Four years ago, Accrington Rotarian Ann-Marie Etherington was visiting London on business when she spotted a statue outside Paddington station dressed in coats.
They were promoting a homeless initiative organised by Hands On London. For more than a decade, the organisation has been collecting, sorting and distributing warm winter coats during winter to the capital’s homeless via various charities who have direct contact with the homeless.
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By adopting this approach, it often provides a gateway for someone to access services and help them get back on their feet.
WrapUp London has become one of the charity’s biggest volunteering events, which has seen around 180,000 coats distributed and 87 projects supported.
Ann-Marie discussed what she had seen with her now fellow team members, Malcolm and Jacquie Baldwin and Pam Holgate at a Blackburn Rotaract Charter night. It was agreed that they would take the idea forwards.
It’s amazing that a donated coat could kick-start a relationship between those in need and the charities that can help them by providing year-round services and support.”
The idea was discussed with clubs in East Lancashire and, as a result, WrapUp Lancashire was hatched with the blessing of Hands On London.
In the first year, 2018, the project operated within a two-month window, October and November in preparation for the cold weather setting in for the winter.
Seven Rotary clubs in East Lancashire partnered for WrapUp Lancashire, collecting 2,300 items of winter clothing with 10 local charities benefitting.
Following feedback from the charities, it was decided the following year to extend the project across the whole of the Cumbria and Lancashire Rotary District. Some clubs in the Manchester area also joined in and there was even an outpost in Chelmsford!
By 2019, more than 40 Rotary clubs were involved, resulting in some 35,000 items of winter clothing being collected and distributed to 170 charities.
In early 2020, the team were contacted by the Trustees of Hands On London, who had followed the WrapUp campaigns over the past two years.
They were so impressed by their success that they wanted to forge a partnership with Rotary.
WrapUp Lancashire changed its name to WrapUp UK to reflect the ambition of the team to drive the project nationwide, and which was launched at Volunteer Expo last May.
Today, there are 15 clusters involving more than 50 Rotary clubs. Within that number there are newcomers to the project including Bury, Cardiff, Middlesbrough, Lanarkshire, Tameside and West of Scotland.
From the most recent campaign, last year, 130 charities benefited from 31,000 items collected by 290 volunteers putting in 3,000 volunteering hours, and featuring 52 Rotary clubs.
Jacquie said: “This is why I joined Rotary, to make a difference by working directly to help those in need without having to shake a bucket.”
According to Jacquie, the secret of the project’s success and sustainability is forging partnerships with other clubs who want to make a difference in their own communities.
The sole aim of a WrapUp campaign is to get donated coats to those who struggle to keep warm during the winter months.
Once donated coats have been collected at collection points arranged by the Rotary clubs, volunteers get to work sorting the items into categories, men’s, women’s, children and babies.
While being sorted, the donations are checked to make sure all buttons are intact, zips are working and that they are clean and in good enough condition.
Jacquie explained that coats are not given directly to the homeless and needy persons. Instead, they work through charities and community organisations which provide frontline services to the homeless, the elderly, refugees, children and families living in poverty or those fleeing domestic violence.
This is why I joined Rotary, to make a difference by working directly to help those in need without having to shake a bucket.”
When a needy person reaches out to a charity for a coat this winter, hopefully they will also discover other forms of support available to them.
She added: “It’s amazing that a donated coat could kick-start a relationship between those in need and the charities that can help them by providing year-round services and support.”
Jacquie is hoping that the campaign can spread even further. The WrapUp team will be attending Volunteer Expo in Birmingham next month, and she said that now was a good time for Rotary clubs interested in getting involved for next winter to make an approach.
She explained that it takes a bit of organisation to set up. The WrapUp team help clubs to work together to structure groups in their local area.
They are able to provide resources including a dedicated page on the WrapUp UK website, branded collection boxes, bags for distribution and much more.
The Accrington President, Jacquie Baldwin, added: “Our aim and hope is that this project will continue to run annually throughout Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland providing support to those in need in our own communities.
“We also hope that this project will raise the profile and awareness of Rotary. Indeed, the efforts of the West of Scotland campaign were praised in the Scottish Parliament.”
If you would like to know more visit the Wrap Up UK website.