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Activism

Take One Leave One: The winter coat project helping to change lives

Take One Leave One does more than simply give away winter clothing – it’s having a huge impact on guests and volunteers.

Every Friday afternoon, charity worker Hayley Eroeola sets up a clothes rail underneath the railway arches in Vauxhall, London. She fills it with warm clothing – coats, jackets and jeans – and piles a table high with food. A sign reads “If you are cold take one, if you can help leave one,” and guests come to take a coat, choose a tune for the boombox and chat over a cup of tea.

Eroeola set up the site in January, after seeing a tweet about  the Take One Leave One campaign. The idea is simple: set up a rail and a sign in a public place, and help people donate and take winter clothing if they need it.  

“I just thought, okay, that’s something I can do,” said Eroeola.

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“It’s sad to say that it is very well attended,” she said. “It’s really sad to know that so many people need things.”  

The stall gives away nearly 30 items of clothing every week, but Eroeola says the need is greater than just food and coats.

“A lot of the guys who come to us on a Friday, they say this is the only place where you can come and talk and hang out,” she said. “For some of them, we’re the only people that they speak to from week to week.”

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At the Take One Leave One rail in Peckham, a guest wraps up warm in a winter hat, coat and scarf.
Credit: Take One Leave One

Last week, the Vauxhall team hosted a launch event to encourage even more people to get involved with Take One Leave One this winter. Last year, over 30 rails were set up across the UK, many by furloughed workers. The sites are outdoors, with additional safety measures to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.

One volunteer in attendance was homeless when he first started coming along back in February. After spending time with the team, he has now found accommodation and comes back each week to serve hot drinks to the guests.

Also at the launch event were volunteers Comfort and Victor, who set up a rail in Thornton Heath, as well as Take One Leave One’s very own mascot – Farringdon Bear, a homeless stuffed koala who was found on a train earlier this year and whose search for his owner went viral.

“It was beautiful, it really brought tears to my eyes,” said Stefan Simanowitz, who set up London’s first Take One Leave One rail outside his office in 2018, after seeing a similar idea in the US and Mexico. “It really felt like this was something that was part of the community, something that has grown from the grassroots upwards.

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“We always launch at this time of year because it’s the run up to Christmas when everyone is encouraged to think about their neighbours and think about goodwill.

“But it’s obscene that in a country which is one of the biggest economies in the world, that we are needing to do this.

“This isn’t a solution to the problems that we face in this country and around the world. It’s a sticking plaster. What is needed is his government action.”

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