Sop supports ShowerBox.
Founder Sarah Lamptey kindly allowed us to ask her some questions about how ShowerBox began as well as the plans for the future. We were delighted to have been asked earlier this year to help support this incredible initiative.
For those not familiar, could you please explain ShowerBox?
We provide free and secure shower space for the street and hidden homeless in London, and have done for the past two and a half years. We also give toiletries, underwear, period products and other essentials and when we have them, rucksacks and sleeping bags to those in need. The central idea is to make each day less of a challenge, for those in need.
Sadly, there are a very few places to shower in Central London. We give between 25-35 showers each week from our shower trailer (comprising two showers and two changing rooms) and far more individuals visit us for donations, hot drinks, hair-cuts and the sense of community.
Can you tell us a little bit about you and what lead you on this journey? And do you have a day job away from ShowerBox?
Away from ShowerBox I work as a freelance presenter, model and actor. ShowerBox was born from a conversation I had whilst volunteering at a winter shelter a few years ago. I was told of the huge need for showers in London, as they have in other parts of the world, indeed, as they used to have here. I published an article on this on HuffPost in July 2018, after thinking about how powerfully transformative a shower can be and the positive impact of feeling good about yourself, both physically and mentally.
Whilst researching the HuffPost article, I met Andrew McLeay, who runs the Ealing Soup Kitchen. He told me that he'd known of individuals who had passed away from preventable illnesses on the streets, simply because of an inability to get clean. Other homeless workers discussed the stigma received in public by not having the opportunity to maintain good personal hygiene. There have been free and low-cost public showers across Europe for decades and a small number of mobile showering facilities have launched across America. Closer to home, since the Ealing Soup Kitchen installed a shower in 2017, numbers have tripled in size.
I set about working out what I could do to help. After a successful fundraising campaign, I was able to buy a trailer and convert it into a mobile shower unit. For a week over the Christmas period of 2018, the ShowerBox trailer was in residence at the American International Church winter shelter offering showers to over 20 guests. Since then, it has serviced winter shelters across London and for the past year and a half, it's been located at St Giles Church, near Tottenham Court Road tube station, giving showers every Saturday.
You can clearly see you much hard work has gone into this. How long from that light bulb moment did it take, to make the dream a reality?
The winter shelter on Tottenham Court Road needed showers, so that accelerated the process! I set myself the challenge of finding the showers in about six weeks, and then renovating them. It was a hectic time!
Can you tell us a bit about the team and day to day operations please?
I run the project with the support of amazing volunteers. Between us we have many years of experience within the homeless sector, as well as experience managing groups and organising events. We set up at 9am, get the showers going by 10am, and leave site between 3pm and 4pm, depending on how busy the day has been.
Sop is a wellbeing brand and we truly believe in the restorative power of being cleansed. Aside of being paraben & sulphate free we only use essential oils which we carefully selected to help balance mental wellbeing. Until now I have most definitely take for granted access to basic hygiene so can you please share how essential ShowerBox is?
By providing a place to wash, ShowerBox helps stop the spread of preventable, debilitating diseases which costs the NHS millions each year. In a recent survey 41% of homeless people reported a long-term physical health problem (compared to just 28% of the general population), many of these problems (such as stomach problems, skin infections and urinary problems) could be prevented with access to regular showers.
Of course, the boost to mental health is as vital. Being powerless to maintain personal hygiene compromises mental as well as physical well-being and exacerbates feelings of inadequacy. 45% of homeless people surveyed had been diagnosed with a mental health problem (compared to 25% of the general population), the most common condition of which was depression.
We believe that by enabling this level of self-care, we can help render each day less of a challenge for our guests, and ultimately support them away from the streets.
What are your plans for ShowerBox, I’d read about a possible permanent base and other locations?
The next step is to open a shower and wellbeing garden from meanwhile use space, and we are having some really promising conversations to that end! I have solar power showers waiting to be installed, and it's looking really good!
Myself, my volunteers and some other community groups are now working towards creating a community wellbeing garden, combining growing with some beautifully presented, fully supervised showers for those in need in London (and eventually beyond). We largely work with the street homeless but the umbrella of those in need is far wider than this. Our vision is of a calming, green, educational space, where individuals may connect with the earth, have a warm shower and benefit from a sense of community. I have recently moved to Oxford and I have an allotment - I'm not sure where I'd have been this year without it!
What has been the most rewarding moment since you launched?
We have returning guests each week, who give us feedback on how much the showers mean to them and the difference it makes on their lives. Some say they have not been able to shower for over six months. Upon leaving the showers, our guests appear lighter and more relaxed. Some who use our showers have recently secures jobs, and good hygiene played and will play a huge part in this.
How can we as individuals help?