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HC UEA Campus Celebrity: Jessica Rolfe

On Saturday 7th March, YMCA Norfolk’s sixth annual Sleep Easy event took place from 7pm till 7am. The Sleep Easy event involves a large number of participants who brave the cold and spend a sponsored night’s sleep outside to raise funds for and awareness for homeless and vulnerable young people in Norfolk. The event whose slogan is ‘sleep rough so others don’t have to’ has raised an impressive total of £2500 so far! 

This week we caught up with Jessica Rolfe, UEA student and a participant of the event to find out a little bit more…

Name: Jessica Rolfe

Degree: International Development with Social Anthropology and Politics

Hometown: Plymouth, Devon

Describe yourself in three words:

“I’m terrible at things like this, ha! But I’m a huge fan of Coffee, Cacti & Brunch, and that pretty much sums me up I think.”

Favourite UEA memory:

“I lived in Norfolk Terrace last year and there are lots of happy memories…amazing housemates, incredible views of the lake, and, most importantly, the ability to roll out of bed at 8.50am and still make it to a 9am lecture. I miss that a LOT, ha!”

Tell us a bit about the Sleep Easy event that you took part in:

“On Saturday the 7th March I slept outside with around 50 others at Norwich High School for Girls to raise funds and awareness for YMCA Norfolk and their work with vulnerable young people. We were there from 7pm til 7am, sleeping out on the grass in shelters made of cardboard and tarpaulin, to get a small glimpse of what it might be like to sleep rough.”

Sum up your personal Sleep Easy experience in a sentence:

“It was incredibly hard, and I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to have no choice but to do it night after night.”

What was the hardest aspect of the project?

“It definitely wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience in terms of sleep…I don’t think I slept for more than an hour or two, I must have woken up at least 10 times. Thankfully it was dry, but it was only a degree or two above freezing and my sleeping bag was completely inadequate, and cardboard is definitely not a great substitute for a mattress!”

Did it differ significantly from what you thought it would be like?

“To be honest I’m one of those people that doesn’t think much about something until it’s actually happening; if I’d thought about it too much beforehand I might have chickened out!! It was much more uncomfortable and cold than I imagined it would be, but I suppose I never expected it to be a walk in the park.”

Tell us a little bit more about YMCA Norfolk and the work that they do:

“YMCA Norfolk adopts a holistic approach to supporting young people; amongst other things they offer support and advice, training and education, and accommodation. One key aspect of YMCA Norfolk’s work is to provide supported lodgings for young people who might otherwise be homeless; supported lodgings is a scheme for vulnerable 16-24 year olds who find themselves with nowhere to live and with no support networks, providing them with a safe, supportive place to stay in the homes of local people. Depending on the circumstances, this may be for a couple of weeks, or may even be for several years. They also run a scheme called NightStop, providing emergency accommodation for a few days until that young person is back on their feet, or a more permanent supported lodgings place becomes available. When a young person suddenly finds themselves in that extremely vulnerable position, perhaps due to family breakdown or support networks being exhausted, even a few days respite can be invaluable; the family environment is so important, and is something that a hostel cannot provide.”

How did Sleep Easy enlighten you?

“In terms of fundraising, people’s generosity has blown me away! My initial target has been trebled; that excites me because I know how well the money is spent, and I’ve seen the difference it makes. Before we all went to bed that night there was a presentation from some young people that had benefitted from the YMCA’s supported housing, and they put everything into context for me; my small sacrifice of one night with no sleep is going to ensure someone else gets a bed for a while, and that’s a phenomenal gift; I am so grateful for everyone who supported me. One of the main things I’ll take away is just how fundamental sleep is to how well I function; I think we all notice that it’s much easier to face the day when we’ve had a good night’s sleep, and it sounds silly but it had never occurred to me that someone who is couch surfing or rough sleeping doesn’t have that luxury. I can’t imagine having to deal with everything they go through, and the lack of sleep must make everything so much harder. It puts my “problems” back into perspective, and it’s made me more grateful than ever for a comfortable home, and for friends and family that I know I could rely on if my circumstances were different.”

What can Her Campus UEA readers do to help?

“My fundraising page will still be active for the next couple of weeks, so if you’d like to donate you can do that here:”


“The event runs annually, and I’d encourage all of you to give it a go next year! There’s a tangible difference between sympathy and empathy, and it’s an incredibly hard but priceless lesson to learn. I by no means know the reality of homelessness after just one night (in admittedly artificial circumstances), but I know that my perspective has changed drastically and that can only be a positive thing.

A slightly less chilly(!) way to get involved is to check out YMCA Norfolk’s website and see all of the incredible work they do; they provide accommodation and support for over 260 young people across the county, and they rely on people like us to support their work. They are such a worthwhile cause, and are transforming young people’s lives which is a beautiful thing to be a part of.”


Jen is a French and International Development student in her final year at University of East Anglia and an aspiring magazine editor. She is an active member of campus social life and when she is not writing future online content or updating her fashion and lifestyle blog, you will find her in Topshop or any cafe that serves tea and cake, reading tonnes of the latest fashion magazines.
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