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‘Hygiene shaming is a huge obstacle for kids’

For children whose families live in poverty, back to school means a return to bullying and social exclusion because they can’t access hygiene products. Now Beauty Banks, a charity set up by PR guru Jo Jones and journalist Sali Hughes, is campaigning for an end to hygiene shaming among children

Beauty Banks

Teaming up with Superdrug and GoFundMe, the Beauty Banks team have raised nearly £26,000 for disadvantaged pupils – and they reckon even more children will be living in hygiene poverty this term as a result of the pandemic. Having heard from 38 per cent of teachers that they were already discreetly providing for kids out of their own pockets, Beauty Banks will support schools in need with deliveries of brand new toiletries and hand out education packs to other schools to help kids understand the issue better. The Big Issue caught up with co-founder Sali Hughes to learn more.

The Big Issue: Why are you focusing on hygiene poverty in schools?

Sali Hughes: Many children, not meaning to be horrible, might remark on someone’s odour or appearance and don’t realise the massive hindrance that poses to lots of their peers. As well as feeding into shame, hygiene poverty is a huge obstacle to playing and socialising and all the things kids should be doing. That’s why we’re specifically looking at children who are teased and bullied at school because of their lack of personal hygiene and access to the products. 

How were schools tackling hygiene poverty before now?

What people don’t really realise – and what our independent research found – was that teachers already try to fight this. They already identify a need in their kids, discreetly take them to one side and give them toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, sanitary products and so on. Many of the teachers interviewed for our survey do it regularly. What we wanted to do is scale that up – we don’t see why teachers should be paying out of their own pockets if we can help them.

The campaign has already seen a big response. What’s next in your plan to tackle hygiene shaming?

The response has been incredible. Our approach is two-pronged: we want to raise funds so we can give away more product but we also really want people to understand the phenomenon of hygiene shaming in relation to children. The amount of conversation that’s happened since we launched the campaign has been really rewarding. 

We will directly send schools brand new, unused toiletries that have been donated to us by brands or bought by cash donations we’ve received. Normally we distribute through foodbanks, homeless shelters, family centres, and we do already supply to some schools but we want to provide to more.

We’re also trying to get kids involved in collecting. Lots of schools may not have this need but the kids do need to learn that the problem exists, so we are helping them to collect donations on our behalf and matching them with another school or children’s charity nearby to keep their donations local.

Finally we’re providing education packs so they can have that dialogue with pupils in class. It’s not just about handing out products, it’s also about helping children understand that their words have consequences on the mental health of other children. 

How has the Covid-19 crisis impacted Beauty Banks?

The need has spiked in most areas of the charity sector while donations have gone down. We’ve been very fortunate in that we’ve managed to increase our donations and provided toiletries to around 180 registered charities during the pandemic. That is as well as frontline workers, where we acted as a conduit from private companies who wanted to donate products to key staff. 

It’s very hard for people to engage with charity at the moment because they’re worried sick about their own lives. They’re worried about their children, keeping a roof over their own heads and staying in work. It’s really hard, understandably, for people to think about sacrificing what cash they have when everything seems so insecure. 

How long will school needs be a focus of what Beauty Banks does?

Any school that wants our help with education packs, or needs us to go and talk there, that will all be happening in the next couple of months. In terms of schools who need donations from us because their kids are in real need, we will endeavour to help them for as long as we possibly can just like we do our existing charities. If they have to go on our permanent recipient list then they will and we’ll keep serving them for as long as people donate to us. We will not abandon them when the media flurry around this campaign has gone. 

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