Jenny Agutter: Roughing IT in London

The film star tells ZDNet UK why she chooses to spend a cold September night each year sleeping rough with a bunch of IT chiefs in London

Jenny Agutter, star of An American Werewolf in London, will brave the streets of the capital again tonight, this time in the company of more than 100 of the UK's IT chiefs.

Agutter, who shot to fame in the '70s film classic The Railway Children, is taking part in the tech industry's Byte Night event, in association with NCH, to raise money for young homeless people.

She first got involved with NCH eight years ago when asked to photograph a project in Eastbourne. "Because of my work in The Railway Children they thought I would be a good person to approach for a project involving young people," she says. "Plus, I have a keen interest in photography." The photographs she took ended up on BT phonecards, and for each one sold BT made a donation to NCH. £250,000 was raised in total.

"I was extremely touched by the way NCH worked," says Agutter. "They seemed to have a very positive way of reaching young people who might otherwise end up on the streets."

And so when Byte Night was founded four years ago by Ken Deeks, managing director of high-tech PR firm Kaizo, Agutter was keen to take part from the start. "It's good to support what the IT industry is doing for these people," she says. "The kids like the idea that there is an enterprising young industry -- which on the surface would seem to be completely removed --- moved enough go out there and actually do something."

"It has a sobering effect on people, when they understand what it is like to sleep out on the streets for the night. Of course it is not the same; there is a bit of a party, it is good fun -- not the least part of which is the young homeless people who themselves put on entertainment. But after about midnight it loses some of its lustre, and you don't sleep particularly well."

Even though the participants can leave at 7.00am for their homes "and have a nice bath", Agutter says it is a heartfelt way of raising money. "The young people who go along tend to be the ones that have been caught in the safety net, so they are the ones for whom you feel a huge amount of hope. They see themselves as ambassadors, and don't tend to be too cynical of the event."

That the IT industry takes an interest in the plight of these people is hugely appreciated, says Agutter. "The IT industry is still seen as glamorous and the future -- that is what these the homeless are looking to. It's not just the stocks and shares -- they see more than that. They see the possibilities for technology to help people like themselves."

Last year's event raised £250,000 and this year the organisers hope to boost that to more than £300,000. The money raised goes directly to 50 projects run by NCH. The sleepers, who include the bosses of some of the UK's most high profile IT companies, are each asked to raise at least £2,000 for the charity. Among those signed up include Judy Gibbons, vice president of Microsoft MSN's Europe, Middle East and Africa division and Mark Reeves, vice president of RSA Security.

You can support Jenny by making a donation at www.bytenight.org.uk

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