Making space for conversations that make our city better

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The City of London is filled with incredible people working to make it better for everyone - it's important that we give them a platform to share their work.

Covid-19 and Brexit have given us time to think about the City and what we want this unique part of London to become  moving forward. The City of London is made up of an incredible variety of people with different skills, life experiences, knowledge and understanding. Everyone has a role to play.

One of the really incredible things about the City community is that there are already extraordinary people leading initiatives which are already achieving exceptional results. So, it’s vital that we both give them a platform to explain what they do and support them in making connections that enhance their work, thus ultimately enabling us all to be a part of building a better City. In short, making space for conversations that make our city better.

Bringing the City together

One such person, who many of you will be familiar with, is the Reverend Nick Mottershead of Holy Sepulchre London, who has created the GenerosCity initiative. He is bringing people together to help frontline agencies, charities and schools (“Community Partners”) to address food and hygiene poverty, personal care and related issues. Nick is an individual who wears the different aspects of his life harmoniously and openly. Whilst being a Reverend, he also works in the City as CFO at a Fintech company, focused on banking for the unbanked. In being able to do both things, he feels he is best able to see, serve and understand the City and all its positive aspects as well as its challenges.

In his professional role, Nick makes processes easy and reduces barriers. It’s perhaps this approach that sparked his desire to not only help those who are struggling in the City, but make it easier for individuals and companies to provide this support. 

He says: “I remember coming into work, on my phone as so many of us do, and walking past people who are homeless and thinking to myself: ‘I should do something… but I’m too busy right now’. It occurred to me that we should be making it easier for people to do good. We were already working with charities like Suited & Booted and Dress for Success, where individuals can donate no longer needed suits and business attire which can really help people get back into work. However, I just felt that there’s much more I can do by simply being a conduit between what people need and what people are able to give.”

Connecting need with the ability to give 

It was when the City of London Corporation was wanting to set up a winter assessment shelter (WAS) that he became more acutely aware of the barriers that the public sector can so often face when bringing together the elements they need in order to do their work. “We don’t make it easy for frontline workers to do their job. Often it’s not about the money, it’s about the tools. For example, the winter assessment needed a building to use temporarily - well the City is filled with buildings, surely there must be a space that could be used?”. Very quickly though Nick had worked with others from the church, some city workers giving their services for free, City organisations like Trinity House and the Corporation to get St Katharine Cree ready, so the Corporation could use it for the WAS.

Originally from South Wales, he was speaking to a colleague about a new community based hygiene bank initiative in their area, and decided to bring the idea to the Square Mile. “I was blown away by the number of people wanting to get involved in giving hygiene products to play a part in helping alleviate hygiene poverty. I remember not just the generosity but also the joy it gave people when they were able to do something good in that way. It was something they could collect at their office and then bring in, and it was easy. In an environment where everything has a proverbial price tag, here there is no commercial transaction - everything that comes to The Hygiene Bank is given directly to someone who needs it, a gift of dignity. People are fundamentally good and want to do good, but often they don’t know how. Of course, people also have both busy lives and their own challenges and that has to be appreciated as well. That’s where the idea of expanding this concept, of connecting need with what people have and are able and willing to give, expanded to become the GenerosCity initiative.” 

Meeting needs by tapping into a City network

Nick’s GenerosCity platform hinges on speaking to frontline workers and asking what they need, then reaching out to the community and corporate network to see if anyone is able to help and in what way. It’s an amalgamation of the freecycle culture, community spirit and product donation, but it places need first. For example, when approached by a five-star hotel who said they had a large volume of luxury towels that they didn’t need because they were replacing them, Nick reached out to a city refuge to see if they would like them. They said they would be extremely helpful, and what turned up was 1,000 beautiful towels, bathrobes and slippers, which were not only helpful but also went that extra step to making individuals feel good about themselves and giving them much needed self- confidence.

Similarly, when a new refugee centre opened in the City, they needed bed sheets. Nick phoned around and a linen company got in touch with him, explaining that every month they shred a significant amount of linen which although a bit  ‘off colour’ it was otherwise in good order, and asking if that would help, which of course was perfect. Another hostel wanted some flasks so their 50 residents had access to clean water, in this case a generous city worker said, “let me get those for them”.

The principle has snowballed since then. Just under two years ago and up until September 2020, GenerosCity had locally distributed almost 1,400 kilos of hygiene products between five Community Partners. Between September and today this has risen to 14 Community Partners and almost 10,000 kilos of hygiene products as well as distributing 37 laundry bags of towels and sheets, 55 bags of business attire and 2 boxes of kitchen goods. Many city churches, like Holy Sepulchre and St Olave’s Hart Street, are available as drop off locations and donations are from a combination of individuals, local companies and national partnerships, with donations from brands including Boots, Soap & Glory, Cleanology, Spirit of Summer and Lush arranged by the head office of The Hygiene Bank

“Our incredible front line workers know what is required, it’s just a question of being able to access it. They know for example when they speak to people whether they need a hostel and if so what type; or what they need to help get them back to work and integrated into society and what the pathway to that is; and the importance of personal hygiene to education in our schools. If we can make it easier to help these individuals by telling the City what people need, helping an individual to help themselves or to better care for themselves, for parents and carers to model good diets and good hygiene, all the evidence shows that it’s more likely that person will have a better chance. Sometimes there’s a debate about the relevance of luxury items when someone is homeless or in one of the many households living in in-work poverty as well - hair dye, luxury towels, nice smelling products, but it’s all about human dignity. If we can help people to lift up out of any aspect that belittles them or destroys their dignity, they’re on the road to some form of recovery and wellbeing, and that’s good for everyone.”

Making a difference as, to and for the community

One of the things that Nick highlights is that it can take someone as little as six weeks to fall into homelessness, especially if they have a mental health problem and/or an addiction. There are plenty of people walking around ‘looking the part’ in the City who are really struggling on the inside and the link between declining wellbeing and homelessness is abundantly clear. 

While we all agree that these are social issues that we should be able to address more effectively, what Nick has tapped into is an enormous sense of realism around facilitating what individuals and individual companies are able to offer. In doing so, he provides a real model for a sustainable and impactful solution. When we all pull together and just do what we can, tying this into business cycles for example (like the laundry company), then it makes a positive impact on individuals and the City as a whole and brings a joyful reality into play. 

Let’s celebrate such individuals and help them wherever we can.

If you would like to find out more or see if there’s a way to contribute to GenerosCity - I encourage you to contact Nick on the link below.