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Streets Kitchen project teams up with local libraries to fight period poverty

Tricky Period was set up by a small team of volunteers already working to support homeless people on the streets of London

A group of activists in London are taking an innovative approach to helping people in need access period products – by creating a unique partnership with local authority libraries.

Tricky Period, an offshoot of grassroots homeless outreach group Streets Kitchen, is putting free supplies in libraries where people low on funds can get what they need under a strict ‘no questions asked’ policy.

Anyone who needs to use the service can tick off the items they need on a form and hand it over to a librarian, who will go to to retrieve the necessary supplies just like if they were going to get a book.

“You don’t need to be homeless or be in a certain set of circumstances to use the service,” Tricky Period volunteer Caroline Allouf told The Big Issue. “But people will come in with all their ‘evidence’ like proof of their benefits. They can’t get their heads around us not being interested in any of that because they’re so used to having to prove themselves.”

Tricky Period was launched shortly before lockdown when Streets Kitchen volunteers were hearing increasing stories of people forced to shoplift for period products, and being caught short when living on the streets. As well as providing products in libraries in Haringey, Camden and Islington, they give away supplies to rough sleepers and through other grassroots initiatives.

That includes ShowerBox London, founded by Sarah Lamptey, who penned a piece for this week’s Big Issue outlining the gravity of hygiene poverty in the time of Covid-19. They also direct donations to mother and baby units – where specially-created welcome packs greet vulnerable new mums – and sex worker breakfasts around London. The initiative is as much about providing dignity as it is about meeting people’s basic health needs, Allouf said.

Tricky Period, like most grassroots groups supporting disadvantaged people, was seriously impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown. It meant pick-up points in libraries closed and the organisation had to move quickly to provide individual deliveries and set up temporary hubs in family centres. And, despite the Government’s Everyone In scheme, the team saw a growing number of people forced to sleep rough.

“It’s only getting worse and we’re seeing a lot more young women on the streets,” Allouf said. “We’re gradually starting to get back into libraries now. Some have had people phoning up asking when they could access products from them yet. People who were just managing before the pandemic, extra costs are pushing them over the edge now.”

So much stopped for the people most in need during the pandemic

Most products come directly from the public, with donation points set up in a number of Co-op supermarkets and even in a couple of pubs. Some local residents took it upon themselves to place boxes outside their homes and work with neighbours to fill them up with newly-bought period products.

While the team regroups after lockdown, they’re in the early stages of planning a Tricky Period hub for women to “come and hang out, get a tea or coffee, and really connect with others when they might not get that opportunity otherwise”. The volunteers have recognised demand for this among the women they support, Allouf said, and are keen to create an informal safe space that will also link up to other Streets Kitchen projects.

And Tricky Period is making it a priority to “grow the library model without relying on it,” Allouf said. “Now we’ve seen what can happen, like closures during lockdown. So much stopped for the people most in need during the pandemic, especially when it came to health. We’ll be prepared for that if it happens again.”

Click here for details of Tricky Period donation and pick-up points.

This week’s Big Issue explores hygiene poverty during the pandemic – we hear from determined campaigners making sure everyone has access to the period products and cleaning items they need to stay safe and healthy. It’s available now, from vendors all over the UK. If you’re unable to reach your local vendor, you can still subscribe to receive the magazine directly to your door or device via our print subscription or on The Big Issue app.