Support grows for campaign to end ‘period poverty’ in our schools

A scheme devoted to ensuring no young person has to miss school because of a menstrual period is taking off in our district.

Wednesday, 27th March 2019, 10:57 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th March 2019, 11:01 am
The Red Box Project

The Red Box Project is a community-based, not-for-profit initiative, which aims to support young people throughout their periods by providing boxes of free period products to schools.

Set up in March 2017, the project now has over 3,000 Red Boxes across the country.

It was founded by three friends who wanted to give young people in their area access to sanitary products.

This was in reaction to news about ‘period poverty’, whereby young women miss out on their education because they cannot afford the products they need during their period.

They contacted secondary schools in Portsmouth to ask if a constantly stocked box of menstrual products would be welcome.

The feedback was the issue was real and the resource was needed.

The trio invited people to join the movement and the response was overwhelming.

From Scotland to Cornwall, as well as overseas, people began setting up boxes filled with tampons, pads, tights and underwear - and fundraised and collected to ensure they never became empty.

Lynsey Hutcheson, Red Box Project coordinator for Chichester & Midhurst, said: “We’d like to be in a situation where no young person has to miss school because they have their period. In this day and age, it shouldn’t happen and unfortunately it does. .”

There are 53 boxes in schools in and around Chichester and Midhurst.

Lynsey said: “Our aim is to cover all schools in the area. We cover all senior schools and only have a small number of primaries left to cover. We urge anyone who doesn’t have a Red Box to get in touch - we’d love to make sure everyone has access to one and it’s is completely free for the school.”

Pupils do not need to register to use the box and it is not means tested: “If they need it, they can have it, no questions asked.”

Boxes come fully stocked with a range of pads, new underwear, wipes and - for senior schools only - tampons.

Anyone using a box can take what they need for the day or for their whole period.

“The school simply contacts us when the boxes need restocking and we come along and do that, again completely free. We don’t tell schools how to use the boxes because what works for one may not work for another - each school knows their school a lot better than we do.” 

Some young people are already using the boxes every month: “This alone proves there’s a place for the project.”

Call goes out for donations

Lynsey Hutcheson, coordinator for Chichester & Midhurst, said she was inspired to help the Red Box Project as she was shocked by news of UK period poverty.

In 2017, Plan International, a development and humanitarian organisation which advances children’s rights and equality for girls, reported one in 10 girls were unable to afford sanitary wear, one in seven struggled to afford it and more than one in 10 had to improvise sanitary wear because of affordability issues.

It also said almost three quarters of girls aged 14 to 21 admitted they felt embarrassed buying sanitary products, while 49 per cent missed an entire day of school because of their period, well over half making up a lie or an excuse.

Lynsey said: “I read articles about young girls stuffing underwear with socks or newspaper. I was getting upset about it, so I decided to do something about it. Nothing existed like it in our area, so I decided to give the Red Box Project a go.”

Today, her area’s Facebook page features Red Box locations and donation points supporting schools in the GU28 and GU29 and PO18 to PO22 postcodes.

She has also set up a JustGiving page and encourages people to contact her directly: “I’m more than happy to arrange something.”

The Chichester Observer, for example, is currently holding an office collection drive to support the initiative.

Lynsey said a lot of time and money goes on buying brand new underwear to put in the Red Boxes: “If young people have accidents, we don’t want them walking around in wet, dirty underwear.”

The pink-and-white-striped bags include everything someone needs to take care of themself.

“Even as grown ups, we get caught short. Children can have no idea about their cycle and how it’s working, especially at the beginning when it’s all over the place, and this means they are covered. It’s not just for people who can’t afford it - it’s for people who need it.”

The Red Box Project is community run and for the community: “Although we are a national initiative, each project is run independently by a local coordinator. Anything donated, whether period products or cash, stays within our project - it never goes elsewhere.”

It is also part of the Community Matters green token scheme at Waitrose, Chichester throughout April.

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