Our everyday difficult choice.
Prior to Covid as the United Kingdom continued to grow in wealth and prosperity, one thing was becoming increasingly common. I would say it’s an unavoidable experience felt by many moving throughout cities across the country; the moment in which you notice an individual with nothing left. People who, with little to no support network, and perhaps without money, food, clothes or shelter, live in our country under societies radar.
In these moments, I’m left to make a choice. Should I be giving this person money or should I be buying them food? It’s a difficult question faced by many of us, and a lot of the time the moment’s gone before we can make a decision and we are left with a feeling of guilt: We didn’t help.
It’s a feeling that makes me feel more uncomfortable every time I experience it, especially after walking away, kidding myself that “if I had given them money directly I wouldn’t truly be helping, just exacerbating their situation”. But one question seems to underpin every encounter of this kind, how can I best support these people?
Having retired from my career, I found myself one morning waking up and realising I had no responsibility to even get out of bed! My wife had gone to work and my children to school, so if I wanted, I could stay lying in bed all day. Laying in bed and staring out at the grey sky, rain beating heavily on the window pane, I began to imagine my very situation, the sudden lack of purpose that can come with retirement, but without the luxuries around me. What if I wasn’t in my bed, tucked up warm and dry, knowing I had the finances to support myself in the future? What if I was sleeping rough on the streets, with no family or friends, no shelter, no food, no change of clothes, no purpose. How dreadful would that all be!
Thinking of what I could do that made use of the limited skills and experience I had to offer to those suffering on our streets, I mapped out what I understood to be already existing support for those sleeping rough. There are food banks and soup kitchens proving food to those most in need and there are charities and support units providing short-term and longer-term accommodation, which all do their best to tackle issues surrounding rough sleeping. Although provisions for food and shelter already exist, I wasn’t particularly aware of any provision for these people in need when it came to clothing. Are people just scraping together what they can from wherever they can to protect themselves from the elements?
What if there could be a way to connect those in need with clothes that already exist?
It’s almost ironic that we have a growth in the charity shop sector on our high streets. More people are donating their unwanted clothes to these shops, yet we have this problem wherein people in need are unable to get access to clothes. If a mechanism could be created in which those in need could access the stock held at charity shops, we would not only be providing them with clothes we would also be restoring dignity in the individual to the act of clothing oneself.
This is the genesis of the vision of Clothing Collective; where any individual in need can readily go into any charity shop, anywhere in the country, and choose their own clothes.
How does it work?
In order to work the mechanism, I started partnering with charity shops who would accept vouchers in return for clothing stock held at their shops.
I explored the different possibilities of reaching those in need and began to partner with charities such as food banks, shelters, etc, who would distribute our vouchers to those people they identified who needed them most. They could then distribute our vouchers to their beneficiaries to then redeem at one of our ‘charity shop partners’. It seems like a win-win scenario, those in need get access to clothing in a humane way, our ‘voucher distributing partners’ are able to support their beneficiaries in an additional way, and our ‘charity shop partners’ are able to shift more stock from their stores across the country generating additional revenue for their charity.
We are continuously looking for ways to fund our voucher scheme, the mechanism that underpins the work of Clothing Collective as we are already partnering with a number charity shops where our vouchers are accepted in exchange for clothes. Such charities as Vision Foundation, Geranium, Royal Trinity Hospice, Fara, Wandsworth Oasis, and the Salvation Army and we work with many other charities who distribute vouchers on our behalf such as Food Banks, SPEAR, Glass Door and many others.
With your support we can continue to help people in our society to clothe themselves and restore some dignity.