Stompin' For Simon
Words: Tony Watson and Louise Lapish
Photography: Simon on the Street
Simon on the Streets is an independent charity whose focus is to help improve the lives of people sleeping on the streets of West Yorkshire. Reliant on fundraising to continue and increase their incredible work, four guys from Leeds FD Arena have been doing just that with a series of ‘Stomps’. Tony Watson drives us through the quartet’s unusual charity challenges, and Louise Lapish explains its effect and Simon’s importance in turning lives around.
It was the end of 2015 and four friends decided they wanted to raise some money for charity instead of a Christmas night out. Jacob, Kyle, Alex and I came up with the idea to complete unusual driving challenges for money. From small beginnings, we’ve now raised over £75000 for a range of charities.
It all began with FestiveStomp. We told businesses we’d drive anywhere and do anything for 24 hours, and a crazy day and night ensued! Challenges included cutting down a real Christmas tree in Cumbria, building a snow man, taking a selfie on an island, and bringing back a pint of Baileys and lemonade from the Royal Mile. This raised over £2000 for the British Heart Foundation.
From here, we came up with our second challenge – visiting 24 Castles in 24 Hours throughout the UK. We covered over a thousand miles as we travelled from Bamburgh Castle, via Edinburgh, Stirling, Cardiff, Windsor, and ended up back at Clifford’s Tower in York with 8 minutes to spare, raising over £5500 for the amazing charity that support rough sleeper’s Simon on the Streets.
By this point, the media were becoming interested in our challenges and we were getting more and more requests. With the opportunity to raise further vital funds for Simon and other charities, whilst having unknown experiences along the way, we decided to continue with and increase the level of the Stomps.
A few months later, we took on a secret challenge, set by the BBC, and it turned out to be our biggest so far; EuroStomp. We didn’t know where we were heading as they pulled out a bag containing all the capital cities of Europe. They chose 10 at random and gave us 5 days to drive to all of them, and return to them, by 6.30pm, live on air. The cities they selected created a huge journey, from Rome in Italy, to Tallinn in Estonia. We set off immediately and travelled over 4,800 miles in 5 days, taking in most of Europe. We arrived back live on air at 6:20pm after a truly momentous journey. This challenge raised over £14000 for Simon on the Streets and the Alzheimers Society.
Next up, we commemorated Remembrance Day by completing PoppyStomp, visiting 25 war graves across Europe, raising £17000 for the Royal British Legion, Simon on the Streets and the Pilgrim Bandits. The sites were selected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who had us travelling across continental Europe across the clock, leaving poppy wreaths in memorial of the fallen. We visited sites as diverse as Marseille, Montecassino, Auschwitz and Dunkirk. Over 5000 miles later and we finished at 11am on the 11th of November at the Leeds War Memorial on Armistice Day.
On May Bank Holiday Monday, we parked up at Liverpool Life boat station for RNLI’s StormyStomp. They selected 24 lifeboat stations at random for us to visit around the UK with a maximum of 3 days to complete the challenge. We weren’t lucky with their selections as we got Aberdeen, St Ives, Tenby, Dover, Central London and everywhere in between. A mad race around the coast ensued but we crossed the line with minutes to go and raised £11,000 for the RNLI.
The Stomps have been diverse and have seen some huge challenges. From leg injuries in rural Lithuania, through being chased by armed gangs in the streets of Marseille, to the emotional strain of some of the most traumatic locations in human history. We’re extremely proud to have represented some amazing charities with our Stomps so far and plan more unusual activities for them in 2017.
The word empathy is the life blood of everything we do at Simon on the Streets. Our team of support workers provide outreach on the pavements of West Yorkshire to homeless and rootless people. One of our supporters recently said to me: “You hear about Simon, but you really need to get to know him to understand why his services can change lives.” I believe this resonates so deeply because the same could be said of our service users. Each individual has their own story, as well as their own set of complex needs, it can take our support workers months if not years to unpick some of these and truly help them.
Simon is independently funded to ensure we can devote the amount of time required to each person. By not taking Government funding we are not restricted to the number of hours we can work with each person. This is why the support of our fundraisers is so crucial. The charity is run on a shoe string and without our community funding we couldn’t keep providing the soup run, the cups of coffee, showing the rough sleepers of Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield that there are people out there that genuinely care; they are not faceless or voiceless.
When I set my business up, Simon was my charity of choice, some six years later we chose each other and I took on the challenge of being a Trustee. The Trustees don’t wear it like a badge – Simon gets you in the gut. We have had a rough few months (including being made homeless ourselves from the offices a couple of weeks before Christmas). However when I sit with our support workers and they tell me about people like the girls below, we cry. We cry when we lose a service user too… which happens too often, but every good story, and there are many, makes it worthwhile.
Every March we run a campaign called Simone on the Streets to focus on the needs of the women who sleep on the streets. Here are the powerful words of an ex rough sleeper.
“I feel I have disappeared as a woman. The woman I am today looks nothing like the woman I was many moons ago. I used to have thick long wavy brown hair, which was my pride and joy, but when I caught lice the itching was insufferable; so I had to cut my hair really short. Having short hair is not so bad because I am not easily identified as a woman, which helps avoid unwanted male attention, which frequently turns violent. I don’t wear tight figure hugging clothes but baggy clothes to make me look bigger so that people will not see me as a lightweight and pushover. I never wear jogging bottoms as they can be easily pulled down, and I always wear practical footwear as I need to be able to run. Without realising it I have slowly become androgynous in my appearance in order to disguise my sex. Through sheer necessity I have learnt how to fight and to act tough with a view to deterring people from getting too close. Clearly this has had a personal cost, as it has destroyed the very sense of me as a woman, not just as a person.”
This is a life that has been turned around through a combination of grit and determination, but also with the support of a listening ear. The team help people turn their lives around on a daily basis; we recently helped one young girl rebuild a relationship with her estranged mother. One of our support workers stood by her side as she waited for her mum to arrive. It didn’t matter whether or not she may have sold her body to fund an alcohol or drug addiction, if she had shoplifted tampons or painkillers to make life on the streets more tolerable during her period, stolen clothes from a washing line in a desperate attempt to feel clean, or slept in supermarket toilets to feel safe for just an hour or so. None of these things matter, our support is non judgmental, and our worker shed real tears as they watched a mother run down the street towards their child, arms outstretched. This girl is now living in a safe place, has a job, and is replanting roots.
In the office the support workers proudly display the hand drawn cards of the children who are able to spend some time with a parent who is now in a good space thanks to the emotional support they have provided. I cannot count all the times we have seen someone turn their life around. It is not about the soup and it is not about the coffee; it is about the emotional support, day by day building trust and being human. We are all Simon and we are all Simone.