I volunteer for The Hygiene Bank because I understand first-hand how needed it is.
I am 29, work part time and a mother of two. My life is settled but it hasn’t always been this way, I remember what it was like to struggle.
When I was 17, I was living at home and attending college, I was pretty confident, outgoing and I knew what I wanted to do with my life and I had a plan.
That all changed when I was raped. I later found out this had resulted in me becoming pregnant. I was broken, scared and didn’t know what to do.
Only a few people in my life knew everything about what had happened. Most people including family did not know. When they found out that I was pregnant I had to move out of the family home, I was classed as homeless and the council sent me to live in a B&B in a nearby town.
I found myself with only a bag of belongings, in a place I didn’t know and no source money.
I was forced to leave my job and college as I could no longer afford to travel there and back every day or do the hours needed.
Applying for benefits took a while before it all was awarded to me but even then, I would find I barely had enough money to eat, let alone get ready for a baby. I remember making choices on whether to buy food or shampoo and sanitary products.
When my daughter was about 6 months old, everything I had been through caused me to have a breakdown and I took an overdose. I then had counselling and was honest with my friends and family.
I eventually got a flat and went back to college. I was lucky as I was able to secure funding for childcare, but I still survived on benefits.
I always remember when my mum would visit, she would bring toiletries and food.
My daughter was my priority so had to buy nappies and barrier cream over things like sanitary products and deodorant. Even toothpaste and a new toothbrush seemed like an extravagant expense. I was lucky, my family would buy these things for me because I didn’t have the money. But it was humiliating, I was looking after a baby and couldn’t look after myself.
It was a really tough time, even though I was back at college and feeling more positive, not being able to present myself how I wanted to hugely lowered my self-confidence and self-worth.
I stayed at college and passed with distinctions, I managed to get a job that I loved.
Unfortunately, I became unwell and had to leave that job. I was unable to work. As a single parent I had to go back on benefits. Although at that time I was less mentally broken so things were not as tough.
I then met my husband and we built a life together, a family and a business.
I feel lucky to have gone through what I did, it made me a strong person and it has made me appreciate things. I also learned how hard things are for some people and that we all have a story.
I think people don’t discuss hygiene poverty because it’s shaming. I certainly wasn’t telling people. My mum was sensitive enough to understand and she’d give me care packages. Not everyone has that so the what The Hygiene Bank is doing is so important to help people restore some of their dignity. Life is hard enough without the added knock hygiene poverty has to your confidence. It’s something many people are just not aware off because it is hard to admit.
I think it’s something that unless you have experienced it or been told about it, it’s just not at the forefront of people’s minds.
You don’t think you will ever be in a situation where you will need benefits or where you will have no money or support.
Life can change overnight but if you have the support there it can make all the difference. That’s why I help. I help because I can, I help because it’s the right thing to do and simple things like shampoo or deodorant can really change people’s lives.
If you have a story to share about your experience of hygiene poverty, then please get in touch with us here.
If you’re interested in volunteering for The Hygiene Bank, then you can find out more here.