We might be a tiny charity based in the pretty village of Gnosall in Staffordshire, but that doesn't mean we can't achieve something amazing. Our collaboration with The Duchess of York was something truly amazing.
By: Chris Haycock, on 21 May 2020
It was the kind of email where you need to pick your jaw up from the floor after reading it.
It all started just seven weeks ago. And it changed EVERYTHING. One morning I sat down at my desk ready to work, and opened a curious-looking email addressed from Buckingham Palace.
The email explained that The Duchess of York wanted to distribute "SOS bags" to rough sleepers, and could she buy/donate 500 KipBags?
That's when my jaw detached from my chin.
Apart from the fact that this email originated from The Duchess of York's office, it also dawned on me that this amount of KipBags means that 1 in 8 officially-registered 'rough sleepers' in England could get a KipBag. That's almost 15% who will benefit from a little warmth, comfort and dignity.
As someone who spent a considerable amount of time as homeless, I knew these three little things - warmth, comfort, dignity - are incredibly important when you don't have a place to call home. That's why I started KipBag three years ago - to pay a little forward to help others.
For those that have stumbled across this post, KipBags are self-contained packs containing a sleeping bag, toiletries, warm clothing and other essentials that we make up and distribute to rough sleepers across the country.
Realising that KipBag would be ideally placed to supply these bags, after attempting to calm myself down I spent some time discussing the logistics of the plan with the Assistant Private Secretary to Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, who have been helping out with The York family's COVID reaction efforts. Incidentally, Libby and Becky have been truly incredible throughout... so "thank you both".
As a tiny (and I mean really tiny) charity that's run by five founders and trustees with full-time jobs, we realised that putting together FIVE HUNDRED KipBags was a mammoth task; one that we'd never attempted before. We're lucky to get enough donations for 500 in a YEAR!
That's an astonishing amount of people we could help in one fell swoop.
Throw into the mix the "COVID19 Lockdown", and we realised that we had a (nice) problem on our hands.
Despite some initial problems getting hold of stock in these difficult times, we already had an ace up our sleeve: thanks to the truly amazing team of ladies at "Hookers and Clickers", we had a lot of spare stock of items that make up a typical KipBag, such as hats, gloves, socks, toothpaste, face cloths and so on.
We've been working with Hookers and Clickers (set up by Joanne Brophy) for a few months, and the amount of assistance and donations we've had from their team of knitters has been astounding. Please do check them out - this team of wonderful ladies are amazing, and were critically important for this collaboration.
Thanks to this head start, I took a deep breath, and said "yes" to supplying the 500 KipBags to The Duchess, followed by a big gulp.
I knew that my business had to take a back seat for a while. Although I continued making face visors for our local key workers, this was far more important than my normal day-to-day work. It meant that we could serve the needs of those far more vulnerable than us. Saying cheerio to my current project, I took a deep breath, and began.
Looking back, getting hold of everything that makes up a KipBag was a nightmare. Wholesale companies had closed their doors, businesses weren't answering phones, emails were left unanswered. Logistically, it was a nightmare.
So I had to change the game, and think on my feet - in a similar way to when I was trying to get myself out of homelessness myself. I had to think smart - and act quickly. My biggest question was: "how do I get hold of all the items to make up 500 KipBags when half the country has shut up shop?".
Cue a tonne of phone calls, emails, shout-outs on social media.
Eventually, it worked. We were beginning to get items delivered.
And boy, did we know about it! My wife Lucy and I had to clear out our double garage just to fit everything in. There were boxes and boxes and more boxes piled high to the rafters with sleeping bags (thanks, Blacks Outdoor Clothing, who really pulled out the stops), warm clothing, toiletries, and so much more. And of course, Schoolbagsuppliers.com who we regularly order the outer bags from, and are always 100% reliable.
Bear in mind that we were in the midst of COVID19 - as we still are. With so many deliveries to our home we naturally wanted to protect our family, so we set up a disinfectant station in our front porch. Everything - and I mean EVERYTHING - was disinfected before being used to make up the KipBags.
It was a crying shame that we were unable to make use of KipBag's co-founders and trustees because of social distancing, but we knew we could make it work, even if we were nervous about whether it was achievable or not. After all, I'm a bit of a 'can-do' type of bloke.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
And so, over the course of many days, the whole family (me, my wife Lucy, and twin girls Emily and Lauren) set about putting them all together.
Because there are up to 15 items in each KipBag, this meant separating each item into boxes, and setting up a production line in our living room. We spent hour after hour packing the items into zip-bags until all 500 had been packed. It was a huge relief once they'd been done.
Next came the outer bags. Each bag had two tags - one for KipBag, and a bespoke tag from The Duchess of York's charity, Sarah's Trust. Of all the tasks, this was the most difficult. It was fiddly, time-consuming and at times painful (thanks to stabbing myself with the needle on the tag gun). but thanks to the fine weather, I was able to set up a garden desk in the sun (with a beer to hand) and ploughed my way through all 500 bags. Happy days. Once done, they looked amazing.
Suddenly, we realised that we were short of toothpaste and toothbrushes. My fault. I'd under-ordered. So a quick begging post on Facebook did the trick. Lots of people rallied around to gather lots of it, including my sister Claire Evans who donated a huge amount of toothbrush/paste kits from the stunning hotel she owns and runs, Mellington Hall Hotel in Powys.
Thanks Claire and Alistair. You did so much to make this all happen. Even my big sis Amanda Arnold got on the case too. She was straight on to the folks at Aquafresh - no messing. Thanks Manda.
Also coming up trumps was Jack Dawhra of Property Entrepreneurs Network who donated so much toothpaste we've now got an excess!
At this point, it seemed I had a hundred people all trying to get hold of toothpaste for me. To all those on the hunt... thanks everyone.
Finally, the time came to assemble all 500 into their bags. My family spent a couple of days putting all the items into their outer bags, and packed them into boxes of six all ready for distribution, including a large batch to The Duchess' home in Windsor.
Transportation could have been a problem, but thanks again to my sister Claire, it was easily sorted. With her husband Alistair Evans, who owns timber firm Charles Ransford & Son, they arranged for DR Ford Transport who donated their time, staff and fuel deliver a massive batch to The Royal Lodge.
Along with Nick at DR Ford Transport (who was an absolute superstar) we made our way down to The Duchess' home to drop off the KipBags. First, a large batch went to former High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, Vinod Tailor, who is actively supporting many charitable causes in his county. And the rest headed onwards towards Windsor.
On arrival, to our absolute surprise, we were welcomed not only by The Duchess' incredible team, but the Duke and Duchess themselves, who helped unload the lorry, chatting away whilst doing so!
I'm glad to say that I remembered Royal protocol, and I think I managed to address both the Duke and Duchess in the correct manner. My apologies if I didn't! What struck me was how warm, friendly and welcoming they all were. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised by this, but my occasional dealings with Royalty were while I was serving in the Royal Navy, where protocol and diplomacy were insisted upon.
What an experience! What a memory to have!
As if that wasn't enough, to thank our family for the work putting together the 500 KipBags, The Duchess presented us with gift bags to take home - a selection of goodies all perfectly packed up.
And to top it all, a signed copy of The Duchess' children's book with a personal note written by Her Royal Highness herself. Well, I could have cried when I read it. Both my girls were almost speechless, although Emily managed to blurt out, "I think I'm going to faint!".
Again, what an amazing experience - and keepsake that my girls will pass down through their own generations.
We're discussing ways to keep the relationship between The Duchess' charity and KipBag going on a regular basis, and while we won't have the capacity to regularly put together 500 in each batch (at least in the short-term), we're very keen to keep the ball rolling between our two charities.
From the initial batch, we've still got lots remaining which will be distributed to outreach groups, homeless charities and organisations across the UK. This will happen over the coming days.
Naturally, The Duchess of York expressed a wish for a batch of KipBags to be distributed to her namesake city of York, so we delivered a few boxes to Nicky Gladstone, Project Leader of Carecent. This wonderful organisation is a breakfast centre for all homeless, unemployed or otherwise socially excluded members of society, and they play an extremely valuable role in their local community.
Thank you so much, Nicky, for helping us to get these KipBags into the hands of some of the area's most vulnerable. We are very grateful for your help.
The initial rush of work to get the majority of the KipBags where they belong - ie to rough sleepers - has well and truly begun.
Today, another 20 KipBags were delivered to Haircuts 4 Homeless for distribution to rough sleepers in the north west of England. Thanks so much Wes Craig Heraty from marketing agency JamButty Ltd (pictured with funky glasses), who volunteered to deliver them to the H4H team in Manchester.
Once we've delivered all 500 KipBags to outreach groups, homeless organisations and charities, our work continues. The collaboration with The Duchess of York was a huge initiative, and means that we reached the point where we are legally obliged to become a registered charity. Until this point, our donations were low enough to operate as a unregistered charity without the paperwork and red tape. This collaboration changes everything - and we're excited about the prospect of becoming a registered charity.
It's a big step, but we're thrilled to have got to this stage.
To The Duchess of York and her incredible team: I raise a toast to thank you for your generosity, warmth and patience. While the logistics have been difficult due to COVID19, I hope that we have exceeded your expectations, and "pulled it out the bag". Please excuse the pun!
Our founders will be meeting as soon as 'lockdown' is lifted to discuss plans moving forward, so we can continue to supply KipBags to your charity, and to help give rough sleepers across the country with warmth, comfort, and dignity.
Finally, I'd like to extend my sincerest thanks to all those who have given up their time - or have offered their services in the future, including our local Councillor Gail Gregory at Gnosall Parish Council who dropped everything to help, Wes Heraty, Val Plummer, Jay Hassan, Shirley Palmer, Martin Dewhurst, Aadil Butt, Jay Nash, Carl Kilvington, and everyone who has donated KipBags, helped out, or given their time, money and resources.
And of course, many thanks to the continued support from our own co-founders and trustees, Amy Wood, Eric Farrow, Graeme Hesketh and Becki Skingsley.
Last, but certainly not least, a huge thank you to my wife Lucy and twin girls Lauren and Emily. There is absolutely no way that I could have done all this without your help. You've had to put up with my stress and anxiety, and I am grateful you've stood beside me. You are a wonderful family.
The KipBag team looks forward to being able to do whatever we can to serve the needs of society's most vulnerable people.
Having experienced homelessness himself, Chris now owns a successful digital publishing company, and runs a network of more than 30 websites, which attract almost 1 in 6 of the UK population each year.
Chris specialises in advanced digital marketing strategies, and has a range of services available to companies looking to boost their customers, conversion rates and sales.
To find out more about Chris' work, see his website, www.chrishaycock.co.uk.
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