Sleep in the Park to finish as founder vows to return with new event

Social Bite founder Josh Littlejohn has revealed he is to wind up his 'Sleep in the Park' event after just two years '“ as it emerged that the nationwide fundraisers will fall short of official targets.

Sleepers bed down for the night during the Sleep in the Park, West Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.
Sleepers bed down for the night during the Sleep in the Park, West Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.

He admitted it had proved more difficult than he expected to persuade people to sleep out overnight to raise awareness of homelessness.

But the award-winning social entrepreneur said he was already working on ideas for a “new and different” event to launch next year.

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More than 8,000 people who braved sub-zero temperatures in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh last year raised more than £4 million for several initiatives aimed at tacking homelessness.

Mr Littlejohn said nearly 10,000 people will be raising around £3.2m at mass sleep-outs in Edinburgh, Dundee, Glasgow and Aberdeen today. But he admitted planning this year’s event, which will see Scottish singing stars KT Tunstall and Amy MacDonald travel by helicopter to perform in all four locations, had involved “four times the work” than last year’s fundraiser.

Mr Littlejohn, who has won the backing of George Clooney, Leonardo di Caprio and Prince Harry for his Social Bite chain of sandwich shops and cafes, said he was “relieved” so many people had signed up to take part in the second Sleep in the Park event.

All participants must pledge to raise at least £100 to secure a place at the event, with corporate teams being asked to pay a minimum of £3,000.

The top fundraisers receive a personalised Christmas hamper from Nicola Sturgeon and the chance to meet Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai at a gala Sleep Out “thank you” dinner in March.

When the expanded event was announced in the summer, Mr Littlejohn said he had hoped to sign up 12,000 people and raise at least £6m as part of a drive to “eradicate” homelessness in Scotland within five years.

Mr Littlejohn said: “It’s a really difficult event to do two years in a row. A lot of people who did it last year viewed it as a once in a lifetime experience. It is a lot of effort for people to raise money from their friends and families, and everything else that is entailed with it.

“I’m really delighted to get to the level of participation and fundraising that we have.

“It could have gone the other way. We could have really struggled. I’m relieved and very grateful to everyone that has signed up and got behind it.”

Around 4,000 people will take part in the Edinburgh event, which will be staged in Princes Street Gardens again, where Lulu, Admiral Fallow, Siobhan Wilson and Martha Ffion will be performing.

Frightened Rabbit will perform for the first time since the death of frontman Scott Hutchison in May when they headline the Sleep in the Park event in Glasgow, which The Twilight Sad, Kathryn Joseph and another “surprise act” will also be appearing at.

Kyle Falconer, Fatherson, Hunter & The Bear and Withered Hand will perform for about 1,500 participants in Dundee.

A total of 1,800 people have signed up to sleep out in Duthie Park in Aberdeen, where Eddie Reader, Kris Drever and the Nevis Ensemble will be providing the musical entertainment.

Mr Littlejohn added: “It’s definitely been more of a challenge this year but it was definitely the right thing to do to spread it geographically.

“If we’d just done it in Edinburgh we’d have got a significant reduction in participation.

“We’ve not just done another event for the sake of it. We had a target to raise £1.5m this year to put towards our ‘Housing First’ programme to lift more than 800 rough sleepers out of homelessness across Scotland.

“It will definitely be a different kind of event next year. I do have an idea I am working on at the moment. It won’t be the same kind of thing.”

Littlejohn first came to prominence six years ago when he and business partner Alice Thompson launched the first Social Bite sandwich and coffee shop to help create jobs for homeless people.

Social Bite has grown into a chain which has five retail outlets throughout Scotland, two large staff canteens, a central production kitchen and a corporate catering business.