Investing in a charitable ‘multi-bank’ project will pay dividends for those in poverty in the UK and in sensible and sustainable end-of-life arrangements for laundry linens as they are re-used by people who really need them, said ex-premier Gordon Brown in his address to the Textile Services Association (TSA) annual National Congress in Edinburgh.

Gordon Brown champions the work of the Big Hoose Fife Project alongside Pauline Buchan, CEO of the Cottage Family Centre in Fife which is where it all began in 1987. The anti-poverty charity the Big Hoose Fife Project is now set to provide support to thousands of families in need across the UK. A total of 320,000 items – including nappies, toilet rolls, tinned food, bedding, home furnishings, and clothes from its multi-bank – have already been sent out to families in need and the project will surpass 500,000 goods valued at around £10m early in 2023. He discussed how the TSA and the industry can help support it through the Association’s Infinite Textiles scheme.

Brown told how his home area of Fife became the template for the multi-bank that will roll out across the UK. The Cottage Family Centre has piloted the multi-bank and, with the support of the Robertson Trust and the Northwood Trust, it is now helping 40,000 families. The Big Hoose Project is delivering goods free of charge, supplied by Amazon, Scotmid, Fishers Laundry, Purvis Group and 12 other local companies.

“Fife kicked off the idea of the multibank and we want to see it expand into the rest of the country. In the next few months, we hope to move into central Scotland. Scott Inglis of Fishers and Fraser Donaldson of Vision and other guys from Fishers have been instrumental in bringing the Big Hoose Project needs before the industry on a local level.

Pauline Buchan said the charity targets vulnerable children, poor housing, food – the works basically. “Poverty has got worse and worse in Fife and other parts of the UK. During Covid, we saw more domestic abuse and child abuse,” she said.

“Amazon signed its first contract with a charity and has now supplied more than 500,000 items including bedding but even that is not enough. Scott at Fishers got on board with how everybody in textile care can come together to help the families and reduce their carbon footprint. As this project has grown, Johnson is now involved and others. It is life changing for people in poverty.”

Gordon Brown spoke with passion about the project, saying: “The multi-bank includes everything from the same warehouse – food, toiletries, furnishing and so on and is a model for what will have to happen across UK.

“The biggest need is for bedding. As people heat themselves and not their homes they need duvets, sheets and hot water bottles as they cannot afford heating costs. We hope we can continue working with the TSA to provide recycled linen to those in need. So far TSA member laundries have donated £10,000-worth of goods.

“We know of kids sharing a sofa who get to sleep on it one day out of four with no bedding. Even people in work are finding it difficult to make ends meet; companies have surplus goods and we know who need them. We can link them and we can also guarantee it is getting to people who really need it. It is a simple equation: we have goods that make surplus and we know the people who can use them.

“This project is not just an anti-poverty project, it is an anti-pollution project, too. This is something we all have to come to grips with. Every company in the country will be forced by young people and employees to confront these issues. “

Where to next? Brown said that the Big Hoose Project is building out from Fife with other charities and groups. “In Fife alone we work with 150 schools, 100 social work teams and health visitors. These bodies can dispense the goods targeted directly to the most in need. The next step is Manchester and then Wales. The Bishop of Durham wants to lead something there. Every area of the country can benefit from the multi-bank concept.

“What people need most is hope. Show people you care,” Brown concluded.

According to TSA CEO David Stevens: “The Big Hoose Project was introduced to me by Fraser at Vision and he got me to speak to Scott at Fishers who has been amazing in getting everything sorted and they are already a massive part of the project [through the Association’s Infinite Textiles scheme].

“I love it not because it ticks the CSR box, not because its ticks the EDI or ESG box, not because it ticks the circular economy box and sustainability box. No, I like it because it such a fantastic thing to do and we can make a real difference to people’s lives. I met our two speakers in a warehouse in Fife working for the Big Hoose Project. And this is not just about laundries, suppliers can get on board as well – I know Ecolab, Vision, and Richard Hawarth have all contributed.

“I am also delighted to say at our last Hospitality round table two weeks ago it received unanimous support, and the TSA board signed it off yesterday,” said Stevens.

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