How a period poverty charity was born in lockdown thanks to a West Berkshire woman
The forced closure of one West Berkshire woman's business gave her the space to find a way to help women in need
It’s been a year since the country entered its first national lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and everyone has had to change the way they live and work dramatically.
We caught up with Caroline Herman, 12 months on from when we all heard the word Covid for the first time.
Mrs Herman, who lives in Hampstead Norreys, said that this time last year – as an asthmatic stroke survivor – she was “troubled” by the news of a new respiratory virus in China. But she said she felt confident it would contained and she remained her “overly optimistic” self.
Early on the mum-of-two realised that her job as a well-being practitioner wouldn’t work remotely and she had to put it on hold. But her drive to do something positive saw her, and daughter Cara, launch ‘All Yours’ – a campaign to tackle period poverty throughout the district.
Here she tells us about her year.
“As an asthmatic stroke survivor, the discovery of a new respiratory virus in China troubled me but did not hugely worry me. My overly optimistic nature meant I was confident that it would be kept out of Britain and even when it did appear on our shores, I was happy to believe we would contain it.
“So much so that in late February I took my family to visit the Shard for my son’s birthday and then returned to London with them in early March to watch Macbeth at the Globe Theatre. The second visit did involve more hand sanitiser and a deeper suspicion of people coughing on the tube.
“With cases rising and the first deaths being reported in the UK, I felt a sense of relief when it was announced that schools would close on March 20th. My instinct was to keep my children close and safe, and I was even more relieved when we were placed into full lockdown as it meant my husband was then also forced to work from home.
“I felt we could hole up at home and ride it out. My modest wellbeing practice was thrown into chaos overnight with all appointments cancelled but it seemed like the short-term pain would be worth it.
“Lockdown took on a surreal sense of calm for us. Our work life balance seemed to improve, the rushing about stopped, and we did get more quality family time. I tried to take my business online and did some of my coaching via Zoom but without the face-to-face treatments I offered clients, the whole experience felt a little flat. I decided to stop trying to work remotely with people and agreed that we would wait until lockdown was over before resuming.
“It was well into August before restrictions lifted sufficiently and I felt confident inviting clients back into my treatment room. I welcomed them back with warmth, enthusiasm, social distancing, hand sanitiser, facemasks, and face shield but it was not the calm, relaxing, personal experience they were previously used to.
“My work with clients can raise difficult issues that need comfort and sometimes a hug. I found it incredibly difficult to watch someone processing raw emotion from a distance of two meters without being able to offer even a squeeze of the hand in comfort.
“My children went back to school in September, and I tried to make up for lost time with clients but by the beginning of October it was clear cases were on the rise again and with rumours circulating of the half term circuit break I took the decision to cancel all future appointments.
“To me, a second wave was inevitable, and I did not want clients to bring COVID to me, nor did I want to be responsible for passing anything on that my children were bringing home from school.
“When the November lockdown was announced it was obvious to me that I would not be working again until COVID was properly under control, probably through vaccination.
“So, during November I was in lockdown with children at school but no business to run. I spent a lot of time reading books relating to menstrual health as this is one area of wellbeing I find fascinating. It is intricately linked to your mental and physical health and many different factors can impact your menstrual cycle, including period poverty.
“Period poverty is the term used to describe not being able to afford sanitary products or experiencing stigma or shame around your period. It affects a significant number of women in the UK.
“It was during this time that Scotland passed their bill to make all sanitary products free and it sparked a lot of discussion with my daughter, Cara. We decided that we would try and make some people’s lives a little easier in the run up to Christmas by making period boxes that would give them the sanitary products they needed for a clean and comfortable period over the Christmas holidays.
“We set up a Facebook page to promote our project, which we called All Yours, and we were overwhelmed with support for our boxes.
“Through delivering our boxes to the West Berkshire Food Bank we met Fran and Rosie who were incredibly supportive of our idea and gave me the confidence to continue with the All Yours project once the Christmas period was over.
“We were being contacted by women through our Facebook page asking for help and the obvious next step was to set up a website which would allow people to request boxes from us and tell us specifically what they needed. With the website up and running we saw a jump in requests for help and the stories that were being shared with us meant there was no way we could just stop.
“We had people volunteering to help and I had plenty of time on my hands so turning All Yours into formal entity and continuing to provide people with the sanitary products they need, was just the obvious next step.
“So, during the third period of national lockdown, I spoke to more people over the phone and online than I had during the rest of the year combined. I found a cause and a purpose that lights me up and it is something that I can share and work on with my family.
“Interestingly, several of my other friends have had to rethink their futures due to COVID and it has been a positive experience for them as well. One has written a book which has just been published and another has started a candle making business which has skyrocketed. None of us had even considered a career change prior to the pandemic, never mind expected it to be a necessity.”
You can find out more about All Yours at www.periodbox.uk or you can donate to them via the Good Exchange.