Beth Meadows, 23, cares about ending period poverty. She’s been the lead volunteer with the Liverpool-based branch of national campaigning organisation The Homeless Period since they started up two years ago.
The grassroots organisation campaigns for free access to menstrual products for homeless women. This vulnerable group aren’t only hit by the tampon tax of 5% – but also by a lack of access to clean shelter.
The Homeless Period collects sanitary items donated by the public and distributes them to local organisations like women’s refuges and food banks.
But having seen demand for their services grow while challenges around funding continue, it hasn’t always been easy.
We asked Beth her four top tips for running a successful organisation.
1. Consult the community
Your first point of call has to be whether there is a need for your organisation. A desire to volunteer doesn’t mean there’s always a need for services. So consulting the community you’re wanting to help is absolutely necessary. You need to start asking questions:
- What other organisations are already working in this area?
- How are they tackling the issue?
- What do they think of your idea?
- And what gap are you hoping to fill – and how?
Our organisation did this when we reached out to different agencies for advice. We wanted to know if they believed there was a genuine need for sanitary products. Luckily, there was a national branch who had experience of supporting local activists to set up their own organisations.
They pointed us to local homelessness and women’s charities to see whether they would have use for donations. Taking advantage of existing structures is important. It ensures that your intervention is worthwhile and helps make sure you don’t duplicate the work of other services.
2. Recruit volunteers and build a network
Once it’s been established that there’s a need for what you want to do, you need to recruit volunteers. It’s not a surprise that those running the organisation will take on the vast majority of the workload. But sharing the responsibility and tapping into groups who have the resources to help – like time-rich young people – can make a movement much more productive.
At The Homeless Period Liverpool, we reached out to everyone from university students to professionals through social media to see if they wanted to volunteer their time and/or resources.
From the connections we made, it helped our sanitary pack making sessions become a reality. Without the university students we’d got on board, we wouldn’t have been able to set up donation bins at the student union or use the venue for many of our sessions.
Without the help of professionals in work we wouldn’t have been able to be part of events such as exhibitions and panel discussions which have raised our profile.
3. Take feedback and evaluate your work
Collecting feedback from the people you work with is a pillar of good practice as it helps ensure their voices are heard while you help them. It empowers those people in circumstances where they’re having to depend on the compassion of others – and recognising our privilege as volunteers in this way is essential to delivering a fair and ethical service.
We collected feedback from the charities we distribute the sanitary packs to about what the people that receive them want most. Giving tampons to refugee and asylum seeker charities when the women who access them prefer pads for cultural reasons is counterproductive – and it also shows an arrogance that the giver of aid knows best.
4. Develop your idea to ensure it’s sustainable
The world is continually changing, sometimes evolving and often taking backwards steps. This impacts the needs of people who rely on volunteers to help. You should develop your organisation with their best interests in mind – even if this means the end goal is for it to cease to exist!
My ICS experience volunteering with Pravah taught me a lot about sustainable community development. Living in a rural society near Ajmer in the north helped me understand the value of giving ownership and agency to the people you’re working as a deliverer of charity.
After two years as an organisation creating and distributing sanitary packs, we decided we needed a more sustainable approach to period poverty. The packs are a short-term fix to a problem only solved by policy change.
We don’t want to be making them for years to come because in a country as rich as the UK, we shouldn’t need to. We decided to look more towards lobbying and campaigning local and national governments to end period poverty.
We want our campaign to be as strong and clear as possible, and believe bringing together the many various period poverty organisations across the country to set out our objectives together is the best approach.
The work I’ve done with The Homeless Period Liverpool has taught me a lot about values in our society. In an increasingly divisive world, it’s easy to lose faith in our people power.
I was recently speaking at a recording of The Guilty Feminist podcast and collecting money as people left. But despite not expecting to bring in much, we ended up raising over £500. It was a timely reminder that young people can be effective in bringing about change.
To find out more about The Homeless Period Liverpool, click here.