Francoise Call, a member of the London Rotary Club, has been leading a team of dedicated volunteers as part of the KindWinter project to provide immediate protective gear to the homeless population of the capital.
Using negotiating skills gained from holding multiple managerial positions in the health and housing industries, Françoise works with multiple non-government organisations, such as The Salvation Army and local churches, bringing them on board to distribute the essential provisions provided by KindWinter.
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KindWinter is a charitable project drawing on the team’s experience of mountaineering, outdoor industry, housing, health, homelessness and scaling to provide essential equipment to those sleeping rough.
It is completely run by volunteers with no overheads reliant on individuals and companies donating to KindWinter with 100% of donations going to the homeless.
Françoise, originally from South Pacific island of New Caledonia, has lived in London for over 40 years dedicating much of that time engaged in a variety of charity work. She has been particularly struck by the plight of homeless people where she lives.
She said: “I live in Chelsea, one of the most expensive parts of London and the world. I get off the tube and see people on the pavement. I just can’t believe we have a society that has allowed that.”
Françoise is also an experienced mountaineer, being the first ever woman to hold the role of Honorary Secretary of The Alpine Club. It’s some of these experiences which have given Françoise an understanding for the plight of those sleeping on the streets.
Sleeping bags are like gold on the streets. Very few are donated to charities as members of the public rarely have spare ones compared to coats and blankets.”
She explained: “I know what it is like to sleep outside, and I know the kind of suffering that it can engender. It’s not just the possibility of getting pneumonia, it’s also the important aspect of sleep deprivation because when you’re cold you can’t sleep – it physically hurts.
“I know exactly what’s happening because I’ve done it, but even when I do it it’s not really comparable because I know I’ve got a warm bed in a few days, and I have the best kit possible – they don’t.”
She remembers a moment in February 2020, where she got to witness the grim reality of being homeless.
“It was one February, it was -10°C in London, we had young men coming to the Methodist church where I was volunteering, who were homeless, and their skin was raw from the cold.”
“Our cupboards were bare so I had nothing to give them, and it was then I realised that there must be a way to provide the goods we need specifically for the homeless.”
Sleeping bags are like gold on the streets. Very few are donated to charities as members of the public rarely have spare ones compared to coats and blankets.
After having no luck with reaching out to outdoor brands for assistance, Françoise took matters into her own hands with the help of her previous Rotary club – The Rotary Club of Mayfair.
“I remember saying ‘let’s just fundraise and buy in large numbers’ and my goal at the time was just to fill the cupboards of my local homelessness day centre.
“We fund-raised so well that we got more than for just one centre, so we gave them out to other homeless centres and it just grew from there.”
The growth of this project eventually led to Françoise and her team reaching a deal with Mountain Warehouse who donated sleeping bags as well as warehouse space and transport for the ones KindWinter buys.
KindWinter now has a van supplied by Mountain Warehouse which was recently used to distribute over 1,000 sleeping bags across London.
Several important fundraising events, sleeping bags delivered and a move to a new Rotary club (Rotary Club of London) later, Françoise’s original fund-raising project is going strong as KindWinter.
I live in Chelsea, one of the most expensive parts of London and the world. I get off the tube and see people on the pavement. I just can’t believe we have a society that has allowed that.”
KindWinter maintains a strong Rotary connection even as it grows and has become its own project outside the organisation. The trustees of the new entity are all Rotarians. Michael Carras is a trustee of the Rotary Club of Westminster International Trust Fund, a registered charity that collects KindWinter’s funds. Gordon Moulds is the ex-CEO of KidsOut.
It’s the continued collaboration between Rotarians who have a passion for helping the homeless that Françoise is aiming to encourage in order to increase the scale of projects like KindWinter.
One example of such collaboration, thanks to a letter written in the Rotary magazine this summer, is the co-operation with Rucksacks4Homeless in Halifax, created and run by Hazel Brindle.
KindWinter donated immediately 100 sleeping bags to the project and introduced Mountain Warehouse to the project.
Françoise added: “It is very much a two-way stream. Hazel has some very good ideas to help the homeless which one day we might implement on a wider scale, we have been able to bring her some other ways of doing business.
“I would absolutely love to have a way to connect Rotary further in the UK regarding homelessness because there’s so much more we could do if we helped each other and shared ideas.”