As well as hot food, drinks and sandwiches we also took with us clothes, trainers, toiletries, blankets, sleeping bags and tents. And the most valuable of all, apart from a cheery smile, a bucket load of love and a genuine offer of help, are the tents.
We take as many as we can. Some are donated. Some we buy with the funds we raise. The cheapest tent, sleeping bag and floor mat costs us £80 and we begrudge not a penny. When we have it.
Every week we set off with our trolleys full and come back with them empty. And we are not alone. Other groups work seven days a week in our major towns and cities doing the same.
This week we had no tents to give out, though we know as the nights draw in we will have to find them from somewhere, otherwise people will die of cold. It’s that simple. We see new faces every week as well as our old regulars. The stories we hear are heartbreaking. We wish we could do more. But we never judge, just help where we can. And when our fundraising allows.
So imagine my anger this week when I saw the scenes of devastation following the Leeds Festival. Let me leave the issue of the mountains of disgusting rubbish and concentrate on the tents. Hundreds of them stretching as far as the eye could see were abandoned where they were pitched, thrown away as if they were nothing more than the temporary reminders of a good night out. Well they are far more valuable than that.
Let me tell you what a tent is to people who rely on them for shelter night after night. They are for many of our friends their only safe space and their only protection from the elements. They are their home.
And before you tell me we could do what charities are invited to do and turn up with a van to sort through discarded festival tents where they remain still pitched, may I remind you most volunteers work. And why should we expect such selfless people to sift through the detritus of a music festival when the solution is simple.
Pick up your rubbish, take your tents and sleeping bags home, wash them and clean them and we will happily have them. We will even pick them up or tell you where to drop them off but don’t expect us to sort through the trash to get them. It makes me so damn cross.
I know what a tent means to David, now successfully rehoused after the pandemic, but even though we have found him a bed he still sleeps in a tent in his living room. Because he has done it for 30 years. I know what a tent means to the well dressed woman you would pass on the street with her little dog and presume she has a home to go to every night.
She does, it’s a tent near the church because she can’t find somewhere that will allow pets and she won’t abandon her only friend. There are many more stories I could tell you but our work and our hope to rehouse as many as we have done already would be made so much easier if others didn’t view homeless people as part of a throwaway society, an attitude I thought we were trying to eliminate.
As the nights grow colder we could give out 30 tents to every outreach and still not have enough. So what is left behind at major music festivals is not just an appalling waste of money, it’s shameful. The vast majority of tents will end up in landfill as we try to persuade people living rough that they are not ready for the scrap heap if we have anything to do with it.
Let us be clear, tickets to LeedsFest are not cheap. A weekend pass next year will be around £250 so they are largely bought by middle class youngsters, the same youngsters who lecture us, the older generation, on climate change. Well, who do you think you are talking to when you can’t even be bothered clearing up your own mess?
Let me remind you we have come from a generation where waste was and is considered a sin. A generation that wrapped food in greaseproof proof paper and are still using decades-old tupperware because there is nothing wrong with it. We belong to a generation that makes a milk pudding rather than throwing away a pint, often delivered in glass bottles.
We washed nappies and hung them on the line because we didn’t have tumble driers. We recycled before it was even a word. We gave our clothes to the rag and bone man and took our glass pop bottles back to the shop for a few pennies.
We wore hand me downs from siblings or older family members and had playing out clothes and best clothes. And nothing in between. And we know that somewhere along the way we lost the plot and joined the chuck away revolution. But don’t you dare lecture us that climate change is all our fault when you can’t even take your rubbish home after a weekend of fun.
On its website, Leeds Festival tells us it is a green festival with the message: “The world is more wonderful than we know it. You, the young people, are Planet Warriors.”
Well, not from where I’m looking they aren’t. There are recycling and rubbish bins provided. They just can’t be bothered to use them. The festival even partners with Extinction Rebellion whom I suggest stop marching for a few days and pick up the litter and distribute the camping equipment after the bank holiday frolics to those in need.
That would be a start. And far more valuable than bringing our city centres to a standstill.
Yes, your message is important but you know what my granny used to say actions speak louder than words. And she never threw anything away in her life.