How ‘Take One, Leave One’ Inspired a Community

Posted on the 6th March 2019

As snow and freezing temperatures hit Britain in January, myself and a small group of my friends decided to hang a couple of warm coats on a clothes rail outside a church in London. We placed a sign alongside the rail which read: “Are you cold? Take one. Like to help? Leave one.” What happened next was remarkable.

By the afternoon the clothes rail was almost full. People living and working near Exmouth Market had donated jackets and coats as well as gloves, hats, scarves and blankets and passing homeless people were helping themselves to whatever they needed.

As well as the clothes rail, people donated ‘pledge cards’ which offered homeless people free food, drinks and other services. These pledge cards can be bought by locals from shops at a discounted price or donated by shop-keepers.

More than 100 meals and hot drinks were donated in the first day alone, in the form of pledges, and more than a dozen businesses on the street have gotten involved since.

Jeremy Brill, owner of Brill Café, opposite the rail, has found that the pledge cards are popular with customers. “It’s working very smoothly. If a customer gives us £5, we put it on a pledge card and leave it by the rail where a homeless person can use it to buy a hot drink or a sandwich or a bagel.”

Ellie Pamphilon, who runs a barbershop on the street and has donated several haircuts and beard trims, has also been enthusiastic about the project. “After their cut and blow-dry, our customers can buy a discounted pledge card to give a homeless person a haircut which they can hang by the ‘Take One, Leave One’ rail.”

If the pledge scheme continues to grow, we think it could give a much-needed boost to the local economy and could be a model to help struggling high streets across the country.

There are also possibilities for the pledging principle to spill beyond the high street, with one person already offering to pledge a dinner for rough sleepers in their home and another looking into pledging rooms in local hotels. There are also ambitious plans to digitalize the pledge card scheme so that people will be able to pledge meals to homeless people from the comfort of their living rooms.

Our original initiative is not a new idea. ‘Take One, Leave One’ clothes rails have been set up in other parts of the UK and around the world and part of its beauty is that it can be replicated in any street.

One month on, and our rail in Exmouth Market is not only still going strong but, thanks to media coverage and a growing social media presence, has spawned similar initiatives around Britain and beyond.

And as well as helping to ensure homeless people are warm and fed this winter, it is also helping break down the barriers that too often make rough sleepers feel invisible in the communities in which they live.

Whilst ‘Take One, Leave One’ may offer some respite for rough sleepers in the coming weeks, initiatives such as this can only have a small, short-term impact. What is needed is government action. In Finland, homelessness was eliminated through its “housing first” policy which offers people who need them permanent places to call home.

Like any social action project, we wanted our rail to bring about change, to benefit those individuals less fortunate in our community. And that benefit is twofold; being a volunteer on a social action project can improve your confidence, skills and levels of wellbeing. So, get involved by asking what you can do for your community, not only what your community can do for you.

Stefan Simanowitz

Stefan is a campaigner and human rights activist who among other local and international campaigns has helped coordinate FiSahara Film Festival in the Sahara desert since 2009.

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