A group of kind-hearted North-East business leaders have spent the night outdoors to raise awareness of homelessness in the region.

Thirty-four volunteers from companies across the Darlington region took part in the latest CEO Sleepout event – raising a total of £30,000 for three local charities.

CEO Sleepout is a nationwide initiative that encourages businesspeople to help raise money to combat homelessness by sleeping outside for one night.

The Darlington event took place last November, at the Northern Echo Arena, Mowden Park, with money going to the County Durham Community Foundation’s Poverty Hurts Appeal, homelessness charity First Stop and Darlington Mowden RFC for its community projects.

CEO Sleepout chief executive Bianca Robinson said: “This was the fourth event we’ve held in Darlington, and the most successful so far.

“Last year alone, we raised more than £90,000 across our North East events, which is an incredible feeling. It speaks to the generosity of spirit of people in the region; we are a really neighbourly bunch and look after each other, especially those who have fallen on hard times.”

With additional funding of more than £4,750 from the County Durham Community Foundation, organisers will be able to split the total of £30,000 between the three charities.

Bianca added: “Thanks to the generosity of the Foundation, we’re able to support three causes that do amazing work locally.

“The Poverty Hurts Appeal is so important for our area; 37 per cent of all children and young people in the North East were living in poverty over the three years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic – equivalent to more than 11 children in a classroom of 30 across the region.

“Meanwhile, First Stop Darlington does an incredible job of helping people who are homeless or at risk to get on their feet, securing benefits, getting them into secure accommodation, and even just being there for support.

“What we’ve learnt from our guest speakers at CEO Sleepout events is that people who’ve found themselves homeless have as much to offer as anyone – with dreams, skills and talents to offer. Often it’s just a life event, such as a relationship breakdown, that can send someone spiralling into homelessness.”

Michelle Cooper, chief executive of County Durham Community Foundation, added: “CEO Sleepout – and the people who brave the cold to make it such a success – have made an enormous difference to the Poverty Hurts Appeal.

“Poverty is biting deep in our communities but to see the business community rally is very humbling and I am looking forward to doing my own turn under the stars. I’m going to use my own CEO Sleepout experience at the next Middlesbrough event to reflect on what our region is facing, and how we can help if we show empathy, and then take intelligent action.”

Tracy Freeman, CEO of First Stop, added: “We are extremely grateful for the funds that the CEO Sleepout has donated but also the way they highlight the lives of so many people in our local area, both homeless and those living in dire poverty.  Their dedication to putting on national events helps us all to shout up about what is happening and to help put these issues in front of decision-makers.”

Bianca presented a cheque to the Foundation’s Michelle Cooper, Bernadette Morgan, of First Stop, and Mick Birch, from Mowden Park, during Mowden’s home match against Tonbridge Juddians on March 26th.

The next Darlington CEO Sleepout will take place on November 17th, and potential participants are being urged to sign up at ceosleepoutuk.com/darlington/.