When you’re getting ready in the morning, fundamental parts of your routine such as putting on deodorant or brushing your teeth will be totally second nature. However, that isn’t the case for everyone. In fact, countless people both in the UK and abroad wake up every day without knowing whether they'll be able to bathe, brush their teeth, or put on clean clothes. I spoke to Lizzy Hall, founder of The Hygiene Bank, and winner of The Women of the Year Boots Wellness Award, about the way in which cleanliness is linked to mental health and why we can all do a little bit to improving the lives of others.
At The Women of the Year Awards, Hall was recognised for her work as the founder of The Hygiene Bank, a grassroots charity with 230 volunteers and 110 banks which distribute sanitary and beauty products through a network of charities, refuges, supported housing, outreach programmes, foodbanks, and more. Speaking about receiving the Boots Wellness Award, she tells me, “I was utterly blown away. We’ve only been going for 14 months but very quickly ‘I’ become ‘We’ so this is an acknowledgement of the hard work of everyone who has committed to getting involved.”
While some people set out to make waves, Hall explains that The Hygiene Bank was born out of a much simpler motive. "In August 2018 I watched I, Daniel Blake," she says, "and I was struck in particular by seeing the main character, Cassie go to the foodbank and ask for some sanitary products and be told they don’t have those. Later on in the film you see her shoplifting and when she is caught she has deodorant, sanitary products, and razors in her bag.”
Ken Loach’s powerful film so moved Hall that she called her local food bank to establish whether they stock sanitary products and they said they didn’t. "This prompted me to send out a Whatsapp to friends and family to say I was going to organise a collection for these very ordinary items that we take for granted everyday and that I was going to drop them to the food bank," she tells me. While she expected her nearest and dearest to be on board with her idea, Hall was surprised when she started to receive donations from far and wide. Within a few weeks, the first Hygiene Bank was born.
Hall not only found a cause that people were more than willing to give to, but she unearthed a massive issue that many was previously unaware of. A 2018 study by the charity In Kind Direct found that 43% of parents of primary school children had to go without basic hygiene or cleaning products because they couldn’t afford them. On top of that, 18% admitted that their child wears the same underwear for two days in a row, and 36% of teachers said they had had to provide toothpaste for their students at some point.
“I didn’t sit down and say we need a charity to address this need but I was just moved,” says Hall. The Hygiene Banks around the UK help schools as well as refuges, and outreach programmes with supplying products for those at the point of need. “We’ve got mums who are scrapping out the contents of nappies because they can’t afford to change them eight times a day,” she says, “it’s amazing that the government is going to provide sanitary products in schools from Jan. 2020 but what about the people who are 18+ who aren’t in education but are housebound because they can’t afford sanitary products.”
She continues: “Hygiene goes to the very core of how we judge ourselves and how others see us.”
While The Hygiene Bank grew in popularity through word of mouth, it was after Hall posted about it on social media that it blew up. She says, “I think what this really taps into is people recognise that there are times in our lives when we all need help and times in our lives when we can offer help. Hygiene poverty is a lot closer than you think and this is working people who are having to make the decision between eating and staying clean.”
In just over a year Hall and her team and volunteers at The Hygiene Bank have done so much to help people in need and raise the profile of hygiene poverty. Boots were so impressed by Hall’s achievements and selfless work that they are now looking to work with her to roll the initiative out into selected stores in the New Year. However, she doesn’t necessarily see herself as a success. “The thing about the award was it really made me think is this success? Success and growth aren’t the same thing,” she says. “Yes, we have 110 banks throughout the country and I won the award but that’s growth. Success is that we’re doing something to address poverty and success will be when we no longer need to exist.”
To get involved with your local Hygiene Bank you can offer your time, money, and products by going to their website. You can also get involved with their annual Christmas Appeal by filling up a bag or rucksack you no longer use with products and a Christmas card and last year The Hygiene Bank gave out over three and a half thousand bags.