Tricky Period: Campaigners launch period poverty scheme across north London amid 'scary' demand for help
PUBLISHED: 13:35 05 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:35 05 February 2020
"I think we are already proving that sadly the demand is there. It's been quite scary how many people really need help."
Volunteers and campaigners from across north London headed to the Vagina Museum in Camden Market to for the formal launch of Tricky Period in north London.
Tricky Period has grown out of the long-established Streets Kitchen group which runs homelessness outreach services across Camden, Islington, Haringey and Hackney.
It is designed to address a nightmare scenario for many women: living either on the streets or otherwise in poverty and being unable to afford basic period products each month.
And as founder Caroline Allouf told assembled activists, despite only ramping up activity in the past few weeks, it had been "scary" to discover the extent of the problem.
She said: "Even for the short time we have been working with Tricky Period, the people we have been connecting with have not been having this conversation. Coming from Streets Kitchen, we have a grassroots energy and we don't always play by the rules - because sometimes rules are a bit silly.
"But if we can do anything to try to make a difference and reach those people, who are often the folks who fall through the net, to put it mildly, that's success."
The already-thematically appropriate museum was decked out with a giant sanitary pad - on which attendees could write pledges of support - and there was a poignant table showing how various women had answered the question: "How do you get through your period?"
Answers ranged from consuming copious chocolate to being careful to carry bags in front of one's waist to hide blood stains.
At the launch, members of the Kentish Town-based Crossroads Women's Centre's All African Women's Group spoke about how delighted the group had been when Tricky Period brought a box of tampons and sanitary towels to their weekly meeting.
Geraldine Takundwa said: "When I heard the other day we had our meeting, they said we have something special to tell you. And the next thing we had pads being given out. It was a real treat. The women in our group, most of us are destitute. You should have seen how excited we were."
Geraldine discussed how many of the group's members had experience period poverty before coming to London. She added: "You become very shy. You don't know how to accept what is happening and you start suffering yourself. Then you start missing school because when we went to school there were no pads. We had to use other things, old clothes, to enable us to go to school."
Another member of the group, Amina Nagada, 42, said: "We are a group of fifty or so women who are really coming to rely on the box."
Amina, who lives in Enfield with one young son but has five other children including daughters in Uganda, said she often had to remind her girls not to sacrifice sanitary products for food when budgeting.
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She added that holding its event at the Vagina Museum and tackling the taboo of talking about periods was valuable, saying: "Tricky Period is already doing an amazing job. For me, there is no shame in this."
Speaking to this newspaper, Caroline added: "The thing is, we are already seeing it as so many different issues around women and access to period products.
"It's just going to grow."
The Tricky Period launch came as the organisation expanded its donation boxes for sanitary products into public libraries across Haringey and Camden. It has already been operating in Islington for a little while and is in discussions about doing the same in Hackney's libraries.
Earlier in January, the national group Free Period marked a success when the government pledged to provide free sanitary products to all schools in the country.
At the event, Free Period director and Hackney local organiser for the Red Box Project Gemma Abbott told this newspaper: "The government scheme is such a huge first step. There are so many people in vulnerable situations who don't have access to products.
"We will be holding them to that promise. As part of that promise it is absolutely essential that they show flexibility in allocation the money where the schools actually need it."
In light of the new national policy, Tricky Period are taking over the management of a number of period product donation boxes in Hackney from the Red Box Project.
How can you help
To donate period products to be given out to the most vulnerable women, you can now visit libraries across north London, where boxes are conveniently located.
This has been running in Islington - where Streets Kitchen began - since 2018, but has this week expanded across Camden and Haringey.
On Thursday February 13, a coalition of local groups who work with homeless people are holding an event at the Castlehaven Community Centre, in Camden, to get new volunteers involved in a range of campaigns across the area. Head along between 7pm and 9pm to hear from groups such as The Tricky Period, Streets Kitchen, Refugee Community Kitchen and the Outside Project who work to tackle the issues people living either on the streets or in unstable situations face on a day-to-day basis. A similar event took place in Old Street in January.
Boxes for donations of period products are appearing in shops around north London - with the Co-op in Old Street one of the first to add a period poverty donation box next to its foodbank collection box.
For more info, see facebook.com/TheTrickyPeriod