2012: The year of the volunteer – Byte Night

Since the London 2012 Games the media has been awash with stories about volunteering. Without the 70,000 volunteers who contributed their time and energy, the Games would not have been possible. The success of the ‘Games Makers’ will hopefully open a few minds to the potential of volunteering to many a good cause.

For the second year running, Inspiring Interns has proudly supported Action for Children to help find volunteers for Byte Night, the IT industry’s national campaign that helps Action for Children prevent youth homelessness. This event would not have been able to run without the help of all the volunteers who gave up their own time and a night’s sleep to help a worthy cause.

Byte Night volunteer Kerry Lenihan shares her experience of the evening below. Kerry is a digital marketer who has recently moved to London to pursue a career in social media, currently she manages two online communities, Digipharm and Total Biopharma, whilst also forming part of the HNC marketing team. Follow Kerry on Twitter: @kerrylynn21

I left work around 3pm on Friday 5th October, whilst everyone else was gearing up for the weekend, with talk of heading to the pub from the office, I was armed with a bag full of warm clothes, a foil roll matt and my trusty purple sleeping bag, ready for a night under the stars, however this was camping with a twist.

I first heard about Byte Night via Inspiring Interns on Twitter, after reading up on the event and the cause I was eager to get involved. Action for Children is committed to helping the most vulnerable children and young people to avoid homelessness, by enabling them to build better lives, through education, secure accommodation and training opportunities. With the economy the way it is, and the cuts being made by the coalition government, more and more young people are finding themselves forced onto the streets as the situation become desperate. After reading further into the subject, I wanted to get involved in the project.

Originally I volunteered to help out on the night, I’ve hosted charity events before, and since I’m new to the big smoke, I also saw it as a chance to meet some new people, with similar interests, but after receiving an email from the organisers I saw myself agreeing to camp out and help with the delivery of the ‘sleep-out’ itself. I received my job role a week before the event, ‘Bar Staff’, serving large quantities of Dutch courage to the brave members of the I.T. industry didn’t sound unmanageable, I was actually quite excited knowing I’d be in the main room, able to watch the speeches, keep an eye on those Chelsea v. Aston Villa V.I.P. tickets and chip in with my exceptional general knowledge (slightly exaggerated) during the quiz.

There were about 35 volunteers and the Action for Children team, we had all received our job titles beforehand, but we were each instructed further to ensure anyone could step in to help at any point. We were all briefed, toured and fed before half 5, at which point ‘sleepers’ had begun to arrive. The first thing that caught my eye was the amount of baggage some of them bought, I was pretty sure they were spending a night next to Tower Bridge not two weeks in the South of France, but as the suitcases continued to roll in, I worried I’d missed a trick with my quaint rucksack.

The night started off slowly on the bar, as most people were busy chatting amongst themselves, previewing the auction items, and redeeming their 2 free drink vouchers in an orderly fashion. However as the rain began to fall, and ‘sleep-out’ o’clock grew closer, it quickly descended into chaos, my poor thumb was throbbing come mid eve. I had suggested 3 of us run the front of the bar, while the other 2 of us, me included, poured the drinks behind the scenes. Some 1000 bottles of beer later, repetitive strain syndrome had locked my wrist. So I was thankful when the auction started. The ‘sleepers’ were extremely generous, and the bidding ferocious in some cases, as they scrambled to get their hands on VIP tickets, exclusive merchandise and gadgets galore all in the name of charity.

Next came the quiz, it had everything a good quiz should, a music round, a picture round, and a blast from the past, which in this case was perfectly suited to its audience, Old School Game Consoles. Genius. The bar endured another chaotic final stretch, as the sleepers ensured their beer jackets were firmly in place before heading to the designated sleep-out arena. The night warm-up was an overwhelming success, everyone’s spirits were high, and despite having nearly 500+ bags to return the volunteers remained calm, and cheerful.

Then we went outside, despite there having been no rain forecast until the very early hours, it had rained non-stop since around 5pm, the ground was sodden, visibility poor, and it was very cold. Each sleeper was equipped with a ground sheet, a hoodie, a hat, an umbrella, and a plastic survival bag. As the sleepers set up their camps, a savoury smell tickled their noses. Dominos had arrived with a stack of various pizzas, as this was a charity affair it was deemed only fair they be auctioned to the highest bidders. It’s quite incredible how much money people were prepared to pay for a warm, tasty pizza in their cold, tipsy states, the bidding began at 50 a full pizza and 20 a slice. We had quickly raised another handful of notes for the cause.

The rain showed no signs of stopping, so the volunteer team took it in turns to man the site while others slept, I managed to get around an hours sleep somewhere near to 2am. The rest of the time was spent, handing out more hoodies to replace damp ones, and ensuring everyone had enough hot drinks to keep them functioning. Despite the poor weather, everyone remained positive and the cheerful volunteer team ensured the all sleepers made the best of a bad situation.

As the tubes opened, and everyone began to flee the site, eager to crawl into their warm cosy beds, no forgetting to grab a bacon sarnie en route out, I couldn’t help but think the difficult weather had just made the event more of a success in a way, as there’s no doubt each of the ‘sleepers’ appreciated their homes more than ever upon return. The volunteers stayed to help clean down the site, not once did the smiles slip from our faces, especially not as the fundraising figures rolled in. The most successful Byte Night yet, of which I couldn’t be prouder to have been a part of. Let’s hope its drier next year aye!

I’ll leave you with this quote from Paul McKenzie, Byte Night and FIFE Manager, Action for Children which I believe sums up the event perfectly:

“This years Byte Night has been the most successful yet, with over 1000 sleepers across the UK and the event has already raised over £850,000. At many of our locations the weather was very difficult, with rain almost constant all night at 3 of our 5 sites, however our sleepers battled through. As always the moment that hits all sleepers is the morning, when everyone rolls up their sleeper bag and makes their way home to family, friends, a warm shower and a bed. For many of the young people Action for Children supports this is not the reality, but thanks to fundraisers across the country, it could be a reality for more young people in the future.

The event can not happen without the help of over 100 volunteers who ensure that every sleeper is safe and well looked after. Each volunteers support means that Byte Night’s events costs are kept to a minimum, meaning as much money as possible goes straight to the young people we support.”

If you are interested in the work Action for Children fund please visit their website: http://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/