BCRRE’s Railway Children Sleepout at Manchester Piccadilly

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Over the years, Felix Schmid has participated in several Railway Children sponsored events because (a) they are great fun and (b) all funds go to a very good cause.

Many moons ago, Bridget and Felix took part in the Three Peaks by Rail event twice, once as participants in a team with Thomas and Walter and once as part of the support crew. Bridget also did mountain support at Scafell Pike once. Felix completed the toughest event (so far) in October 2011, when he did a cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats with Colin Flack, climbing the three highest peaks and kayaking the three largest lakes of England, Scotland and Wales in the process.

Unfortunately, the intrepid pair were not entirely intrepid and only completed two thirds of the Loch Ness part of the challenge. Taking part in the Railway Children Sleepout at Manchester Piccadilly appeared to be a good opportunity for doing penance. However, it did not quite turn out like this! Felix had not expected eight hours in and out of a sleeping bag, on the floor of the station, to be conducive to a good night’s sleep. He was wrong and managed to get six hours and three minutes of reasonable quality sleep, at least according to his fitness tracker. He says that he is (almost) feeling guilty of misrepresentation, having courted sponsorship by kind souls who were expecting serious hardship! Let’s hear from Felix in his own words:

As is normal with charity events, I started out by cajoling (is that the same as threatening?) friends and family into sponsoring the event, with lots of help from Joy and Nadeen. It worked well and I could start the sleepout with £1000 in the account. The forecast for the night of 31 January though was one of very low temperatures, below freezing. Happily, I was treated to a hot chocolate and gingerbread by three former students, who also donated a strawberry cheesecake to the sleepout crew. The Railway Children had been allocated an area on the concourse, where the ‘party’ assembled with sleeping bags, thermal mats and cardboard as underlay, and with plenty of warm clothes. Chatting started immediately, initially focused on “who do you work for then?” Notable responses were Martin Frobisher from Network Rail and Mike Roberts from the Railway Mission. Network Rail and Virgin Trains staff made up a good part of the 40 strong sleepout crew.

Virgin Trains, the main sponsor for the sleepouts had set up two tables with hot and cold drinks and snacks, far more than the team could ever dream of scoffing. We were welcomed and received a safety briefing, of course, from the station team and the organisers. By 22:30 though, most of us had crawled into our sleeping bags, with the exception of the event organisers from the charity, who watched over us all night and entertained the unfortunate souls who did not manage to count enough (Herdwick) sheep to go to sleep. I understand that the station was busy all night with cleaners and other railway workers going about their business but high quality wax earplugs let me sleep pretty much uninterruptedly, apart from a visit to the impeccable toilets.

I woke up at 06:00, when most of the team had already packed their bags and eaten their Virgin provided porridge. The recipe for the good sleep: a four season sleeping bag, a two-thirds mat and cardboard, plus double socks and thick trousers. The final activity was a de-briefing and the award of a prize to the most successful fundraiser at Piccadilly. To my great surprise, the prize, a giant cookie sponsored by Millie’s, was given to me and, by extension, to BCRRE. By that stage the sponsorship tally had been £1350, excluding gift aid. I was also given a box of leftover snacks to deposit in the food collection box at Penrith station where I was headed to join Bridget for a recovery weekend in the Lake District. The giant cookie also remained at Penrith station, in the care of the excellent staff, lest it disintegrate during the bus journey to Keswick. The staff proved their worth on Sunday when train services were significantly disrupted!

By the end of Friday, ‘my’ total had reached £1500, and the national total had gone up beyond £60,000. Sadly, the hardship level, at least at Manchester Piccadilly, had not exceeded 6 out of 10 but it was worth the effort all the same.

Felix Schmid

Professor of Railway Systems Engineering, Programme Director MSc in Railway Systems Engineering and Integration & Railway, Safety and Control Systems

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