On Spontaneity & Kindness: The Marylebone Project

It all started with me receiving my February Beauty Heroes subscription box with three full-sized products from the British natural haircare brand Tabitha James Kraan. Having known the brand for a few years and being a fan of the products (their Organic 4-in-1 Conditioner in Golden Citrus is my personal “hair hero” product), I wondered what to do with the Shampoo & Conditioner, as my daughter asked for the hair oil, mesmerised by the crystal that is placed at the bottom of the glass bottle. Spontaneously, I decided to do an Instagram giveaway, trying to bring some cheer and kindness to someone who might be feeling blue or going through a rough patch during the darkest month of the year, when cold temperatures, shorter daylight hours and general body depletion cumulatively start taking their toll on the way we feel. The result still makes me grin from ear to ear.

People left comments on my Instagram feed, publicly and privately, which I read & reflected on, with a particular theme being how depleting modern life seems to be on so many people, even though wellness, mindfulness & mental health are in the headlines more than ever. Tabitha also saw the post & very kindly pledged to double my giveaway. So I thought I would look for a suitable charity that may accept unused cosmetic donation and came across Marylebone Project, UK’s female hostel, providing shelter, training & spiritual space in a secure environment for women affected by domestic violence & homelessness. After reaching our to their team and receiving a reply that indeed they would gratefully accept Tabitha’s products, I connected the charity and the brand. Within days my products were on the way to the two women I chose as my giveaway winners and Tabitha’s team was in touch with Marylebone Project. With every day that passed, my grin and belief that not everything is dark and grim in the world grew.

One of my giveaway recipients decided to play kindness forward and promised to send one of her own brand products to one of the women, who left a comment on the post. And then Tabitha’s brand manager e-mailed me, to let me know that they were sending extra products in addition to the two that they kindly promised, as Tabitha felt moved by the charity that I chose & it felt close to her heart & personal mission to support other women. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude to every single person who saw the post and decided, publicly or privately, to do something good. And particularly to Tabitha for going way above & beyond, especially when there were no expectations on my part that she will choose to be involved in this small, spur of the moment initiative of mine.

As I was waiting to hear back from Marylebone Project team, who I wanted to visit in order to learn more about the work that they do, I was contemplating the ways of the modern world. A few years ago I was asked by a well-known website founder to contribute some new beauty products, which I might have spare, for a female charity. I thought it was a wonderful idea, as unlike some bloggers and beauty editors, I don’t resell products that are given to me by brands, choosing to share them with family, friends and colleagues. But inspired by her request, I reached out to some brand founders who have sent me some products for the purpose of being donated. I packaged everything carefully and posted a large box. Days passed with no acknowledgement. As I used recorded delivery, I could trace that my beauty box was delivered. The charity that will remain nameless never acknowledged the beauty box that was donated to them by brands and myself, nor did I get a coherent reply from the initiator – all in all it left me with a bad taste in my mouth…until recently. Doing this giveaway and seeing the response from people and from Tabitha, as well as her team, gave me hope that not all is broken in our fragile world and that there are plenty of people out there doing incredible things purely because they can and want to! I was delighted to learn that all the wonderful extra products that Tabitha generously donated were given to rough sleepers who attend morning drop-ins at The Marylebone Project.

The Marylebone Project team in action

If we chose to, we can all find ways to give back to society, no matter how small. A gift of your time, a kind smile to a stranger, not standing idle if someone is being bullied. Donating things that you might no longer need or want to a charity, which will make sure those things go to people who really need them. A box of sweets for a friend who is struggling (or a good, uplifting book or movie). Not succumbing to your own disappointments and choosing to believe that the kind, caring tribe is bigger than the selfish and mean one. By looking after our own internal world and nurturing what’s best about ourselves, we can then face the world with a smile and be ready to do something good when our heart tells us to. Or sometimes simply doing something that feels good or right on a whim, like buying a homeless person a hot drink of their choice or getting in touch with a service that can help them get a warm bed for the night. Every good gesture counts, always. Especially as the amount of homeless people present on our streets seems to be reaching very uncomfortable proportions. I certainly can’t remember it being so shockingly visible a decade ago.

When I visited the Marylebone Project I was welcomed by Sidney (thank you so much for coordinating and organising my visit in the first place) and was shown around by charity’s project manager Sue. The visit left me both sad and hopeful, especially after seeing what an amazing team works tirelessly and with wide smiles!

Image courtesy of The Marylebone Project

The Marylebone Project started life as Church Army that has been helping and looking out for homeless women (who are particularly vulnerable simply because of their gender) since 1967. On-site at the Marylebone Project building (a big building that caters to a multitude of needs) there are 45 beds commissioned by local authority. 20 of them general, 20 allocated for women with complex needs and five for women with mental health issues. There are also four emergency beds that women can use for up to 28 days, after which they need to move elsewhere. I was shocked, but not surprised, that some women end up homeless in part due to the rising issues with the Universal credit scheme that was pioneered & implemented by the current  government. So much for being aware of fundamental issues that women face today, putting many in horribly vulnerable situations. Add to that growing demand for housing and unscrupulous landlords, unemployment. Choose your local MPs wisely – humility and genuine care should be part of the job requirement, as opposed to courting publicity to suit their career paths!

When women cross the threshold of The Marylebone Project they are warmly welcomed. The residential service makes sure each woman is assigned her personal worker, who will examine her circumstances and needs. There are specialists to offer help for drug and alcohol abuse (often a side effect to calm the nerves in order to stay alive on the street – we have all seen the videos of how some members of the public treat homeless people and it makes for scary and disturbing viewing).

Any homeless woman who has been sleeping rough can come to this place of safety to eat, rest (meaning sleep, as it’s impossible for many to sleep during nighttime due to personal safety concerns), take a shower and do the laundry. All that is provided in the face of annual budget cuts that often directly affect those who desperately need those funds, sometimes simply to survive.

The charity also offers flexibility of arrangements, as well as activities programme that can lead to women becoming employed. Women who come through the doors can do gardening (the garden in the inner courtyard is a small but happy place, with murals and plants that reach out towards the sunshine, adding calm to the environment that at times can be fraught with anger, pain and frustration at the deck of cards that life has dealt some of the women. Women can also participate in social enterprises, like cooking workshops and learning the catering skills, as well as having an opportunity to learn and gain a food hygiene certificate. There are health and social workers who are part of the team or come in regularly. In addition women can get financial advice, learn about housing benefits, grants and other things that can be helpful and available to them, once they leave the safe haven that is The Marylebone Project.

The age of women that Marylebone Projects helps ranges from 18 to 60, with many of the younger ones having already faced violence and abuse. Many are estranged from family and have serious confidence and self-esteem problems, so staff helps address those while sorting medical issues (a nurse and dentist come at regular hours to assess and treat women). There are also monthly talks on safety – something that is vital to the survival of many of those women. But staff is also conscious of the fact that we live in a world where men and women collide all the time and women need to be able to deal with them, even after some horrifying personal experiences, once they leave the safety that this formidable charity and its dedicated team provide them with.

Sue walked me around some of the premises, showing the rest areas, a kitchen where wonderfully warm staff creates delicious and nutritious meals, rooms where individual and group meetings take place, stations where staff is positioned – available to help and sort things there and then. I saw solitary and somewhat weary women just sleeping on a sofa and quietly reading something, not exactly eager to catch my eye or be the centre of attention. The room where women of any religion can come to pray also felt particularly poignant. The so-called closet, where clean clothes are kept for women to wear – with special emphasis on the clothes that can help women feel confident when they go looking for work and for work interviews. The place is impeccably clean and while not exactly cheerful, the air is filled with positive vibes and genuine care and desire to help. Being there and walking around I felt both privileged and moved and very grateful to staff for doing what they do – firmly, confidently and with determination to help resolve someone else’s dire circumstances, helping women find the way towards brighter prospects.

Before I left, I asked Sue who commutes to London regularly in order to work with the Marylebone Project (and has been doing it for years!), what kind of donations might be useful for the women and below are some of her suggestions:

  • I think a subscription to a magazine such as ‘Psychologies UK’ would be really useful for us. Not magazines that showcase all the things that women can’t afford, but a magazine or magazines that can help women feel better about themselves, imparting helpful and practical advice and solutions.
  • With regards to cosmetic donations, whilst some women use make-up, others do not. However, general skin care cosmetics would be really useful and this can be the full range e.g. –
  • Toner
  • Cleanser
  • Moisturiser
  • Not cream
  • Face mask
  • Body lotion
  • Body spray

Other items that would be useful are –

  • Face Pads
  • Hand cream
  • Foot cream

Basically anything that you can think of that women can use to pamper themselves, but also provide self care to their skin. Due to the multicultural origin of the women, it would be good to have items that are suitable for different skins types and tones.

As I was writing and editing this post, I slowly assembled a bag of donations from my own household based on Sue’s suggestions and will drop it off at my earliest convenience. I hope that the story of this charity might inspire you to get in touch with them and offer help, time or a donation that might help women regain their footing and improve their lives, giving them an opportunity to face the world with confidence and pride, not fear of uncertainty, suffering and abuse.

For more information about The Marylebone Project and ways you can get involved or help, please click here

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