A CHARITY set up to help tackle homelessness has reached a significant milestone.

CEO Sleepout, which has inspired 2,000 business leaders to spend a night outside in the cold, has raised £2m since the first event in 2013.

And charity founder Andy Preston hopes they will pass the £2.5m mark by the end of the year.

Since its launch, the initiative has seen corporate CEOs, company chairmen, MPs, mayors, bishops and other senior businesspeople give up a night in their warm beds to experience life on the street.

He said: “Sometimes it’s like you have to get people in a psychological headlock and put them under all kinds of emotional pressure to get them to commit, while others are immediately keen to do something positive for the community.

“The truth is that most business people are busy and want to get on with their comfortable lives. What we are doing is interrupting that life in a small way but we’ve found 2,000 business people, some more willing than others, to join us so far.”

The Northern Echo:

CEO Sleepout founder-chairman Andy Preston with fellow fundraisers Dave Allan and Claire Preston at an event in Preston Park Museum in Eaglescliffe

Sleepout events have taken place at Wembley Stadium and The Oval in London, Goodison Park in Liverpool, Emirates Old Trafford in Manchester, Villa Park in Birmingham, St James’ Park in Newcastle, Mowden Park in Darlington, Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium and Preston Park Museum in Eaglescliffe, Stockton.

One of the key beneficiaries is The Fork in the Road charity restaurant on Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough, which provides training, experience and job opportunities for recovering addicts, ex-offenders and the long-term unemployed.

Middlesbrough-born Andy organised the first sleepout at the Riverside Stadium playing host to 40 business leaders in 2013.

The charity has forged strong partnerships with other organisations including Depaul UK, the Cardinal Hume Centre and the Church Urban Fund.

“Sleeping rough is an uncomfortable inconvenience,” said the charity boss who has slept rough on 14 occasions. “But it can also be fun, enlightening and very often it’s good for business, as people meet fellow participants, forge new contacts and do business.”

Participants are encouraged to wear warm clothes and bring along a sleeping bag, while they are given overnight access to toilets and hot drinks.

He added: “What’s really important is that it raises issues of homelessness and poverty in different cities across the UK, making people think about the issues and see them in a different way.”

For more information visit www.ceosleepoutuk.com