As the weather turns colder, Bupa is supporting the charity “Hands on London” with its winter campaign ‘Wrap Up London’.
At Bupa’s London headquarters office, a collection point for unwanted coats is being set up to support the vulnerable and homeless during the colder months. Here, Jon Meech, Chief Executive Officer for Hands On London, tells us about the campaign and how donating coats makes a difference
Please can you tell us about the campaign?
The campaign is entering its ninth year. We are now in 23 cities and towns across the UK. Last year, we collected over 27,000 warm coats across London, which we distributed to 100 community groups. We work with 1,200 volunteers and the campaign lasts for six weeks, as we go into the winter season.
We support all organisations that need coats, from small ones right up to big ones, such as Crisis at Christmas. We donate to organisations who work directly with vulnerable groups and believe that if shelters and community groups hand out the coats, it encourages people to come in from the cold for a warm drink and a conversation, which often leads to extra help. The coats are an invitation to giving more support.
Has homelessness got worse?
Officially, street homeless has slightly reduced but, in London it has increased dramatically – by about 50% over the last year. That’s roughly 22 more people per day. Unfortunately, that’s 4,000 people in London sleeping rough and 1 in 5 are women.
Homelessness is very much a symptom of other things; around half of those on the street are struggling with mental health. Substance mis-use is prevalent and many people don’t know their rights. Housing benefit doesn’t cover the rental prices, so if someone finds themselves unexpectedly unemployed, benefits won’t cover the rent.
What's the impact of coat donations?
Collections are incredibly important to us. Without these we wouldn’t be able to meet the need.
When you donate one of your coats, we send them to a warehouse, which has been kindly lent to us by one of our partners. Here, the volunteers sort the coats by gender and size, so we can respond to the need of the organisations supporting vulnerable groups. We check that the coats aren’t unwearable and then send them off to be distributed to those that need them. Wrap up London is almost entirely run and managed by volunteers, which is also what makes it so special.
Which charities receive the coats?
Half of our donations go to homeless charities, but we are working more with other charities in need, such as children’s charities, refugee charities, domestic violence charities, and hospitals who are discharging elderly patients in the winter. Sadly, we are seeing rise in schools asking for coats so that children can play outside during the winter months. It’s not always guaranteed that the children will have their own.
If you see someone on the streets, what should you do?
If you feel comfortable and would like to buy someone a hot drink or something to eat, it is always appreciated and welcome. If you see someone under the age of 18 it is perfectly correct to call 999, as they are extremely vulnerable. StreetLink is also a great app, which exists to enable members of the public to connect people sleeping rough with the local services that can support them.
Also, at its simplest level just a smile or asking someone how they are. Often, people who sleep rough say they feel invisible.