Friends and rivals unite to help young homeless

More than 200 senior IT industry professionals slept out next to London's Tower Bridge on a drizzly September night, raising at...

More than 200 senior IT industry professionals slept out next to London's Tower Bridge on a drizzly September night, raising at least £200,000 for charity NCH.

The Byte Night sleepers heard messages of support from London mayor Ken Livingstone and actress Jenny Agutter, who has helped the fundraising event over several years.

"Byte Night is a fine example of technology and the IT industry working to raise awareness of the homeless," said Livingstone. "We need to bring to an end the social exclusion that homelessness brings."

Livingstone raised an ironic laugh as his recorded message wished everyone a dry night.

The drizzle served to boost the spirit of camaderie among the many competing sectors of the IT industry. The sleepers included the UK heads of many leading companies, including Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Cisco, Intel, Sun, Banner, Harvey Nash, Anite, and the European Technology Forum.

They were joined by directors from organisations as diverse as Reuters, PWC, Barclaycard, Bird & Bird, Ernst & Young, Unisys, Microsoft, Fujitsu, Vodaphone, and Kaizo. Computer Weekly's managing editor John Riley was also there sleeping out.

All were shown a particularly poignant and disturbing video outlining the abuse that drives many children onto the streets. Articulating the mood following that showing, Steve Gill, UK chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, told Computer Weekly, "If you had asked me before the video I would have talked about the belief that individuals can make a difference - that we in IT lead very different lives and this gives us an opportunity to put something back. But that all sounds tame after looking at the video. Byte Night is an opportunity to use our company name to help raise money."

Before crawling into their sleeping bags, everyone enjoyed a reception in City Hall, a quiz hosted by ITN newsreader Felicity Barr, and a charity auction conducted by actor Jack Ellis which raised £4,000.

Helping disadvantaged children: the work of NCH 

Byte Night fundraiser James Bennet, managing director of the European Technology Forum, drew attention to NCH's independent visitors programme, where people unconnected with the charity or social work field arrange to see a child in care on a regular basis to help provide some stability in their lives.  

Bennet, an independent visitor himself, said, "They are looking for people who are not in the system - not paid for caring - to come unconditionally." 

Among the IT-related activities NCH carries out is a programme launched in April called Access to IT. Led by former British Aerospace test pilot Kam Mataru, who is on secondment from BAE to NCH, Access to IT aims to provide computer access for disadvantaged children.  

It is currently conducting three pilots studies: one for disabled children; one for a family centre; and one for care leavers aged between 16 and 25. 

The programme is to run over three years and is supported by BT, Cable & Wireless, Microsoft, AOL, Hewlett-Packard, BAE Systems and the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists. 

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