ROTARY Clubs throughout Warwickshire are urging the community to continue to get behind a pioneering project which is helping rough sleepers.
The call to support the Sleep Pod Charity comes following news this month that the number of deaths on the UK’s streets increased by a third throughout the pandemic.
Heart of England Rotary clubs adopted the initiative, which has produced more than 5,300 pods despite its volunteers facing challenges during the lockdowns.
They are the brainchild of former Rotarian Justin Devereux and friends Ian Ashby and Pete Kenyon, pictured above, whose time working at a refugee camp in Dunkirk in 2015, inspired them to launch the Sleep Pod charity three years later. After a prolonged design and testing process, they began manufacturing the ground-breaking shelters and distributed them for emergency use on the streets via local charities.
The lightweight, rain and wind-resistant pods are made from double-skin aluminium foil bubble sheeting similar to that used in cavity wall insulation and work by insulating the body’s own heat and have been successfully tested to temperatures as low as -16 degrees.
Justin Devereux is among those who can vouch for these results after personally testing the pods, including spending an entire day in an industrial-sized freezer!
Justin, who has also trialled them on his local streets of Birmingham, said: “It was a really scary experience. I was actually moved on by a security officer at one point.
“We find it incredibly empowering where we can take volunteers with no experience whatsoever and, in just an hour, show them how to build something that quite literally can provide a major improvement on someone’s living conditions,” said Justin.
“This is something that has been incredibly well received but is so simple as a concept. I don’t think I will ever find anything else that will allow me to have so much of an impact on other people’s lives. Nobody deserves to sleep on the streets.”
More than 2,500 volunteers, including Rotarians, have supported the charity through fundraising as well as becoming Sleep Pod corporate partners and taking part in Build Workshops. But it was when these workshops were forced to adapt during lockdowns, that the highly successful Build At Home Project was born. Around half of the total pods manufactured were produced in this way where volunteers would collect a pack of materials, follow a set of instructions to build them at home and then drop them back at the same location.
Here, Justin and his team would wrap them, add instructions and bag them up before being collected by one of the charity partners or outreach teams, which then distribute them to rough sleepers.
Justin said: “One of the reasons Build At Home has been successful is because people have been able to be productive in the safety of their own home while not going out. It has empowered people to continue to be able to make a difference.
He added: “A sleep pod is not a long-term solution. It is an emergency shelter only. The charity will write their contact details of someone on a sticker which is added to the pod because it’s very important that, as part of the process, Sleep Pod users know there is a charity local to them that can, and will, provide them with accommodation on a more permanent basis.
“Our vision is that these Pods get built all year round. There is constantly a need somewhere. What we want to be able to achieve is to have enough sleep pods for the people that need them whenever and wherever they are.”
And, as the freezing temperatures abate, local Rotarians are keen to emphasise the need for the workshops to continue in readiness for another busy winter for the Sleep Pod team this year.
Justin said: “We are very much aware we cannot do anything without our volunteers and supporters. We are constantly amazed by how much support we get. And the support from the Rotary is incredibly important,” said Justin.
“We’re very proud of how much work we’ve done but our vision is for, one day, there not to be a need for the sleep pod charity at all. People do not need to die of exposure on the streets – it doesn’t have to be this way. But, for now, a simple, effective solution is available in the Sleep Pod.”
Spokesperson for the Sleep Pod Project for Warwickshire area Rotary Clubs, Terri Morgan, said: “Whether it be fundraising or volunteering their time to help build the pods, Rotarians are committed to helping the homeless within our communities. Please get in touch if you can help in any way.”