Lizzy Hall, founder of The Hygiene Bank has been honoured with the Woman Of The Year Boots Wellness Warrior Award at the Women of the Year Luncheon & Awards at the Royal Lancaster Hotel, London.
Here she writes about what it means to win and some reflections on the past year.
If you had asked me a year ago where I thought The Hygiene Bank would be one year on, I could never have anticipated this, winning the Woman Of The Year Boots Wellness Warrior Award And so I feel truly humbled and honoured to be included among such an esteemed group, past and present.
The Hygiene Bank started as a practical way of tackling some of the boundaries that not only impact on an individual’s self-esteem but also limit educational and career progress. By ensuring people have access to basic hygiene products, we are playing a small part in restoring dignity and hopefully encouraging a community built on diversity, tolerance, cooperation and mutual respect.
I’m often asked “how did you start? “Just over a year ago I watched the Ken Loach film ‘I Daniel Blake’. As a result, I sent a WhatsApp message to a group of family and friends explaining that I was organising a collection of the essential hygiene products – the items we take for granted each day – and could they help. The response was overwhelming. I expected friends and family to rally but donations came in from far and wide.The giving was tangible and a straight line could be drawn from the individual in the community donating a product, to the person in that same community receiving it.
We no longer live in a world where we say, that’s not my child, that’s not my community and I realised I had tapped into a desire for people to help. And it was simple. I wasn’t asking anyone to drastically change their behaviour pattern and routine, but just to add an extra item or two to their regular shop Within a few weeks The Hygiene Bank was born and It’s amazing what a bottle of deodorant can do for the confidence of a teenager.
One year on we have banks in 110 locations, a 250 strong army of volunteers, we are supporting a network of over 400charity partners that include food banks, refuges, young carers, hostels, schools to name a few and have we distributed roughly 35 tonnes of product.
We are movement of people driven by a sense of injustice. It is not ok to live in hygiene poverty in modern day Britain. It is not ok to have to choose between eating and staying clean because you can’t afford to do both.
It is this need I want to touch on briefly there are over 14 million people living in poverty in the UK, 1 in 4 of them are children, 2/3 of whom come from a working family and it is amazing what a difference something like a bottle of deodorant can make to the confidence of a teenager.
Hygiene poverty is shaming, humiliating and excluding and can result in social isolation. It leads to a crippling lack of confidence and negatively affects good health and mental well-being which can impact early childhood development, learning, employment opportunity and social interaction. Ultimately this is about dignity.
And so I cannot let this opportunity pass without thanking our volunteers, trustees, advisors and patrons. We are a bootstrapped start up, so an enormous thank you to those donors who believed in what we are doing and helped financially, and to the organisations who have given their time and services pro bono. Businesses like Southpaw, Saatchi & Saatchi, Patch, Norton Fuller Rose, Pitch & Bloom, Flourish, Sweet Creatives and Studio Akram. For this we are truly grateful.
Winning this award has caused me to pause and reflect. So what have I learnt?
The over-riding lesson for me is that we all have within in us the ability to effect change one step at a time, or in THB case one product at a time. We often think we have to wait for society, government, big organisations to drive change but to my absolute delight I have seen whole communities of people around this country willing to volunteer their time, people willing to donate products, businesses who have helped me to do what we do. It’s really empowering and heart-warming to see this social capital come together to do this.
What does success look like? We’ve grown extraordinarily in a year. We’ve won awards. Is this success? Success and growth aren’t the same thing. Success isn’t about having more and more Hygiene Banks. It is about playing our part in tackling poverty and its impacts. Success will be when we no longer need to exist.
Our values are at the core of everything we do. Being non-judgemental, creating a thriving community, standing in solidarity and sustainability. We values are our moral compass and help us to build our strategy, assess our progress, in the tone of our communications materials, at recruitment processes and volunteer inductions.
Overcoming poverty prejudices is a life lesson that needs repeating . That you cannot judge anyone till you’ve walked in their shoes. Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird writes “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
People are proud and go to massive lengths to hide their difficult position and protect their family. So next time you see the mum whose children get free school meals understand that her manicured nails she does herself, her pay-as-you-go phone has had the minimum top up so she can receive a call to confirm her work shifts, the car she is using was borrowed from a friend, the branded clothes her son is wearing come from rooting through charity shops and she works two jobs. We often want those we are helping to look ‘poor enough’ to satisfy our own prejudice of poverty.
We have to try and stay away from the narrative of victim and rescuer, where poor families are the victims, helpless and feckless; organisations like ours are the rescuers. While there are elements of truth in these roles, reinforcing these stereotypes is unhelpful. We prefer to think that there are times in our lives when we need help, and times in our lives when we are able to offer help. Our job at The Hygiene Bank is to make that possible and to do it in ways that enrich both the person who is offering help, as well as the person being supported.
Looking forward, I am asked all the time what I hope for the charity and what I need. We’re in that space of exciting start up. The next year of operating is a time when I really want to grow our reach into schools and so we need investment. We need to create a more strategic funding stream for the sustainability of the charity.
Winning the Woman of The Year award, I hope, will give us this platform. Exciting times lie ahead.
About Women of the Year
Women of the Year has recognised, celebrated and inspired women of all backgrounds since 1955, when it was founded by the late Lady Antonella (Tony) Lothian OBE with Lady Georgina Coleridge and Odette Hallowes. The very first event of its kind, Lady Lothian’s aim was to bring together a wide cross-section of working women who had distinguished themselves in their careers or their communities. At a time when the concept of career networking for women was unknown, Women of the Year was, and remains, a gathering for inspirational women.
Today, sponsored by Boots, Barclays, Vodafone and ITV’s Lorraine, the event was held at the Royal Lancaster hotel, London. Every woman who is invited to the event has achieved something extraordinary in whatever walk of life she comes from. The lunch is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate their bravery, determination, compassion and success.
Julie Etchingham, President of Women of the Year, said: “Since its inception, Women of the Year has proudly recognised and celebrated the achievements of some of the world’s most inspiring and selfless women who have made a huge difference to people’s lives across the world. Now in our 65th year, we continue to shine a light on women who are determined to make a positive impact.”
In addition, there were many familiar faces, with guests including, Tamzin Outhwaite, Women of the Year President Julie Etchingham, Lorraine Kelly OBE, Gizzi Erskine, Zoë Wanamaker and Kate Phillips.