Durham Hygiene Bank: “It’s not a privilege to feel clean”

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The Hygiene Bank is a UK-based, people-powered charity, aiming to tackle hygiene poverty. Through donations, it provides essential hygiene products for people locked in poverty. The donations consist mainly of new, unused and in-date toiletries, hygiene basics, beauty and personal care and household cleaning essentials. With over 789 drop-off locations across the UK, which are able to support 1398 organisations, its vision is that one day everyone in society will have access to the essential products needed to feel clean, confident, and healthy.

This academic year, Durham student set up a Durham branch of the charity and, supported by two other Durham students, and Sarah Johnston, they aim to improve hygiene poverty across a cross-section of the communities in County Durham “from children and vulnerable families to refugees and domestic abuse victims”. Interview Editor, Claudia Jacob, speaks to the trio about The Durham Hygiene Bank’s aims for 2021, the ways that the pandemic has exacerbated hygiene poverty and how Durham students can get involved.

Milly explains that when she was writing an article on how to improve the sustainability of the beauty industry, she stumbled across The Hygiene Bank – a way of donating beauty and personal care products instead of them being binned or going to waste. “Out of curiosity I looked to see if there was already a project in County Durham and, when I discovered there wasn’t, I decided I wanted to set one up.” She adds that “going without basic hygiene products seems unimaginable to me and I’m sure it does to the vast majority of Durham University students”, explaining that “this is particularly poignant in the North East, where proportionally hygiene poverty is worse, as a recent study (2019) found 22.3% of children in County Durham are currently living in poverty” compared to the national average of 18.4%. She adds that “when living under the poverty line, buying toiletries becomes a luxury, rather than a necessity, evidenced by statistics collected by The Trussell Trust, which concluded that long before people reach out for help and go to food banks, they stop buying toiletries”.

When living under the poverty line, buying toiletries becomes a luxury, rather than a necessity

Milly stresses that “we do not accept ‘barely used’ products. We know this might seem wasteful, but this is down to health and safety precautions and also because we believe in empowering dignity; we want to show respect to the people we are giving to and hopefully make them feel valued and looked after.” She adds that whilst every effort is made to be “environmentally and ethically conscious”, they appreciate all types of donations (plastic-free or otherwise), since “these products are a necessity for those struggling and we cannot control what packaging they have or materials they use”. However, she adds that the charity is “actively looking at ways to mitigate [its] ecological impact”. If students are unable to reach a donation bank, they can buy online and send products directly through their Easho wishlist, “where we have an online selection of items we need most”.

Image: The Hygiene Bank

Jess emphasises that she set up the branch this summer because she realised that “hygiene poverty was such a hugely underrepresented issue in the UK”. She adds “I wanted to do something to help, especially at a time when having access to hygiene products could be the difference between life and death for many who are vulnerable”. Sarah emphasises that “hygiene poverty was a crisis in the UK before the pandemic hit so you can imagine how much a global health crisis has worsened the situation. Often, we take things like hand sanitiser for granted but for some it is a luxury. We’re living in a time where people are making economic cuts, and these cuts should not be basic health and hygiene products.”

Hygiene poverty was a crisis in the UK before the pandemic hit, so you can imagine how much a global health crisis has worsened the situation

One of the aims of the Durham branch specifically is bridging the gap between the students and the local community in Durham. Jess explains how they hope to improve the ‘town and gown’ divide that presently exists between the students and the locals. Based around their mantra ‘Give Local, Help Local’, the project distributes their donations to local ‘community partners’ who can be anything from not-for-profit organisations and charities, to social enterprises and non-fee paying schools.

Jess adds that they “decided to support the Laurel Avenue Community Association as our first community partner. They are an amazing outreach project that serves to help one of the most deprived areas of Durham in a variety of ways, such as by providing food, organising community events, and offering youth support”. Their newest community partner is Handcrafted, which “works alongside disadvantaged people in County Durham who long to turn their lives around, but need opportunities, mentoring and practical help”. Jess adds that “although Covid-19 continues to cause a lot of setbacks and delays for us, we ideally aim to have three to four permanent donation points by the end of the year in order to support at least three charities”.

So how can Durham students get involved? Sarah explains that the easiest way to help is to donate products at the drop off points – “it doesn’t have to be much but buying an item or two such as a deodorant or body wash in your weekly shop can go a long way in making someone’s life a bit easier”. The drop off points can be found at Boots in Market Square and Scoop Durham. The team are also looking for student volunteers, particularly since all three will graduate this summer and would love the project to continue next year. Sarah concludes that we all need to “get educated! Hygiene poverty is a hugely underestimated problem in the UK and now it is affecting more people than ever at a time when hygiene products are so critical”.

Sarah highlights that “students, as a large part of the population, have a responsibility to make a change for the good of the community during their tenure at Durham University”. So why not get involved? The pandemic has painfully revealed how fatal the lack of personal hygiene can be, yet this is something which the vast majority of us take for granted. The Durham Hygiene Bank aims to change that – and you can help.

Follow @thbdurham to find out more about how you can make a difference.

To access the Easho wishlist and donate online, click this link http://www.easho.org.uk/apps/giftregistry/registry/118197

Image: The Hygiene Bank

https://www.dunelm.org.uk/donations/palatinate

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