It was just like any other day, nothing untoward, an early start and I was on the train down to London for a meeting. There was nothing particularly unusual about it and as I sat looking at my laptop and wondering where to start with my to do list I decided that first and foremost I needed a coffee.
This is where my day turned from non-descript to a nightmare. I realised with absolute horror that I had left my wallet in my gym bag, which was on the passenger seat of my car… at the train station in Leeds!
Rather than scream and shout I thought about the situation and decided that actually it wasn’t such a big deal. I could do without a coffee and I had no real need to purchase anything else while I was in London so it would be fine.
This was my first major mistake.
I called my husband who said that he would arrange for me to pick up some money from a cash machine. All I had to do was find an RBS, Natwest or Tesco cashpoint.
Sorted. Or so I thought.
At this point a fellow passenger who had overheard my conversation handed me £5. I was really moved that she had gone to the trouble to hand me money, knowing that she would never get it back and also that I was a complete stranger. This small act restored my faith in humans and the kindness that they can show.
I explained to the lady that my husband had arranged for me to get access to some money and handed her the note back.
Believing that there would be a cashpoint at Kings Cross I carried on regardless, laughing at my utter stupidity and promising that moving forward I would put some money in my bag so that I would never be in this position again.
On arriving into Kings Cross I went on a mission to find a cashpoint. There wasn’t a single branded cashpoint in or around the station. Panic started to set in. What was I going to do? I went across the road to a bank and asked the clerk where the nearest Natwest or RBS was.
His response was nothing short of baffling. Despite explaining that I had no money, he suggested I get a bus. I must have looked a little confused and reiterated that I had no money. He then said ‘Well use what god gave you. You’re a woman, just charm the driver’.
Needless to say, I walked out knowing that this was never going to happen not least because I have some self-respect.
So, angry and becoming increasingly nervous, I realised I needed the toilet. And that’s when it dawned on me. I couldn’t go anywhere – not even the station – without money. I didn’t have 40p and that meant I couldn’t access a toilet.
It was at this point I realised with absolute clarity that I had never really considered what having money, even small amounts, allows you to do. Without it you simply don’t have access to the very basic of facilities.
I then started to think about the homeless. I’ve been involved with charities that support rough sleepers in Leeds and have always considered myself to be relatively well informed but this experience left me shaken.
It took me more than an hour to find a Tesco and to access some cash but what about the homeless. They don’t have a husband to send them a code, which gives them access to money and therefore all of the things that we take for granted.
I often give money to rough sleepers but for the first time I realised that they need more than that. They need help and support. They need to break a cycle and they need to be acknowledged. I see the homeless but I’ve never really seen life through their eyes.
I will never forget the feeling that I got when I realised that because I didn’t have money, I didn’t really exist. People weren’t willing to help me and I didn’t have the necessary funds to help my situation.
This year, as a business, we will be showing our support for Ho, Ho, Homeless, a charity initiative which was started last year by a friend and client, Geoff Shepherd. The idea came to Geoff when he was Christmas shopping with his two young sons.
On walking past a homeless man on a bridge, Geoff’s son asked why the man was sitting there and why he was begging. He then asked if there was anything they could do to make his situation better. Geoff handed the man some money and in response he wrote a Christmas card and passed it to his son.
This simple gesture, and his son’s innocent but relevant questions, was enough for Geoff to realise that he did want to do more and so he called upon the business community to donate cash, clothes and gifts.
We provided 200 body warmers last year and will be doing something similar this year however the difference will be that I will appreciate just how difficult life is for those who don’t just find themselves stranded in London for a day but in a world of ignorance and isolation for the foreseeable future.
That day taught me two lessons. Not only did I learn to check that I have my wallet with me when travelling but also to appreciate just how fortunate I am. I will never take what I have for granted again.