Big Issue Vendor

Changemakers: The woman who created the healthiest bank around

Lizzy Hall decided to do something bold about the hygiene poverty crisis

Around 1.6 million people visited foodbanks in the past year which, according to The Trussell Trust, happens long after they stop being able to afford toiletries. The hygiene poverty crisis propelled Kent’s Lizzy Hall into taking action, and a year later her grassroots charity – The Hygiene Bank – is helping thousands across the country who are at risk of isolating themselves, one life-changing bottle of deodorant at a time.

Hall, now 50, kickstarted her career as a press intern at Action Aid. She stayed in the PR and marketing world until her early 30s, when she gave it up to teach yoga full-time,  including running classes for inmates at Holloway prison in North London (which closed down in 2016).

She moved on from that to care for her children full-time, but eight years ago was suddenly widowed. Hall tells The Big Issue that it taught her about “how life can really turn, from how it is one moment to living a completely different existence the next” – something she hears now, often, from people her charity supports.

“I met a mum not long ago at the foodbank who was a widow,” says Hall. “I was left financially quite able, but she wasn’t – 18 months on, she’s lost her housing, living in a hostel and only able to eat from the foodbank with her two young children.”

In summer 2018, Hall watched Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake for the first time – a harrowing depiction of UK lives ruined by the failing welfare system. She was struck in particular by a scene in which the character Katie is caught shoplifting, despite having already been to a foodbank, with razors, deodorants and sanitary pads all stuffed into her bag.

“It got me thinking. I sent a WhatsApp message to a group of family and friends saying I was organising a collection of the everyday products we take for granted to take down to the foodbank. The response was overwhelming.”

Eventually, her house full of items contributed by the town, she moved the donation point into her partner’s Sevenoaks shoe shop. When The Hygiene Bank outgrew that, the next stop was the local leisure centre. The project grew organically from there and a little over a year later, there are nearly 390 donation points across the UK.

Not having access to the things you need to keep yourself clean is “shaming and humiliating,” the founder continues. “Because it’s so tied up with how you present yourself aesthetically, it so easily leads to social isolation. School teachers report that some kids get picked on because of the problem. It impacts your employment opportunities. This isn’t a life-or-death scenario like food, but it has a real fundamental impact on the way we can be, and stay, a part of society.

DID YOU KNOW…

The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.

“No one should be housebound because they’ve got their period. A bottle of deodorant shouldn’t be life-changing to a teenager, but it often is.”

Each local project is set up by volunteers who organise means of collecting donations. That could mean boxes in public places like cafes and libraries, or in local businesses and closed groups like yoga classes.

The Hygiene Bank is also partnered with some social enterprises that operate on a buy-one-give-one model, like The Big Issue-backed period poverty busting business Hey Girls, who donate a box of period products to Hall’s charity for every one they sell.

From those product streams, local volunteers sort and arrange the donations according to need to be redistributed to community partners like foodbanks, refuges and care leaver support teams.

The founder tells The Big Issue about a time she was approached at a recent event by a woman who said she worked at a supported housing scheme for 16-24 year-olds that regularly receives donations from the charity. The most shocking benefit, she explained, was that conflict within the housing unit went down dramatically. People weren’t stealing from each other, or driven to clash by the sense of sheer survival.

I sent a WhatsApp message to a group of family and friends saying I was organising a collection of the everyday products we take for granted to take down to the foodbank. The response was overwhelming

Hall has her sights set on schools next. “For everything else, you’ve got to be in the system in order to get help. But teachers are essential on the frontline for seeing when a family is beginning
to struggle.”

This week, Hall was announced as the winner of a prestigious Women of the Year ‘Wellness Warrior’ award. She’s “overwhelmed and in awe to be with such an esteemed group”, but otherwise busy gearing up for The Hygiene Bank’s Christmas appeal. Last year, they distributed bags filled with essentials, luxuries and personal notes to around 3,500 people. This year, they’re aiming for 5,000.

We want you to nominate someone you think is going to be making a difference in 2020. Find out more about how to put the most inspiring thinkers, agitators and innovators forward for our top 100 here.

Illustration: Matthew Brazier