Be­yond beauty

Sali Hughes on a year of per­suad­ing big brands to do­nate to peo­ple in need

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents -

Last year, while film­ing a re­port on home­less­ness for the BBC, I no­ticed a small box un­der the front desk of a home­less shel­ter. In it were sin­gle tam­pons, dis­pos­able ra­zors, mini tooth­paste tubes and mis­matched tablets of soap. These, I dis­cov­ered, were brought in by mem­bers of staff and vol­un­teers, so that when home­less clients had a job or a hous­ing in­ter­view, a health ap­point­ment, a pe­riod, they could ac­cess the hy­giene essen­tials most of us are able to toss into a shop­ping trol­ley with scarcely a thought. I texted a pho­to­graph of the un­der­stocked crate to a friend and col­league, Jo Jones, and within 48 hours, we had launched Beauty Banks.

Jo and I had been talk­ing about this acute need for some time. A num­ber of our friends are teach­ers, who were rou­tinely buy­ing toi­letries for their pupils. They told us boys were fail­ing to make friends be­cause they couldn’t af­ford de­odor­ant, and that girls were fash­ion­ing san­i­tary tow­els from news­pa­per or toi­let roll. We had read the alarm­ing sta­tis­tics pub­lished by the Trus­sell Trust, a food bank net­work that this year will dis­trib­ute some 1.3m three-day emer­gency food sup­plies to Bri­tons (a third of them chil­dren) in cri­sis.

We all have to make choices, but those faced by peo­ple liv­ing in poverty can be in­cred­i­bly stark. In­vari­ably, peo­ple in this po­si­tion would choose to eat rather than stay clean; the other essen­tials – tooth­brushes, soap, ra­zors – can grad­u­ally slip out of reach. Peo­ple who strug­gle to main­tain →

The Guardian Week­end | 06 Oc­to­ber 2018 35

a ba­sic level of hy­giene of­ten find their con­fi­dence, self-es­teem and prospects suf­fer as a re­sult. Men and women are un­able to make them­selves pre­sentable for job in­ter­views or work shifts; thou­sands of girls skip school be­cause they can’t af­ford san­i­tary pro­tec­tion. We felt no one should have to forgo wash­ing in order to feed their chil­dren – es­pe­cially when, be­tween us, we had ac­cess to the world’s big­gest toi­letries brands and a huge com­mu­nity of beauty fans with an im­pres­sive track record in fundrais­ing (my read­ers had re­cently spon­sored my rough sleep­ing in aid of Cen­tre­point, to the tune of £40,000, the big­gest sin­gle amount raised in 2017). What if we asked them to do­nate prod­ucts? Our mis­sion is straight­for­ward: to pro­vide es­sen­tial sup­plies to peo­ple who can’t af­ford them, via part­ner char­i­ties across the UK. Beauty Banks isn’t a phys­i­cal “bank” as such; in­stead we sup­ply lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions who may not have our con­tacts.

The re­ac­tion has been over­whelm­ing. In week one, Jo’s of­fice was crammed with de­liv­er­ies. By our se­cond month, we were us­ing three sep­a­rate stor­age fa­cil­i­ties. Friends and fam­ily were (and still are) driv­ing toi­letries to the north, south, east and west. Celebrity hair­dresser Sam McKnight auc­tioned off his clothes to pay for couri­ers; Cate Blanchett’s makeup artist, Mary Green­well, helped out, pack­ing and tap­ing card­board boxes on her hands and knees. Some of my read­ers’ chil­dren spent their birth­day money on tooth­paste. Among my favourites was a do­na­tion from Daisy, who sent toi­letries bought with cash she’d orig­i­nally ear­marked to buy slime, say­ing she’d de­cided to help peo­ple “smell nice and feel good about them­selves” in­stead. My sons di­vide san­i­tary tow­els from tam­pons in front of the telly.

Our learn­ing curve has been steep. We had to get to grips with lo­gis­tics, warehousing and the law, with the way re­gional char­i­ties and vol­un­tary groups work, with scal­ing up dis­tri­bu­tion and scal­ing down pack­ag­ing waste. Lawyers and web de­sign­ers have stepped in to help, do­nat­ing their time. Al­most a year in, we have de­liv­ered to food banks, home­less shel­ters, NHS trusts, schools, fam­ily cen­tres and churches all over the UK. The scheme has even been raised in the House of Com­mons, by Labour MP Carolyn Har­ris, dur­ing a de­bate on poverty – a some­what sur­real mo­ment. Lob­by­ing has be­come a big fo­cus for us, along­side the on­go­ing grunt work in­volved in get­ting toi­letries to places where they’re des­per­ately needed. We had a lot to learn but, through­out, Jo and I have had one an­other – as well as an ex­traor­di­nar­ily giv­ing com­mu­nity of read­ers and so­cial me­dia fol­low­ers.

There are four ways you can join in. First, you could box up any un­used toi­letries, baby prod­ucts and pe­riod pro­tec­tion (all un­opened), in­clud­ing minis from ho­tels and planes (the home­less com­mu­nity, in par­tic­u­lar, is in need of por­ta­ble sizes), and send them to us at Beauty Banks, c/o The Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Store, 2 Kens­ing­ton Square, London W8 5EP. If the cost of postage is pro­hib­i­tive, you can shop our wish­list on the in­de­pen­dent on­line cash’n’carry easho.co.uk/ beauty-bank. html, which doesn’t charge postage; it also dra­mat­i­cally cuts Cate Blanchett’s makeup artist, Mary Green­well, is one of those do­nat­ing their time to pack boxes

36 06 Oc­to­ber 2018 | The Guardian Week­end pack­ag­ing, petrol and car­bon by load­ing toi­letries di­rectly on to pallets and de­liv­er­ing to us once weekly. If you live in Manch­ester, you can take your prod­ucts to Su­per­drug in Pic­cadilly, Arn­dale or Sal­ford, where a pilot drop-off scheme is up and run­ning. If it proves pop­u­lar, the chain will roll it out na­tion­wide.

If none of this ap­peals, you can sim­ply cut us out of the equa­tion and take your prod­ucts to your lo­cal food bank – they will still find their way to those who need them. While you do that, rest as­sured that Jo and I are work­ing hard on the beauty in­dus­try, ne­go­ti­at­ing large bulk do­na­tions of shower gel, de­odor­ant, sham­poo, combs, san­i­tary pro­tec­tion, sun­care, baby prod­ucts and any­thing else we can get our hands on, di­rect from fac­to­ries and re­tail­ers. Beauty brands, re­tail­ers and PR firms have been ex­traor­di­nar­ily gen­er­ous, pro­vid­ing couri­ers, send­ing huge pallets of prod­ucts – and ask­ing for noth­ing in re­turn. But there are some huge multi­na­tion­als we be­lieve could still step in and change lives overnight.

We’ve had a stream of cards and let­ters from peo­ple who tell us that, be­cause of Beauty Banks, they or their clients feel more con­fi­dent and bet­ter able to cope with life. It’s frus­trat­ing and of­ten in­fu­ri­at­ing that we are needed at all, of course – just as it is for the head­teach­ers, doc­tors, vic­ars and vol­un­teers we sup­ply. Re­cently, one school­child wrote to thank us for a tube of shower gel, say­ing, “Thank you so much for mak­ing me feel clean and spe­cial.” But the dig­nity of clean­li­ness shouldn’t be spe­cial; a shower shouldn’t be a lux­ury, but a ba­sic hu­man right

A child wrote to us about a shower gel: ‘Thank you for mak­ing me feel spe­cial.’ But it should be a ba­sic right

Above: Sali Hughes and Jo Jones un­pack do­na­tions, un­der the watch­ful eye of Sali’s dog, Sylvie

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