It's a scary time for everyone. Things feel out of control, uncertain and insecure. As we worry about the safety of our loved ones and the security of our jobs and homes, we should take a moment to recognise that many people in this country feel even more powerless in the face of this pandemic.
They can’t even take basic safety precautions, such as washing their clothes and hands. When my friend Jo Jones and I set up Beauty Banks a couple of years ago, we intended it to be small. We wanted to use our influence and platform in the beauty industry (I’m a journalist, she’s in PR) to help ensure that people living in poverty in the UK had access to the dignity, self respect and hygiene afforded by essential toiletries.
It’s inconceivable to most Britons, but very many people can’t unthinkingly toss tampons, shower gel, toothpaste and soap into their shopping trolleys. They’re frequently faced with the stark choice between keeping their families clean and feeding them. We didn’t think that was fair. We didn’t think cleanliness should be a luxury, but a right.
We launched Beauty Banks with a single post on my Instagram and, within 48 hours, we’d appeared on nearly a dozen major media sites and were being followed around by American film crews. Members of the public and beauty brands alike donated products and money. Superdrug partnered with us and put our collection bins in their stores.
Since then, we’ve made deliveries to well over 180 charities nationwide – from homeless shelters and women’s refuges to food banks and schools – providing them with everything from razors to nappies. And yet, despite the staggering growth of Beauty Banks since launch, nothing could have prepared us for our #HelpingHands campaign, launched to replenish the severely depleted stock of toiletries at the charities we serve, since the coronavirus crisis hit.
In the UK, we have a two-tier system where staying sanitary is a privilege.
People living in poverty can’t afford to stockpile, and consumers who can are frequently leaving very little on the shelves to donate to food banks they might normally help. People across the country are on the brink of losing their jobs, while zero-hour contract workers have seen their incomes plummet. Coronavirus doesn’t only end lives – its financial impact will ruin the lives of many of those who make it through.
Meanwhile, cleanliness is no longer just important – it is lifesaving. Many of our clients stay in crowded environments, such as homeless shelters, refuges and safe-houses, live in densely populated areas or work in low income jobs in busy public spaces. They need all the protection they can get. And yet what we have in the UK is effectively a two-tier system, where staying sanitary is a privilege.
We felt this was an aspect of the Covid-19 emergency that Beauty Banks could ameliorate and so, with GoFundMe’s help, we launched an urgent appeal for donations. This time, we couldn’t take products – we needed to buy fresh products that had been through the fewest possible hands, and get them delivered direct from the supplier by professionals with proper health and safety measures in place (our usual method of our family and friends driving hire vans wasn’t going to cut it in a health crisis).
We launched the #HelpingHands campaign last Sunday and, within 24 hours, we’d made £50,000. Our total is still rising and, at the time of writing, is at an astonishing £86,500. Now, of course, the real work begins. Since it became clear that the campaign would be a success, Jo, Lauren and I have been on the phone trying to source stock – from washing powder to handwash – at the right price. Owing to unprecedented demand, things such as hand sanitisers, which cost less than £1 a fortnight ago, are now coming in at a staggering £7.50 for one tiny bottle, but will likely crash and become surplus to requirements when people retreat to their homes for a likely national lockdown.
There’s lots to consider, and we’re taking the responsibility of spending this sum very seriously, making a plan to ensure the fund is spent fairly across England, Scotland, Wales and, we hope, Northern Ireland, and through partners who can make the biggest difference. There’s no time to waste and we are working flat out. But it beats watching reruns of Homes Under The Hammer and panicking. Because, as important as we know our work is, doing something positive isn’t an entirely selfless act. It makes you feel calmer, more optimistic, more in control of the uncontrollable, and like part of a solution.
When we feel helpless, the best course of action is to help others. You can join in without ever leaving the house – just visit our GoFundMe link and donate. You’ll feel better for it, and so will someone else. Visit www.gofundme.com/f/helpinghands-for-covid19