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The indignity of hygiene poverty

By August 2, 2020No Comments

Liadán Hynes speaks to Ciara Dalton from The Hygiene Bank about how they got started, what services they provide and the work they’re doing to end hygiene poverty…


Describe the work The Hygiene Bank Dublin does, and why it started in the first place?

We collect and donate hygiene, personal grooming and household essentials to those who cannot afford them or do not have access to them, as we believe that no one should be experiencing hygiene poverty in 21st century Ireland. We set up drop-off locations across the city which allow the public to donate to on their weekly shop or morning coffee run, whatever the situation may be. We are a group of volunteers who have been operating since November 2019 and have provided between 35,000 to 40,000 items to those in need since then.

The Hygiene Bank started in the UK in 2018 after the founder, Lizzy Hall watched I, Daniel Blake and essentially discovered that hygiene poverty existed; she then set up very locally in Kent, and the idea just took off from there. Rosie (the Dublin project coordinator) moved here in September 2019 and was shocked at the levels of rough sleepers in the city centre. She had heard of The Hygiene Bank in the UK and realised that there wasn’t anything similar here in Ireland, and so decided to set up a project. Since then, we have expanded the team in Dublin to ten lovely volunteers and have set up projects in Galway and Donegal.

What is meant by hygiene poverty?

Hygiene poverty means not being able to afford many of the everyday essential items that most of us take for granted. It is struggling to wash your hair because you cannot afford shampoo or not being able to replace a toothbrush when needed or not being able to wash clothes, uniforms or sports kits as often as required. Unfortunately, hygiene poverty is simply not discussed in Ireland and so very little research has been done into it.

There is a huge focus on food banks and food poverty, but not necessarily hygiene poverty. It is a strange one, as we know it exists because of the organisations that we work with, but we cannot say for certain that x amount of people are struggling with it. About 20% of the population lives in consistent poverty or is at risk of poverty, and we can only speculate just how many of those people (and more) were impacted financially by the coronavirus outbreak. The reality is that even though Ireland has (pre-pandemic at least) one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe, and despite an increase in employment and high levels of economic growth, a significant portion of our population are still living in very difficult circumstances.

Who are the people you are working with?

We have four consistent community/charity partners that we donate to on a bi-weekly basis, they are Merchants Quay Ireland, Inner City Helping Homeless, Crosscare (who work with 5-6 food banks every week) and the Bluebell Community Development Project. We also do urgent appeals for organisations if they find themselves in particular need and through this have donated to people living in poverty, women’s refuges, child and family resources centres, direct provision centres and to people who had to cocoon because of Covid. Our work centres around providing people with dignity. We strive to remember that there is a person or household behind every single donation that we give out. We hope in the future to work with schools and local councillors to really affect change in our communities and Ireland as a whole.

What are the main problems facing those you support?

There is a wide range of issues. We work directly with already established charities or organisations who know the very specific needs of their clients/community. Essentially, supporting the Hygiene Bank is a simple way to help many charities tackling a wide range of issues from poverty to homelessness to domestic abuse to rehabilitation services. We only donate items which we know will be of some benefit to the organisations and remain in steady contact with them to ensure that they are getting the most out of our donations.

What can people do to help?

There are a few different ways people can help. First and foremost, we ask that people spread the word about what we do, the reality is that there is an awful lot of need in Dublin and the surrounding areas, so the more people that know about us the better.

We ask those that are in a position to, to add an item or two to their weekly shop and donate them to one of our drop off points. Hygiene items are usually always on offer and so picking up one or two every so often won’t make that much difference to those who can afford it, but honestly mean the absolute world to those who do not have access. We currently have drop off locations in the Laundry Mat Stillorgan, Templeogue Barbers and Blackrock Cellar (with more opening up very soon). We also have some of our lovely followers hosting collections in their houses which are based in Dublin 3, Dublin 7 and Dublin 15 (details can be found the highlight section of our Instagram @thehygienebankdublin). If this does not suit, we have a fundraising page which is linked across all of our social media accounts.

We have just launched our back to school campaign in an attempt to help struggling families with essential hygiene packs so that no child has to go to school without access to some of the most everyday items that most of us take for granted. So if people would like to help, we ask that they choose whether they could like to support a primary or secondary school child and pick up some items from the list on our Instagram.

Photo by bored photographer on Unsplash