The entrepreneur who brought George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio to Edinburgh has revealed plans to stage Scotland’s answer to Live Aid in Princes Street Gardens as part of a bid to “eradicate” homelessness in Scotland within five years.
Sir Bob Geldof has agreed to help Josh Littlejohn launch “Sleep in the Park,” the world’s biggest sleep-out, below Edinburgh Castle in December.
Social Bite, Littlejohn’s sandwich bar social enterprise, has joined forces with Unique Events, the Edinburgh-based event producers, to stage what is expected to be Scotland’s biggest ever charity event.
Oasis icon Liam Gallagher and Scots stars Deacon Blue, Amy Macdonald and Frightened Rabbit have all agreed to perform acoustic “busking” sets for up to 9000 participants before they take on the challenge of “sleeping rough” overnight in the beauty spot.
Monty Python legend John Cleese and Gavin and Stacey star Rob Brydon will also be appearing at the event, which Littlejohn hopes will raise at least £4 million for Social Bite’s crusade to combat homelessness.
People must pledge to raise at least £100 for Social Bite, which has just begun work on Scotland’s first “homeless village,” to secure a ticket for the event while 2000 spaces will be set aside for corporate teams, who will be asked to make a fundraising commitment of at least £3000 for five places.
Littlejohn - who is also lining up a host of celebrities, sports personalities and leading politicians to take part in the mass sleepover - wants to secure a matched commitment from public funding agencies to whatever the event raises.
Sleep in the Park, which Littlejohn is planning to make an annual event, has won the full backing of Edinburgh City Council, with council leader Adam McVey, his deputy Cammy Day and council chief executive Andrew Kerr all agreeing to sleep out themselves.
Littlejohn first came to prominence five years ago when he and business partner Alice Thompson launched the first Social Bite sandwich and coffee shop to help create jobs for homeless people in the city.
Social Bite has grown into a chain which has five retail outlets throughout Scotland, two large staff canteens, a central production kitchen and a corporate catering business.
Littlejohn, who also founded the Scottish Business Awards, which Clinton and DiCaprio have spoken at, dreamt up the idea for Sleep in the Park after raising £550,000 from a “CEO sleep-out” in Charlotte Square in Edinburgh last December, which attracted more than 300 participants, and won the backing of Sir Chris Hoy and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Littlejohn said: “The Scottish Business Awards have raised more than £4 million in the last five years, but it goes to lots of different charities, including one chosen by the guest speaker.
“The event with Leonard DiCaprio raised about £340,000 for Social Bite, but that was dwarfed by what we managed to raised at the CEO sleep-out, which didn’t actually need that much effort to organise. we felt it had a lot of potential as a fundraising platform.
“In the same way that the awards have grown every year, the idea is to really raise our ambitions with the sleep-out and create a really big mass-participation event.
“We thought we could maybe take on Princes Street Gardens and try to persuade 9000 people to sleep out in the cold.
“We are looking to attract 2000 people from the corporate market, who can sign up in teams, and another 7000 individual members of the public.”
Unique Events director Alan Thomson said: “Josh came to us around five months ago with the idea of staging a much bigger version of the event Social Bite did in Charlotte Square last year.
“Rather than take it to the next level he wanted to take it to the highest level and do the biggest possible sleep-out in the gardens.
“We’ve been working since then to create a real event, with artists and special guests, to maximise the number of people taking part in the sleep-out.
“The level of artists involved and the acoustic format of the show mean it will be totally different to anything that has happened in the gardens before.”
Littlejohn added: “By joining our sleep-out, you will be joining a movement to end homelessness in Scotland for good. By working together homelessness could be eradicated in Scotland within 5 years.
“We’re planning to work closely with the Scottish Government and other charities throughout the sector to create a five-year action plan which will provide housing, rehabilitation, job opportunities and the support that homeless people need to turn their lives around.
“We want to make Scotland an example for the whole world to follow. We’re a small country; a nation of innovators. The statistics of homelessness in Scotland are not insurmountable - we only need to help 11,000 households back to their feet - together we can do that. So whether as a business, a family or an individual - please join our sleep-out.”
Sir Bob said: “When we launched Live Aid in 1985, it showed the power of music and events to create real and important social change.
“I first met Josh and Alice from Social Bite five years ago and I am delighted to support them and their effort to eradicate homelessness in Scotland by sleeping out in the cold at the event.
“The event has the potential to be a game changer in tackling the issue and I am right behind it, even if a little nervous to brave a cold Scottish winter’s night. I know Scotland to be a compassionate nation and I would implore you to get involved.”
Gallagher said: “Ever since Oasis got signed in Glasgow at King Tut’s, Scotland has always had a special place in my heart.
“The fans are among the best in the world. I’m looking forward to playing in Edinburgh and supporting this charity. I hope the event helps as many people back on their feet as possible.”
Mr McVey said: “We’re delighted that Sleep in the Park will be held in Princes Street Gardens.
“Andrew, Cammy and I are looking forward to joining thousands of fellow fundraising participants in highlighting the seriousness of the issue. Tackling homelessness remains a priority for the council and we welcome this fantastic event in the heart of the city.
“The Social Bite team already do so much good work for homeless people across this city and throughout Scotland.
"We look forward to continuing to work with them on the Social Bite Village and future projects.”
• Full details of how to take part in the event are available at www.sleepinthepark.co.uk