2016 has probably been the year of those pesky echo chambers and realising the extent of the bubble we live in. Although it’s important to live a full and varied life, memes and all, it’s also impossible to ignore the challenging situations that are running parallel to our lives. It’s also hard to know exactly what to do. I’m holding my hands up now and admitting that I haven’t done much, apart from a few charity shop deposits and sponsoring the odd person running around a park. I want to give back, but it can seem overwhelming and other things get in the way.
As part of my ongoing work with Collect Plus, I was invited to find out a little bit more about the Wrap Up London initiative. It’s taken me on a bit of a journey and I thought I’d share a few facts and ways that you can make a difference all year round.
Ever heard of a ‘coat drive?’ Wrap Up London actually emerged from an American tradition, where unwanted coats are collected and distributed to a variety of charities, including homeless shelters, refugee centres and women’s refuges. Founder Elizabeth Grier-Menager started up the campaign in 2010. She’d volunteered for a similar service in New York and wanted to do something flexible that she could fit in alongside a busy City job. Wrap Up London has grown immensely via word-of-mouth and spans 3 months, from the initial promotion to the final closing party. The idea is that not everyone can necessarily donate time, but they can donate a coat and spread the word. It’s manageable and can collectively make a massive difference.
I was always aware of the campaign, but due to the freelance nature of my lifestyle, I ended up missing a lot of the collection points at train stations. This year Collect Plus supplied labels that could be downloaded from their website, allowing people to drop off coats at one of their 5,800 stores. It’s such a good idea and meant that you could send up to 10kg worth at your own leisure.
Thanks to the power of social media, over 22,000 coats have been collected, sorted and distributed to over 100 charities this year.
Things you probably wouldn’t know
- Homeless people are just one of the groups that are helped by Wrap Up London’s network of charities (it comes in at 59%). Things often start with a coat and lead to so much more. We went to Divine Rescue in Camberwell where vulnerable groups can get three meals a day, advice and a listening ear. There’s a few people who’ve been supported by them and turned their lives around, who now come back to help.
- They’ve found some strange bits in pockets (yes, that thing you’re probably thinking) but most people have been pretty respectful. Nothing goes to waste, even the odd real fur coat turns up and animal charities use them as bedding for baby animals. One lady brought a coat all the way from Belfast and the most poignant donation was a dozen or so red duffle coats from a private school.
Ways you can help
First and foremost, it’s important to make sure that you’re well and mentally healthy. This is definitely something I’m aware of, as a freelancer I have to remember that I’m my own best asset. If I’m all over the place, then that’s no help to anyone else. Donating money is of course great, but sometimes there are other skills that can be of use too:
- Offer social media support to charities. A lot of small charities don’t have a Twitter or Facebook presence, which is where the majority of us millennials are constantly checking. If you have a local foodbank or women’s shelter, see if you can offer your services, even if it’s just by retweeting a few of their tweets and raising awareness. I am hoping to help Divine Rescue with their social media strategy in 2017.
- Donate warm clothing directly to shelters. Even though Wrap Up London is over now, you can still drop items off to those in need. Coats, scarves and jumpers from years ago are a no brainer and at least you know that it can make more of an immediate impact. Just make sure it’s in a condition that you would be happy to receive yourself, spray coats with a bit of fabric freshener and make sure there are no rips or dirty marks. Men’s items are always sparse, so make you ask your boyfriends, brothers or Dads if they have any bits to donate.
- Check out the Hands On London events page to find out about charities and possible opportunities all year round. Corinne Redfern also has a great Twitter thread going and I know that Lucy and Carrie have done bits for North London Cares. There’s now also Wrap Up Manchester and plenty of interest in other parts of the UK. It’s quite interesting to see charities starting from scratch and inspiring others to get involved, thanks to social media. Who knows how many more there’ll be in a few years time?
This project has definitely made me want to get out of my bubble more often and try to help people less fortunate. Life can be overwhelming, so the thing is to start small and hope that it can eventually make a bigger impact. Even a few hours of your time is an improvement and I’m sure that most of us will want to spread some positivity, after such an unpredictable year.
Wrap Up London is going to be included as an innovation in the City Now/City Future exhibition next year, which explores the current challenges facing global cities and the exciting responses. Definitely one to add to the list!