Birmingham New Street is joining major railway stations across four of Britain’s biggest cities to host a sleepout in aid of vulnerable children who run away from home.

Network Rail and the wider rail industry is teaming up with the Railway Children charity to raise money and awareness for the work being done to help the thousands of children who run away from home every year.

To raise the profile of the Railway Children’s work, directors from Network Rail, train companies, rail industry partners and politicians, will sleep out on January 31 at Birmingham New Street, Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool Lime Street, and London Bridge stations, with the aim of raising £25,000.

At Birmingham New Street up to 50 people will sleep on the concourse, including the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, and directors from Network Rail and train operators. The event is being sponsored by Virgin Trains.

The railway is one of the easiest ways to travel for runaway children, and this year the British Transport Police estimates it will deal with 10,000 child safeguarding incidents on Britain’s railways, a 20% increase from 2017/18.

The BTP dealt with 397 child safeguarding incidents in the West Midlands last year, 71 in the West Mercia force area and 46 incidents in Warwickshire. The combined total across the whole of the Midlands was 514 incidents.

Approximately a third of those children will have run away from home or care, escaping issues such as violence, abuse or neglect.

Pete Kent, programme director for the Railway Children charity, said: “The rail network is often the easiest way to travel for troubled young people looking to run away from their problems. As the BTP is on the transport front line, day in, day out, identifying these vulnerable children, working so closely with them gives us the chance to intervene before it is too late and keep these young people from any further harm.

“We have only been able to carry out this work thanks to the amazing support we have continued to have from across the industry, and we’re hoping this event will see the rail community coming together once again to support us and to support these children. Everyone and anyone can take part – and we’re hoping as many people as possible will get behind our first ever Railway Children Sleepout.”

Issues faced by these young people include sexual and criminal exploitation, physical, sexual or emotional abuse, domestic violence, unhealthy relationships, addiction and mental illness.

Martin Frobisher, managing director of Network Rail’s London North Western route, said: “Rail workers in stations up and down the country play a vital role in spotting those who may be at risk or in distress. The Railway Children charity does fantastic work which often goes unnoticed. The rail industry is working together to raise awareness and money for this worthy cause to help vulnerable young people get the help and support they need.”

Amanda Hines, general manager at Virgin Trains, said: “We’re proud to be sponsoring the Big Station Sleepout to raise funds for Railway Children – a charity we have supported for many years. We’ll be joining other rail industry colleagues sleeping out for the night at major stations to help reach the £25,000 target which will go towards the vital work of identifying and supporting vulnerable children across the railway network.”

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “I’m looking forward to taking part in the Railway Children’s first ever sleepout to raise awareness of this issue and to support the vital work they do. The commitment to help tackle this growing problem here in the West Midlands by Network Rail and wider rail industry is to be admired. It highlights that we all need to focus on protecting and supporting vulnerable children and young people who decide to run away from home, but often inadvertently put themselves at further risk.”

For more information on how to take part in the fundraising or by booking one of the limited sleepout places in Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool or London, visit: www.railwaychildren.org.uk.

For more information on the Safeguarding on Transport programme visit: www.btp.police.uk.

Follow #BigStationSleepout for the latest updates on Twitter.

Railway Children case study:

Samantha was desperate and suicidal when rail staff found her.

A conductor on a passing train saw Samantha, 14, on a remote platform and contacted the BTP and station staff who went to find her.

Samantha was very drunk and distressed and later told staff she had been thinking of harming herself.

CCTV showed that earlier she had been approaching older males who she seemed not to know – being young, alone and vulnerable she was in very real danger. Luckily, station staff acted promptly and the BTP referred Samantha to Railway Children for ongoing support.

She said she was happy to talk to someone as she knew her drinking was out of control. Railway Children made contact with Samantha and her parents – who had no idea how their daughter had been feeling.

With help from our team, Samantha is now being supported by the services she needs and talking to our staff about changes she wants to make. We’re also meeting up with her parents every week to help them understand how they can manage and support their daughter.

The family are building strong and trusting relationships and Samantha is making great progress, getting good results from school, and developing a much more positive outlook.

Notes to editors:

The station sleepouts

Sleep outs are taking place from 8pm overnight on Thursday January 31 at:

  • Birmingham New Street station
  • Manchester Piccadilly station
  • Liverpool Lime Street station
  • London Bridge station

For members of the media wanting to attend at Birmingham New Street contact Network Rail media manager Chris Halpin on 0330 854 0100, or email chris.halpin@networkrail.co.uk.

Railway Children

For 22 years Railway Children has reached more than 300,000 children alone and at risk on the streets in the UK, India and East Africa. The charity’s aim is to get to street children before the streets get to them.

Every five minutes a child runs away from home in the UK. Children who have run away from home often become obvious by their behaviour, particularly on the railway network.  Look out for these signs:

  • Children in school uniform in the station when they should be at school.
  • Looking tired and unkempt.
  • Have a vulnerability about them – they look and are alone.
  • Might be distressed and agitated.
  • Are uncomfortable with who they are with.

Anyone concerned for the welfare of children they see travelling on the railway network can call the BTP on 0800 40 50 40 or text 61016.