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“No one chooses to live in hygiene poverty.”

Newcastle Hygiene Bank has seen the demand for its services go through the roof this year. Here, High Life North meets the women working to limit hygiene poverty in our region.

By Jo Dunbar

Newcastle Hygiene Bank has seen the demand for its services go through the roof this year. Here, High Life North meets the women working to limit hygiene poverty in our region and to find out how we can all help by donating products, money or our time.

Jess Graham and Sophie Brydon co-ordinate Newcastle’s Hygiene Bank – something they run voluntarily outside of their full time jobs – and have been working for the charity, since it launched two years ago, to deliver hygiene products to charities and foodbanks across the city. It comes as no surprise that Covid19 saw a huge increase in foodbank users – foodbank usage between April and July was up by 210% compared to the same period last year. Hygiene poverty is another casualty of the pandemic, with foodbanks and charities regularly running out of hygiene products, such is the demand.

Do you think more people are aware of hygiene poverty?

Jess: The pandemic has brought it a bit more into focus. Once you think about the need for food banks and start thinking logically, it’s quite clear that if you’re not able to afford food then you’re also not going to be able to afford hygiene products or cleaning products. It’s such a stigmatised place to be, if you’re not able to keep yourself or your family clean. That’s where major issues with attendance at school or feeling confident enough to go to a job interview. And, right now, keeping clean has never been more important.

Sophie: We know that people will stop buying hygiene products before they stop buying food. There are some people in this country – a wealthy, first world country – that have to make those kinds of decisions every day. Many of us live in privileged bubble where we don’t realise things are issues because we don’t have to think about it. When people think about poverty, they think about food and housing. They don’t think about hygiene poverty and they don’t think about fuel poverty. That’s why it’s our job to be hygiene poverty activists as much as we are charity workers. If we don’t speak up, who will hear their voices?

Have you seen the need grow since lockdown began?

Sophie: It’s mad how much the need has increased. When we went into lockdown a lot of foodbanks were being run by people who were retired or slightly older and some had to close because they didn’t have enough volunteers. That doesn’t mean the need goes away. So, when the East End foodbank shut, those people had to get on a bus to the West End food bank to get their support. We’ve relied on donations from brand partnerships and businesses: Boots are a national partner of The Hygiene Bank and they have donated a lot of products. We’ve had donations from the Lush store in Eldon Square and also a huge load from Procter & Gamble. We now have eight Boots locations across the region for the public to donate products.

Jess: We have had, more than ever, individual people reaching out and asking us for help. That’s very difficult, we’re the middle man, we don’t have the policy and procedures to help people individually. But that reflects the desperation.

Many of our readers will want to donate – what do you need?

Sophie: When you make a donation, you are making active improvements to peoples’ lives straightaway. It doesn’t matter if you donate one item or 10 items, but hygiene poverty is not just a female issue. People tend to first think about period poverty and think about period products and then female scented deodorant, shampoo and shower gel. I would say about 5% of our donations are for men so we need more shaving products and men’s deodorants and shower gel. We also don’t get that many baby products because they can be expensive. I think when you’ve had a kid, you realise the expense. Some women have to scrape out and re-use nappies – that really hits home with mothers in particular.

The Newcastle Hygiene Bank needs more volunteers. How can we help?

Jess: The perfect volunteer would have a consistent amount of time to give to us each week – preferably on weekdays. Primarily volunteers would be picking up and dropping off donations, sorting products at our storage unit then distributing them across the city, so you need a car. And a passion for helping – we don’t get paid for this.

(Find out more about becoming a Hygiene Bank volunteer here: thehygienebank.com )

Sophie: We do need help, but we also really need donations. If any business owners would be happy to host a donation box or office collection, we’d be thrilled.

Do you feel a sense of achievement?

Jess: The last two years have been – apart from making a great friend in Sophie –really incredible to be involved with a charity that grew so quickly and got so much attention. I feel much more involved in my local community than I did two years ago. No one chooses to live in hygiene poverty. We’ve met interesting people and truly felt the generosity and warmth of so many living in our region. It’s been a very uplifting journey.

Sophie: I am so proud of what we’ve done and the impact we have made. It’s nice sometimes to stand back and appreciate that. I say to myself that we are doing everything we can and until the problem is solved at a national level all we can do is try to help with the immediate issue.

For more information about The Hygiene Bank, visit: thehygienebank.com

Instagram: @thehygienebanknewcastle Facebook: The Hygiene Bank Newcastle

You can donate products at Boots stores across the region including: Gosforth High Street, Kingston Park, Central Station, Eldon Square, MetroCentre, Northumberland Street, Team Valley, Fenham and Trinity Square, Gateshead.

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