The Hygiene Bank, Sevenoaks: Everyone deserves to feel clean

At the 2024 New Year Honours list, Sevenoaks’ own Elizabeth Hall was made MBE for her services to tackling hygiene poverty.

 

Elizabeth is the Founder of the grassroots, people-powered charity The Hygiene Bank and we had the pleasure of speaking to her and finding out more about her wonderful community-grounded charity.

 

Can you tell us what made you start up The Hygiene Bank and what your visions and objectives are?

I was driven by the belief that everyone deserves to feel clean. The Hygiene Bank started with the belief that basic hygiene is not a privilege, and for the past five years, we have worked really hard to ensure those who are struggling are not hindered from fully participating in society due to hygiene poverty. Our vision is that one day, everyone living in the UK will have access to essential hygiene products.

Our mission is to bring communities, businesses and thought leaders together to end hygiene poverty and be a voice for change.

Our main objective is to support those in hygiene poverty. It is not right that feeling clean should be a luxury or a privilege for anyone in our society, yet many are living in poverty and cannot afford to stay clean. This is why The Hygiene Bank exists – to give people access to the basics they need.

 

The film I, Daniel Blake was a big motivation for starting up The Hygiene Bank, can you take us back to when you first watched the film and your immediate raw reaction to this and whether, 8 years on, there has been a huge progression made?

I watched the Ken Loach film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ in August 2018, and I was instantly moved by the scene where a single mother goes to a food bank and asks if they have period products. They didn’t. Later she is caught shoplifting for basic toiletries. As a woman and mum, that scene resonated with me, and I felt compelled to do something. To get a collection of products together and take them to my local foodbank. I was driven by the belief that everyone deserves to feel clean, no matter their personal circumstances, and that no one should struggle to wash their hair or brush their teeth.

It is now 2024 and unfortunately, hygiene poverty still exists in the UK. We now know that over 3m people are living in hygiene poverty and struggling to afford to buy basics like deodorant, laundry detergent, nappies or razors. The stigma of hygiene poverty has a hugely detrimental effect on mental health, with feelings of embarrassment and shame. Nearly half of those living in hygiene poverty are too embarrassed to tell anyone with over a third avoiding family and friends, isolating themselves from human connections. These impacts make hygiene poverty uniquely oppressive as many people feel so low they are unable to engage in opportunities in the workplace or school, potentially trapping them in poverty even further.

I am very proud of what The Hygiene Bank has achieved in only 5 years, with a network of over 550 volunteers, more than 170 local projects across the UK that support nearly 1000 community partners and 1200 drop-off points, we are distributing hygiene products to 68,000 monthly to people in need in our communities.

 

What would you say have been the charity’s proudest moments through its history?

I am constantly inspired by the dedication and selflessness of our incredible central office team and our volunteers. Each day, they commit themselves wholeheartedly to ensuring that the donated products we receive from both the public and our supporting brands reach those affected by hygiene poverty. Their commitment and sacrifices in helping the less fortunate are truly commendable, and I take immense pride in each and every one of them.

There have been two pivotal moments for the charity. The first came in 2019 when I was awarded a Boots sponsored Woman of The Year award. This put us on the map with Boots.

The second was when COVID and lockdown hit. In an instant, we successfully pivoted our operations from working in the community with volunteers, drop-off points and individual donations to working with brands and the scale of receiving large pallets of goods.

 

You were appointed an MBE in the New Year for your services to tackling hygiene poverty, how did this make you feel and can you explain the hard work and journey you have been on to become the amazing people-powered charity that you are today?

It is truly an honour to receive an MBE for our fight to tackle hygiene poverty, it reflects the collective effort and dedication of hundreds of volunteers that have supported The Hygiene Bank since its creation. We took a vision, supporting people in hygiene poverty, and we turned it into an impactful people-powered charity, it has been a lot of hard work, but it has been marked by passion, perseverance and community support. We are now a well-established organisation that makes a meaningful impact in the lives of those pulled into hygiene poverty. This achievement, inspires me to continue our mission, advocating, now more than ever, for systemic change to make sure everyone has access to basic hygiene products.

 

Are you currently in need of volunteers and, if so, how can readers get in touch to find out more?

We are indeed. We currently have over 200 community partners on the waitlist so we need more volunteers to help us collect, sort, pack and deliver the product donations to our local community partners. Volunteering at The Hygiene Bank is an excellent opportunity to make new friends, and learn new skills while making a lasting and meaningful impact in your local community. If anyone is interested in volunteering with us, they can visit our website www.thehygienebank.com and apply to volunteer with their local project or set up a local hygiene bank in their area.

 

Do you have future goals of what you would like to achieve with The Hygiene Bank in the short and long term?

Our primary goal is to expand our reach and impact by increasing the number of communities and individuals supported. However, our vision extends beyond alleviating the immediate needs of those pulled into hygiene poverty to create systemic change and end hygiene poverty. We work incessantly to advocate for policies that address the underlying factors contributing to hygiene poverty and work towards creating a world where everyone has access to essential hygiene products. We want to be the leading voice in the fight against hygiene poverty, promoting long-term solutions and driving impactful change at a national scale.

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