Saturday, 16 January 2016

Interview : Louise Cooke from the Sharewear Clothing Scheme

BFTF has been a fan of the Sharewear Clothing Scheme in Nottingham for some time, so was keen to take advantage of a recent opportunity to interview Louise Cooke, who kickstarted the project a few years ago. Sharewear provides emergency clothing, shoes and bedding to people in Nottingham who are currently in crisis. The organisation operates a strict referral system and is self funded.

A summary of the interview can be found below ! :

History of the scheme
Louise described how, in November 2012, Louise had visited the City of Sao Paulo in Brazil as part of the CAFOD "Connect2 programme" which aims to build links between cities in the developed and developing worlds. During the visit Louise was able to see the work CAFOD partners were doing in the favelas of the city...

"I came back all fired up by the community organising that I'd seen in Brazil and realised that in Nottingham there is great need and deprivation and I wanted to set something up in Nottingham that would tap into that need and help support people through it."

Louise went to recount how, soon after, she had been diagnosed with breastcancer and so had to put these plans on hold whilst undergoing treatment.

Whilst undergoing treatment, Louise's son, Matthew had been volunteering at Bullwell and Bestwood foodbank and mentioned to Louise that families were coming to the Foodbank asking for clothes and that there was nowhere in Nottingham the people in dire economic circumstances could go for free, as-new, good quality clothing and that "you should set it up Mum".

When Louise's treatment was completed and she had fully recovered, Louise approached Joe Tucker and other members of a local "Faith in Action" group at the Our Lady church in Bulwell to help get the scheme off the ground. Father Gerry Murphy at the Infant of Prague Church [backstory to that name here] kindly allowed some space at the front of the church to be used. Louise comments that "and two years on, things have gone crazy!"

Some of Sharewear's stock (by kind permission)

Why are people having to use the Sharewear clothing programme?

Louise described how the number of referral agencies has increased from about a dozen to around seventy and adds that:

"Initially most of our users were people who'd had benefits sanctioned and were trying desperately to get into work and were in a vicious cycle of not being able to do that because they didn't have decent clothes but because they had been sanctioned they couldn't afford to buy decent clothes...

...over the last 8-12 months, we now see a lot of victims of crime; a lot of recovering addicts of every kind; ex-offenders trying to rebuild their lives; and increasingly, recently, working families where both partners are working on zero hours contracts, low income contracts, and simply have to choose between sending their children to school in proper clothes or feeding them or paying bills or whatever it may be..."

..also, right from the outset, we have also helped refugees and asylum seekers, we have been supplying the Women's Culture Exchange at the Refugee Forum with clothing for nearly two years now- and also working with HOST, Arimathea Trust and the Refugee Forum themselves. And recently we have got involved with the co-ordinated response to the Syrian refugees who that are being placed in Nottingham by working with Gedling Borough Council and Nottingham City Council support workers...

A pre-sorted Sharewear pack of essentials,
ready to be provided to someone in need

The Special Question
Everyone who kindly agrees to an interview from BFTF is asked, at the end, a simple question that aims to recognise some of the blessings we have in this country. The question is "What do you think is the best thing about living in the UK?":

"Based on my trip to Sao Paolo in 2012 to the favelas and based on some of my experiences now as someone who works for the charity CAFOD part time, I would say one of the best things about living in the UK is that no matter how poor we are; no matter how austerity kicks in there are always support networks around to help us and also, most importantly, we've always got access to clean safe water and sanitation."

You can find out more about CAFOD here.

Beautiful art at the Infant of Prague Church