Periods. They absolutely, categorically suck. So imagine not being able to afford the very things that spare you some dignity. In the age of austerity, this has become a problem for many women, so local lass Paige Bromley decided to start an organisation that makes it dead easy to donate products for those in need...
Tell us about The Monthly Gift Notts...
It’s a campaign to collect sanitary towels for the homeless, and for women who can’t get access to them, who are maybe on benefits, things like that. We have one donation box in Cow at the moment and then one at the University of Nottingham. UoN give them to an organization called the Souprunners [https://www.su.nottingham.ac.uk/healthcare/medsoc/clubsocs/homed/] who provide food, blankets and now sanitary towels to homeless people. I take the ones that have been collected in Cow and give those out to Emmanuel House in the Lace Market.
What inspired you to create The Monthly Gift Notts?
There’s a lady called Christina who lives in Manchester and she set up The Monthly Gift Manchester which I saw on my Facebook a couple of times and thought was really cool. I looked into it and I realized that actually this is a really big thing. It’s not something you really think about. At least, I never thought about it. You don’t realize women go through that and don’t have the access. There’s actually nothing provided, apart from donations by the general public who might think to take something along to the homeless shelter. There definitely wasn’t anything on a big enough scale to keep up with the demand.
What are the physical and mental effects of surviving without sanitary products?
Obviously it’s really unhygienic. When you have a period, it can be quite messy especially if it’s a heavy one and you have to just use tissues. Sometimes, if people have access to tampons, they’ll use one for however many days on end and not be able to change it. There are things like TSS [toxic shock syndrome] and that’s a really big problem. If the women want to wash, they have to go anywhere they can find water but to clean that area when it’s messy is really difficult. It’s quite an emotional time. There are biological, emotional things about being on your period – when you’re homeless, you still feel those. Then having to worry about cleaning yourself... it’s not something anyone should have to deal with.
Have you got any examples of how campaigns like The Monthly Gift have helped women?
I started this last summer so it’s relatively new here. I’ve only done one big donation but others like the one in Manchester have connections with homeless organizations. They are really happy with that – saying they’ve never had these kinds of donations before, and now they can offer this service to women.
How can people donate products, and what should they donate?
Ideally unopened boxes or packets of tampons, sanitary towels, hygiene wipes and maybe underwear but that’s not really what I’m focusing on right now. They don’t have to be branded, they can just be Wilkos. Anything is helpful. Take them to Cow and you will get 10% off there. There’s a big pink bin right in front of their door and you just drop them in. That’s really good if you want to go vintage shopping too. If you’re a University of Nottingham student, you can go to the Student’s Centre and drop things off there.
You were working with Rough Trade to collect sanitary products, how have the local community responded to your campaign?
There’s an event called Fan Club, run by two girls who are very much about female empowerment and equality. They approached me in December to say they would love to have a donation box at their event because it ties in with their ethos. I took it along and we collected loads – so many people bought stuff. They said that if I wanted to put a box at the other events, I could just bring it along. It’s great to have all these people involved. The local community is really behind it. I wouldn’t always be the kind of person to approach others, so it’s nice that everyone has been so welcoming and open towards it. It makes it way easier to promote. I’m just one person and so my Instagram and Twitter can only do so much, but with other people involved the word spreads much quicker.
It’s great to see local support from Cow vintage too...
They were the ones that approached me about it. Cow had originally emailed Christina because she has a box in their shop in Manchester. They asked if there was anything in Nottingham that they could help out with, and it was at the same time I was emailing her saying that I wanted to help here, asking how to get involved. Really good timing.
There’s still a sense of taboo around periods. Do you think that the taboo has stopped women getting the help they need or being able to voice a need for it?
Men don’t want to talk about periods, women don’t want to talk about periods, no one wants to talk about periods. It’s such a silly thing because everyone has them, everyone is on this earth because of them. I think it does stand in the way because nobody wants to say they are on their period and ask how to get stuff. It’s a shame because a lot of people are quite conservative, and they think it makes them look dirty but it’s a natural thing, you can’t get rid of it or avoid it.
On a related tangent, the tampon tax is adding up to £15 million a year in the UK, what’s your opinion on sanitary products being taxed while other items like Viagra are tax free?
It makes me angry because for a women it’s an essential. If they took the tax off them, it might make it more accessible to people. Viagra isn’t an essential thing, it might be a shame for you but it’s not an essential. I think it’s a lot about how society is structured – as a woman, the things you need are always going to be seen as less important. That’s quite a sweeping statement, but you know what I mean. It’s considered a luxury item and it’s not a luxury item.
What are your hopes for the future of the campaign?
I’m hoping in the future to approach more businesses and ask them to give a discount if people are donating. It’s not something I’ve started organizing yet, but when this gets a bit more popular that’s what I’d like to do. There are so many independent businesses in Nottingham and I hope they would like to be involved. In Manchester, it’s so busy. They do so many things with other women’s organizations. Lots of collaborations. I would love for ours to be that big, to be a thing that everyone in Nottingham knows about.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to LeftLion readers?
I’d love everyone to give a donation – every little one makes such a difference. Also to tell people about it – getting the word out there is the hardest bit. I would love people to read it and tell their friends, maybe if they’re part of a society at uni, or a girl’s sports team, to organize a collection and donate.
Fan Club and Default This Promotions present Pet Crow at Rough Trade, Friday 24 February, 7pm, free.
Cow Vintage Nottingham, 3 Carlton Street, NG1 1NL.