Wellness

Meet the woman fighting hygiene poverty

After poring over the entries for the Boots-sponsored Wellness Warrior category in the Women Of The Year awards, we introduce our winner Lizzy Hall
Interviews: Gemma Calvert. Photography: Victoria Adamson, Ursula Kelly. Hair and make-up: Lindsey Poole

‘Imagine this: you have to empty the contents of your baby’s soiled nappy and reapply the nappy because you can’t afford to change it. You smell because you don’t have deodorant. You can’t wash your hair because you have no shampoo. And at your time of the month you’re housebound because you’ve no money to buy sanitary products. This is hygiene poverty. And it’s shaming, isolating and excluding.

Hygiene poverty – the truth

‘For many of the 14.3 million people in Britain living in poverty, these scenarios are a daily reality. Two-thirds of those who are defined as living in poverty in the UK are working families, whose earnings and costs of living don’t marry up. Mothers are increasingly prioritising feeding their family over buying hygiene products, while young women are going hungry to save themselves the humiliation of showing up at college or work with greasy hair and body odour. Furthermore, in the last five years, 80% of teachers have seen an increase in the number of pupils coming to school looking unwashed and in dirty clothes, and found themselves intervening (by buying essentials such as soap and toothpaste) at an increasing rate. Nearly half of all teachers said they’d seen bullying because of hygiene issues.

Grass roots action

‘I only realised the true scale of the problem last summer after watching I, Daniel Blake, an amazing British film that highlights the reality of living in poverty. In one scene, a young single mum goes to a food bank and asks for some sanitary products, which they don’t have. Later in the film, she’s caught shoplifting sanitary towels, deodorant and razors.

‘Last summer, after visiting my local food bank – which confirmed they only received toiletries on an ad hoc basis (like me, many people donate things like dried pasta and tinned food), I sent a WhatsApp message to friends, asking for unwanted toiletries. The response was overwhelming. Within a couple of days I needed a proper collection bin! Then people further afield began asking to drop off products, so I got some shops in the surrounding villages on board. It was extremely moving. People wanted to help. All I had to do was find a way to facilitate that. The concept was similar to a food bank, so The Hygiene Bank seemed an obvious name that people would understand. And when I set up an Instagram account, @thehygienebank, it truly exploded.

Making a difference

‘We have collection and drop-off points nationwide and redistribute everything to a mapped network of partners within localities – food banks, women’s refuges, social services and, now, schools. The biggest reward is hearing stories of the tangible impact we’re having. The very first time I delivered to a local food bank, a mum turned to her children and said, “You can get a toothbrush each!”

‘I don’t believe we can say “not my child, not my problem”. It doesn’t take a lot to donate a bottle of shampoo, but it’s life-changing for a teenager who doesn’t have it. We all have to take social responsibility, but I can’t stress enough that every little bit helps, and giving back doesn’t have to take hours of your time, or even mean contributing money. During your next clear-out, for instance, give any surplus hygiene products to a food bank – or us. And spread the word about the charities you love by sharing info concerning campaigns on social media.

‘The past 12 months have been a whirlwind, and winning this award has completely blown me away. It means a massive amount and it’s an acknowledgement of everyone who got behind the idea. I couldn’t have done this alone.’

Watch this space

‘We were so impressed by Lizzy’s achievements that we are now looking to work with her to roll The Hygiene Banks out into selected stores in the New Year.” Helen Normoyle Director of Marketing, Boots UK

 

The runners-up

Nadine Cooper

CONFIDENCE-BOOSTING CHOIR FOUNDER

Nadine Cooper, 52, from West Bridgford, Nottingham, founded Tuneless Choir, a network of singing groups for those who lack the ability or confidence to join a regular choir. Since 2016, thousands of members have enjoyed the wellbeing benefits of ‘singing like no one is listening’.

‘The most moving feedback I’ve had since setting up the choir was from a lady who said her parents had died within a few months of each other and she’d fallen out with the rest of her family – she didn’t think she’d still be around if it wasn’t for Tuneless Choir, as she’d got so much joy from it and had a new social life. To many, it’s an escape from very stressful lives. I think our bodies are hard-wired to give us good feelings when we sing together, plus it’s a form of mindfulness – you become completely present when focused on the music. We’ve had some harsh criticism from people in the music profession, so I feel like a warrior wanting to make singing available to everyone. I feel lucky to have found this light-hearted way of making life more bearable – even joyful – for others.’

 

Dr Stephanie de Giorgio

MATERNAL MENTAL HEALTH CHAMPION

Dr Stephanie de Giorgio, 43, a mum of two from Kent, had antenatal and postnatal depression before establishing, with Dr Carrie Ladd, a group of GP Champions who advise other healthcare professionals on perinatal mental health. Since the programme started in March, over 1,000 have been trained to ‘look behind the smile’. Stephanie is now joint GP lead for Perinatal Mental Health, NHS England.

‘The effect of a traumatic delivery can be lifelong. I remember talking to an 80-year-old woman and it was still affecting her. Then there was a woman I met in my A&E job, who’d come in with a gynaecological problem. Her baby was over a year old, but she’d been suffering with postnatal depression the whole time and nobody had picked up on it. I said,“Tell me about the delivery”, and the floodgates opened. My intervention that day changed her life, because she then sought counselling. Just being able to look behind the smile, to be aware of the efforts women make to hide their problems, was a pivotal moment. To make a big difference, it doesn’t take much, just people who care.’

Special mention

Rhiane Fatinikun

STEREOTYPE CHALLENGER

Rhiane Fatinikun, 32, is a civil servant from Bolton. She founded Black Girls Hike UK, @bgh_uk, earlier this year to bring black women together on hikes to tackle discrimination and build friendships as they enjoy the tranquility of rural areas.

‘We’re challenging stereotypes and addressing prejudice. You don’t see many black faces in anything to do with the outdoors – ads for outdoor clothing, for example. And often, minorities tend to live in more built-up areas, so their access to the countryside is limited. Some people have turned up who’ve never been on a country walk before! So far, I’ve organised seven walks involving 60 people, and those who attend look up to me. That brings such a sense of pride. I’m really proud of my group. I started struggling with anxiety this year, but when I’m out with my group, it really de-stresses me. Being outdoors puts things into perspective. I’ve also found that my confidence has increased and I have a new outlook on life, because if I want to change something, I know it’s possible. I definitely feel more empowered.’

So, what are the Women Of The Year Awards?

• For more than 60 years, trailblazing women from all walks of life have been celebrated.
• This year, Boots has sponsored a new Wellness Warrior category to honour selfless, brave and compassionate females, using health or wellness to make the world better.