launchpad is relying on the crucial support and generosity of local people and businesses to raise £80,000 for the refurbishment, so the charity can get the service off the ground and help local people in need.

Ian Caren, Launchpad’s CEO, explains more about centre: “We know that simply giving a vulnerable person a home is not going to break the cycle of homelessness. Our therapeutic activities and support with education, training and employment has successfully helped people rebuild their lives, and achieve long-term stability and independence. But we’re limited with our current facilities and we want to do more.

“With a dedicated work and life skills centre, we can offer hundreds of people in need the opportunity to turn their life around and in a variety of ways – from taking online courses and applying for jobs, to learning how to cook nutritious meals and receiving counselling to overcome whatever is holding them back. To truly prevent homelessness, we need to give vulnerable people the very best chance of success.

“For 40 years the fantastic people of Reading have supported Launchpad and we’ve gone from a soup kitchen to a holistic service which helps over 1,400 people a year – all because of their generosity. We are hoping that, in celebration of our 40th anniversary, our community can back us once more. We are asking local businesses, schools, colleges, universities, community groups and members of the public to fundraise for us or donate whatever they can – so together we can refurbish the centre, open its doors, and change the lives of local people.”

How can you help open the work and life skills centre?

Whether you make a kind donation to help fund the refurbishment of Reading’s first work and life skills or order a free fundraising pack so you can plan a fundraising event or challenge – together we can raise £80,000.

  • £10 could help buy a set of utensils so clients in supported housing can learn to cook nutritious meals for themselves.
  • £35 could help to fund an online food hygiene course for a client who wants to get a job in catering.
  • £50 could help to buy a month’s worth of materials for art therapy so clients who struggle to communicate can express themselves.
  • £150 could help buy tools for the centre’s DIY workshop so clients can learn to maintain and take pride in their home.
  • £250 could fund an industrial washing machine for the centre so clients can practise self-care.

A record amount raised at Carols by Candlelight 2019

A total of 700 people attended Launchpad’s sold-out annual carol service, Carols by Candlelight, at the Reading Minster on Thursday 5 December 2019 – and the event raised a record £10,800 for the homelessness prevention charity.

Now in its twelfth year, Carols by Candlelight – which was sponsored by MFG and Reading Chronicle – has become a Christmas highlight for hundreds of local people with many saying it marks the start of the festive season.

This years’ service was led by The Reverend Judith Sumner and the congregation enjoyed traditional Christmas carols, a Christmas message from The Reverend and bible readings given by trustee Manjula Phadnis; volunteer Emma Vallely; corporate supporter Bill Gornall-King; and Launchpad patron Lord Carnarvon of Highclere Castle.

The congregation were also treated to performances by local mezzo-soprano Harriet Kirk, Reading Bach Choir, Reading Blue Coat School Junior Choir, and Launchpad patron Danyl Johnson. The standout performance from the night was O Come, All Ye Faithful, arranged by Reading Blue Coat School Junior Choir’s Director of Music, Richard Meehan, which included stunning solo performances from three students and Danyl.

Our chair of trustees, Suzanne Stallard, closed the evening with a look back at the charity’s work over 2019 and touched on Launchpad’s plans to celebrate our 40th birthday in 2020 – before urging guests to give what they can at the end of the service so we can continue to support those in need in Reading.

Donations on the night, ticket sales, sponsorship and Gift Aid raised a total of £10,800 – which is £700 more than funds raised at Carols by Candlelight in 2018. Ian Caren, CEO of Launchpad, said:

“Carols by Candlelight is always such a special event for Launchpad and our supporters, and this year was no different. Once again, local people of all ages came together to enjoy a traditional Christmas service in the magical setting of the candlelit Reading Minster, all in aid of preventing homelessness and helping those in need in Reading.

“The fact that our community has raised such a fantastic amount of money to support our work in December and all year round is simply amazing. I’d like to thank every single person involved – from Reading Minster, the beautiful singers and those who gave a reading, to our volunteers helping on the night and everyone who bought a ticket.”

Check out our Facebook album to see all the photos from the night.

Learn more about how Launchpad supports those who are homeless or at risk of losing their home at Christmas.

“More rain, heavier this time. It sounds very loudly in my ear as it falls on the tarpaulin which I’ve pulled over my head.”

Big Sleep Out participant, Michele, gives an honest account of a night spent sleeping in the grounds of Reading Abbey Ruins last month.

“Well the day has finally arrived, October 10th, and the weather is looking very uncertain. I gather sleeping bag, foam foil mat and tarpaulin, and manage to cram them into large Sainsbury’s shopping bag. Maybe I should have asked them for a contribution for the advertisement?

“Having carefully considered my wardrobe, I’m wearing my nice quilted and padded jacket with hood, and various layers of clothes aiming to keep out the cold. Ha! A sou’wester and large plastic mac would have been more useful.

“I arrive at St Laurence’s Church just after 6pm and get my sleeping equipment labelled with the letter L for Le Sueur. Very efficient. There are masses of people coming in and the bags are stacking up.

“Time flies by as we are treated to live singing, a lively auction, a raffle, some food and, most memorably, a very moving film about a 60-year-old lady who was on the verge of suicide after having to exist by sleeping on people’s sofas and in their cars because of the withdrawal of her benefits. Someone had told her about Launchpad and the help they offer, and she said the charity saved her life.

“We took part in a quiz on Reading Abbey, Reading and Launchpad. My team made a respectable effort. We had several staff from Sage on our team and one of the guys knew the exact date of when Reading Royals moved from Elm Park. I knew that Thomas Beckett consecrated Reading Abbey, that Jane Austen went to school at Abbey Gate and that Launchpad used to be known as Reading Single Homeless Project. Why then, did we decide that the invention that enabled Huntley and Palmer biscuits to be distributed throughout the world was steam trains! Duh. The answer was metal tins. Ah well.

“Just before 10.00pm we set off to the Abbey Ruins and walked through the Forbury in the dark, which was a new experience. The sleeping area was bordered by narrow sloping banks and my newfound companion, Ann, and I decided that we would set up there. We had been given thin plastic ground sheets. We tried lying on a sleeping bag that was on a foam mat, that in turn was on a slippery ground sheet. We slid. So we moved to the centre where the ground was not sloping – fumbling in the dark, me wrestling with a recalcitrant tarpaulin which had a mind of its own. Gradually people settled down and stopped talking. All was quiet. It was quite balmy lying there to start. I hadn’t even done my coat up or got fully into the sleeping bag. In fact, I was feeling quite warm and wondered why I had so many clothes on. OK try to get to sleep now – it’s going to be a long night.

“A while later… spots of rain, quite refreshing really, not doing any harm. Breathe in the lovely fresh air, ignore pain from lying on back. Then the wind started… and stopped… and started. Each time it would flip the far end of the ground sheet over my head or disturb the tarpaulin which wanted to escape. I try to tame tarpaulin which crackles like mad and is probably disturbing everyone around me.

“More rain, heavier this time. It sounds very loudly in my ear as it falls on the tarpaulin which I’ve pulled over my head. I find that I’ve somehow moved off the ground sheet and am partially on the grass. With great difficulty, I manage to align my body with the ground sheet, foam mat and sleeping bag, and try to secure tarpaulin which just wants to keep blowing up in the air.

“Goodness knows what time it is now. The temperature has definitely dropped. How many hours to go? No idea, I can’t see the time on my watch and don’t want to disturb my ‘bed’ trying to find my phone or a torch.

“Rain stops for a while. What flipping time is it I would love to know. Oh no, the rain’s come back again. Water is rolling in from the ground sheet and has soaked half my blow up pillow. I get large drops of rain in my eye as I try to re-arrange my ‘bed’ again. By now, my right arm is quite wet and I’m beginning to feel cold. I go off into a little dream that Ian Caren (Launchpad’s CEO) is coming to rescue us in a large white van. I must have been sleep or was it wishful thinking?

“I think back to the first time I slept out like this for Launchpad. I had a large narrow cardboard box and when I laid down in it, it felt like a coffin. But at least I got a little sleep. It was the end of August, a different kettle of fish weather wise.

“I think of the people sleeping in doorways in the town. I can go home to a nice warm and dry bed, clean clothes, a loo, a shower and a fridge with food in it. A large part of Launchpad’s work is preventing homelessness in the first place. The average life expectancy of a man living on the streets is 47 and women 43.

“What the hell is the time now? Did I hear a bird singing? Is dawn getting nearer? No, still dark. I find that the bag containing my boots has been in the rain instead of under the tarpaulin. That thing has a mind of its own, totally uncontrollable. Water coming from all over, now I’m one big leak. The rain beating on the tarpaulin is quite deafening. I need to visit the portaloo but no way am I going to untangle myself, put my wet boots on and go squelching over the grass to find it. Knowing me, I would never find my way back. What do women do about toilets when they are sleeping on the streets?

“The rain is now coming down in buckets. I hear noise around me that suggests we might have to make a retreat back into the church. Poke my head out. Yes! The Davis Tate boys next to me have already departed. I have extreme difficulty getting the blasted tarpaulin folded up as the wind has decided to come back and play with it again. Fortunately, Ann gives me a hand. Things that were so neatly packed get crammed in as best I can. My coat is soaked.

“As we walk back to the church, the clock strikes 4. Well, we’ve done 6 hours which I think is fair. We arrive at St Laurence’s Church a soggy, windswept group in various degrees of wetness. Two of the women from Sage actually got a few hours of sleep! Good for them. I’m very jealous.

“Ann departs to catch a bus to Woodley. I leave to get a taxi; my buses don’t start yet.  The driver asks me if I’ve come from London. I say no I’ve been taking part in a fundraiser in the Abbey Ruins for a homeless charity. I drag the dripping contents of my bag indoors and distribute them around the house to dry, and eventually crawl into my nice, clean, dry bed – appreciating it more than ever.”

A record £60k raised at Big Sleep Out

A total of 150 people took part in our Big Sleep Out at Reading Abbey Ruins on World Homeless Day (Thursday 10 October) and raised an incredible £60,000 – a record fundraising total for the event.

Now in its fifteenth year,  Big Sleep Out is a fundraising challenge where people swap the luxury of a home and a comfortable bed, for the outdoors and a sleeping bag for the night – all to raise vital funds and help us prevent homelessness in Reading. A change of date and location for 2019 saw participants sleep out and mark World Homeless Day at the historic Reading Abbey Ruins. The event exceeded the charity’s £40,000 fundraising target and more than doubled last year’s total (26k).

To kick off the night, Big Sleep Out participants gathered at St Laurence’s Church in Friar Street for a packed programme of entertainment, which was compered by Patron, Danyl Johnson, and attended by special guests, Lucy Zeal, High Sheriff of Berkshire; Cllr Paul Woodward, Mayor of Reading; and Sir John Madejski. The evening included a quiz and auction hosted by Reading FC ex-footballer, Ady Williams; live music by local artist, Bethia; and a hot meal cooked by local caterer, Chef Roots. Our Support Housing Team Leader, Luke Howarth, and CEO, Ian Caren also gave talks about homelessness and the difference donations make to those we support.

The participants made their way to Reading Abbey Ruins at 10.00pm to bed down for the evening, before it was lights out at 11.30pm. As forecast, heavy rain began at midnight and continued throughout the night, leaving many participants exposed to the elements in just their sleeping bags. At 4.00am we made the decision to move the event back to St Laurence’s Church due to health and safety concerns for participants.

Ian Caren, Chief Executive of Launchpad, said the event was a huge success: “Big Sleep Out gives a brief insight into some of the things you might face if you are street homeless – such as cold temperatures, an uncomfortable bed and limited sleep – while raising money for Launchpad. Our participants certainly had that experience. They slept out at the Ruins for most of the night and withstood some extremely tough conditions, and raised a record amount of money. They even had smiles on their faces the next morning too!

“We couldn’t be more thankful to everyone who slept out, donated and volunteered on the night – as well as our sponsor, The Oracle, and our Patrons and special guests for their support. Everyone deserves a clean, safe and stable place to live, and because of our community’s support and generosity, Launchpad can continue our vital work to prevent homelessness in Reading and help vulnerable people back on their feet.”

Check out all the photos from Big Sleep out 2019 on Facebook.

Our next fundraising event will be the much-loved carol service, Carols by Candlelight, at Reading Minster. Join a congregation of hundreds to mark the start of the festive season on Thursday 5 December and enjoy traditional Christmas carols, a children’s choir and special guest speakers – all to raise vital funds for Launchpad. Tickets available via our website from Monday 28 October.

Brave souls take the leap for Launchpad

A team of brave souls took the leap to freefall from 10,000ft in August and September and raised a huge £5,853 for Launchpad.

A total of 14 people joined us for the ultimate adrenaline rush on 24 August and 7 September at Old Sarum Park in Salisbury, Wiltshire – and the jumpers included a Launchpad trustee and member of staff (Floating Support Officer, Hayley, pictured above in the middle and seen in this video!), and the founder of corporate supporter, Ecrebo.

On the day, the apprehensive groups got specialist training from an experience tandem master, before being securely attached to their instructor and boarding the flight to their jump altitude. They then free-fell at 125mph for 30 seconds!

A huge thank you to everyone who courageously took part and raised vital funds for Launchpad.

Launchpad receives £2,500 as Mayor’s Charity of the Year

Cllr Debs Edwards, Reading’s Mayor during 2018-19, presented cheques to her chosen charities on Tuesday 10 September – and Launchpad received almost £2,500.

During her Mayoral year, Cllr Debs Edwards fundraised £9,861.82  which was equally split between her chosen charities – Launchpad Reading, YMCA Reading, Berkshire West Your Way and Berkshire Womens’ Aid.

Fundraising initiatives during Cllr Edward’s time as Mayor included the sale of charity Christmas cards and proceeds from the sale of tickets from the Mayor’s Let’s Sing Competition in March, as well as sponsored teams taking part in the 2019 Sage Reading Half Marathon in March and a charity quiz and silent auction at Reading Town Hall in April.

Cllr Edwards said about the donation:“I am absolutely thrilled by the generous amount we’ve raised for my chosen charities and would like to thank everyone who supported our fundraising activities throughout the year. The local community, businesses, Reading Borough Council staff, family and friends have been amazing!

“Reading is a thriving town but there are many people facing tough times who receive amazing help and support from the fantastic voluntary sector we have here. I have had the honour of working with a number of great charities and community groups who use their skills, knowledge and compassion to help others. So many good causes will benefit from this fund.”

During her year as Mayor, Cllr Debs Edwards took part in Big Sleep Out and is due sleep out at Reading Abbey Ruins this year. Sophie Stokes, Launchpad Fundraiser, said: “We are so grateful to Councillor Debs Edwards for choosing Launchpad as one of her charities. We are very proud that Debs was the first Reading Mayor to take part in our Big Sleep Out. No one should have to endure sleeping on the streets, which is why Launchpad helps vulnerable people in Reading tackle their housing-related problems, obtain and sustain a long-term home and lead full and independent lives. It’s with events like Big Sleep Out and the generosity of our supporters that we are able to continue our work to prevent homelessness in Reading.”