Welcome to Under A Tarp


Under a Tarp is a global challenge that anyone can take part in, in order to raise funds and awareness for a nominated homeless charity of your choice.  The Under A Tarp Challenge is for everyone.  We use #UnderATarpChallenge on social media. The challenge will now run until at least 31 March 2022, so you’ve plenty of time to get involved.

Under a Tarp is a website and social media channel dedicated to supporting people who have fallen on tough times and find themselves homeless and in need of shelter.  Unlike other organisations or charities, Under a Tarp is global.  The aim of Under a Tarp is to unify homeless charities and to amplify the voice of the homeless, worldwide, not just in one city, county or state.

Here’s the story behind the Under A Tarp Challenge


The word Tarp is short for tarpaulin. A tarpaulin is defined as “a heavy-duty waterproof cloth, originally of tarred canvas”.  Most people will be familiar with a tarpaulin, a large sheet of strong, usually waterproof material, used to protect items left outside, from the elements.  A tarp can also be improvised/homemade out of whatever waterproof material you may have access to.  We’ll show you how, in videos on our youtube channel so stay tuned.

A tarpaulin can also be rapidly fashioned into a shelter, in an urban or rural environment.  It can quickly protect the user from bad weather including wind and rain.   Sadly, for some people who’ve lost their bricks and mortar house,  home is now Under a Tarp.  Being able to quickly fashion a shelter out of a tarp or similar, is a basic life skill and deeply self-empowering.

In the military, the term basha is used in place of tarp.  Service personnel become adept at building shelters and bashering up.

First and foremost, the aim of the Under a Tarp Challenge is to raise funds and awareness for homeless charities and those who need support now, particularly with the onset of winter, here in the UK and worldwide.  We’re launching the challenge now, as winter approaches, for good reason.  We want you to briefly experience the true hardship of what it’s like to be homeless in winter.  We want to make it a little more of a challenge in terms of shelter construction too.  In turn that makes the experience and learning more valuable.

The aims:

  • You experience what it’s like to be homeless and living rough in winter.  We can talk about it but we really need to experience it, if we’re to truly understand it.  You’ll be asked to share your experience with us via #UnderaTarpChallenge  if you can.  We’ll share your experience on all of our social media channels so others can learn from you and be inspired to take action against homelessness too.
  • You learn how to build a shelter from the elements.  This is an essential life skill.
  • You build your confidence and resilience by moving out of your comfort zone and through your experience of adversity and discomfort.
  • You show others how they can build a shelter that will protect them from the elements.  The cold, the wind, the rain.  We’re particularly interested in any innovative, low cost, rapid assembly shelter building techniques that will keep rough sleepers warm and dry in winter.


Taking part in the #UnderATarpChallenge is straightforward.  All you have to do is spend one night or more, under a tarp shelter, outdoors, in order to raise funds for your nominated homeless charity.   You can also nominate a friend or colleague to take part too, in person or on social media.  You can just say, “I nominate [ …. ] to take part in the Under a Tarp Challenge.  You’ll find a few little rules below and you’ll need to:

  • Identify a homeless charity you’d like to support.
  • Set up a Just Giving fundraising page or similar.
  • Get yourself a tarp.  You can purchase one for around eight to fifteen British Pounds at the most.  Once you’ve got your tarp it can give you an awful lot of pleasure.  Throw it in your backpack and you’ve always got a shelter.  We love Tarpaulins Direct, excellent value, range and quality too.   Don’t worry though, you can also use plastic sheeting that you may have lying around or similar.  In fact we want you to  improvise too.  That’s also a life skill.
  • You may also need to find some string, bungee cords or other means of securing your shelter.  It’s about getting a little creative.
  • You should also have a sleeping bag (check the season rating) and ideally a bivi bag too if you’re heading outdoors in winter or extreme weather.  You can often find them cheaply in Army surplus stores or online.  Facebook Marketplace or ebay are often good places to look.  Again this is not essential, you can make use of what you’ve already got, blankets, duvets etc, improvise.
  • You may also want to obtain a camping mat, although in keeping with the way many homeless people have to sleep, we’d rather you used sheets of cardboard or similar.
  • Get ready to hold yourself accountable.
  • Send us a tweet, tag us into an Instagram or Facebook post or send us an email.  We’ll ensure that we retweet your message that you’re going to take part in the #UnderATarpChallenge so everyone is aware of your efforts and your charity.
  • Decide which night you’re going to sleep out and where.  Remember safety first of course and that means personal security and safety.
  • During and after the challenge feel free to tweet out, post, tag us and we’ll re-post, share and re-tweet the stories about your experience.  This all helps to drive home a powerful, global and collective message.


We want to make this a standardised challenge worldwide, therefore a few rules are only fair and help to ensure consistency.

  • You must build a tarp shelter or similar.  Don’t worry we’ll be showing you how.  Head on over to our Under a Tarp, Youtube Channel.   More videos to follow shortly.
  • You must be outdoors and under a tarp overnight from 7pm to 7am.
  • Ideally you won’t be coming back indoors until the next morning.  Remember you’re stepping into the shoes of a homeless person for one night.  Ok you may have to get creative in regards to going to the toilet etc but then this is also about learning to improvise and overcome too.
  • Your sleeping matt should be made out of cardboard.  You can disassemble old cardboard boxes or similar.  This is optional, you must be insulated from the ground regardless.
  • You must have a nominated charity and be actively fundraising.


Rough sleeping can be a very risky business, personal security, cold weather injury and much more.  Of course that’s the very reason why we’re doing this, to help get people off the streets and in doing so, save lives.

It’s important that you don’t put yourself or family, friends, colleagues at risk so we’ve compiled some key points to consider.  Under a Tarp Challenge can take no responsibility for injury, losses or damage caused or sustained as a result of participating in a sleepout / Under a Tarp Challenge.  Remember it’s your personal responsibility to ensure that you, family, friends and colleagues sleepout safe.:

  • Ensure that your sleepout location is in a safe area and is secure.
  • Please check you’ve permission to be there, overnight.
  • Remember that the weather can be unpredictable and can change rapidly particularly in the early hours of the morning.  You must ensure that you’ve carefully checked the weather forecast and have sufficient and appropriate clothing.
  • Cold weather injury, hypothermia or similar is a very real danger.  Make sure you can recognise the signs and don’t put yourself at risk in the first place.  Be aware that even if it isn’t very cold, if you’re wet and cold hypothermia is a very real threat.
  • Be very aware of fire.  Fire can be a very real risk so don’t be tempted to light a fire under your tarp or anywhere near your shelter.  Have a fire plan, particularly if organising a group Under a Tarp Challenge. Make sure you have an escape plan and means of putting out the fire should the worst happen.
  • In confined spaces carbon monoxide can build up.  Be aware of the need for adequate ventilation.  Lesser known is carbon dioxide build up in confined spaces, ensure you’re familiar with these hazards.
  • Ensure you have adequate ventilation in your shelter.
  • Alcohol and outdoor activities doesn’t mix, particularly in winter.  We’d strongly advise you don’t drink while engaging in the Under A Tarp Challenge.
  • You must have an emergency communication plan with someone nearby, in the event of an emergency.  Check you have radio or mobile phone coverage and if necessary have a usb battery pack to keep your phone charged up.  Cold weather can rapidly kill radio/mobile phone batteries so endeavour to keep them warm/out of the cold.
  • You must have a safety buddy or safety buddies (not taking part in the challenge) who will carry out periodic checks on you and fellow participants throughout the night.
  • Do not leave litter behind.  We have a leave no trace policy, whether in your back garden or in the woods.
  • Bungee cords can spring back and cause injury, consider wearing eye protection when rigging up your shelter if using bungee cords.
  • Plan for having to go the toilet during the night.  Where will you go, is it appropriate?
  • Light.  Have a charged head torch or similar to hand, ideally with a set of spare batteries.  Again, keep it warm, out of the cold.  Cold kills batteries.
  • Movement during the night, for example when going for a toilet break.  At night time people can become disorientated and may even wander off away from a tent or tarp.  Trip hazards or similar must also be considered.  Having adequate lighting is essential for any night movement and the area must be checked for trip hazards.  These should be well marked or cordoned off prior to sleepout.
  • Consider if you’ve any medical conditions that may preclude you from taking part in the challenge?  If you need any form of medication will it be accessible and can you find it at night?  Be mindful of any pre-existing back problems in this context too.
  • Do you have an emergency plan if there is an incident?
  • If working in a group consider keeping a participant register, including emergency contact numbers. Also give consideration to providing a roving patrol around your sleepout location throughout the night so someone is always keeping an eye out for hazards.
  • Make sure you are fully compliant with COVID regulations in your area.
  • Don’t take valuables or large amounts of money out with you during the Under a Tarp Challenge.
  • Factor in hot drinks or hot food availability throughout the course of your Under a Tarp Challenge.  A hot drink can be very welcome during the early hours.
  • Is anyone in your group first aid trained and in date? Do you have a first aid kit and a means of administering first aid.  Also have a plan, in the event you need to call the emergency services.  How would you clearly and quickly direct them in to your location for example?
  • For a group, Under a Tarp Challenge event consider writing a risk assessment taking into account all the points raised above.


The Under a Tarp Challenge (UATC), has been designed by John Watson Allison, a military veteran who served with the British Army for 24 years and now runs Motion to Mind and StreetGym.

John experienced homelessness himself for a short period of time and he recognises the importance of learning life skills such as building a shelter.

John frequently served in war zones while serving with the British Army.  It wasn’t uncommon to find people who’d lost their home through conflict.  Homes destroyed, homes boobytrapped and mined too.  In addition he  regularly encountered the homeless problem while running StreetGym® in London and other European cities for several years.  StreetGym® helps participants to develop an improvisational mindset and learn how to use nothing but the urban landscape to workout and keep mentally/physically fit.  While weaving and exploring through the cityscape there was often ample evidence of people sleeping rough in the nooks and crannies of the city, hidden away from the public gaze, out of sight.

Homelessness affected John too, he once lived in a tiny van for a six month period so has some understanding of what it’s like to be classed as “no fixed abode“.


If you’d like to support, sponsor or partner with us, if you need advice or for anything else just see below –

Email: enquiries@underatarp.co.uk

Twitter: @UnderaTarp

Facebook: @UnderaTarp

Instagram: @UnderaTarp