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'A bar of soap can give someone back their dignity': Vicar appeals for an end to hygiene poverty

by Donna Birrell

Churches across the Diocese of London are appealing for help in tackling the issue of hygiene poverty - both locally and nationally.

The Diocese of London says that in the Square Mile of the City alone over 4,500 people are living in hygiene poverty - meaning they are not able to afford basic items such as soap, toilet rolls or toothpaste.

The Square Mile Hygiene Bank currently provides hygiene products to more than 20 Community Partners such as schools, charities and agencies in London. To date it has distributed over 15,000 kilos of hygiene products. 

Rev Nick Mottershead is Priest-in-Charge at Holy Sepulchre London, and co-ordinator of the project. Just last week, he collected six crates of hygiene products from his local branch of Boots for distribution amongst their local community partners, including to the Jesuit Refugee Service UK. 

He said: "We did some research nationally a couple of months ago and it showed that there are 3.1 million people going without hygiene products. When I looked at the scale of that in London specifically, it indicated that there were 10,000 people on a waiting list to get hygiene products from the hygiene bank. 

"That is just unacceptable, but we can address this in London. I want to be part of joining in with others and ensuring that everybody can have access to basic hygiene products.

"It impacts mental health, it impacts physical well-being, it impacts your ability to join in and participate in society. People are making choices between food for themselves or hygiene products, people are making choices between just heating and hygiene products. 

"We're dealing with not just people in our homeless hostels, we're dealing with children in schools, with parents who don't have hygiene products, not only just for the children, they don't have the hygiene products for themselves, so they can't model good hygiene.

"So that impacts the educational standards and the ability for those children to learn. It impacts adults and children escaping crisis, whether that be from abuse or modern slavery, when they are put into safe homes, they don't have access to hygiene products. But we know that when they do have hygiene products their healing is speeded up, that ability to get back a little of the dignity that has been stolen from them. 

"It is like a gift that we are giving people at their most vulnerable. As I say, this is 10,000 in London, but it's over 3 million people in the UK who are living in hygiene poverty."

Rev Nick is calling on colleagues and congregations within the Diocese's 500+ worshipping communities, as well as city workers and local residents to join him and The Hygiene Bank in working to ensure no one is held back from participating in society because of hygiene poverty. There are currently a further 52 organisations on The Hygiene Bank's waiting list in London, and Rev Nick's goal is for every one of them to be accepted as a community partner of The Hygiene Bank, which would mean another 10,000 people could be regularly given some hygiene products and lifted out of hygiene poverty. 

Rt Rev and Rt Honourable Dame Sarah Mullally DBE, Bishop of London, said:  "As many cut back on 'non-essentials' due to the cost-of-living crisis, the plight of hygiene poverty will only worsen and it is unacceptable that anyone should feel unable to participate fully in society due to their inability to pay for hygiene products.
"We all have a role to play in supporting fellow citizens who are suffering from this issue and I am pleased that churches across the Diocese will be working with this inspirational charity, to transform the service that it provides to its community and increase awareness around the issue of hygiene poverty. The partnership formed during this campaign will bring lasting benefits for Londoners."

The project is supporting the work of the national charity The Hygiene Bank. Its CEO Ruth Brock said: "At The Hygiene Bank we believe everyone deserves to feel clean and there is an acute and growing need for support in London. 

"We urgently need to reach the 10,000 people served by city-based Community Partners on our waiting list. It's simply unjust that so many are unable to afford the basics - toothpaste and toothbrushes, deodorant and detergent - that we all need to stay clean and well. Fr Nick's '10,000 reasons' campaign could make a real difference, both by raising awareness of hygiene poverty and by driving much-needed donations."


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