Cost of living crisis: Larne’s free hygiene products service providing people with ‘dignity’

A not-for-profit organisation in the Bank Road area of Larne is helping to provide “dignity” to local residents through its hygiene product scheme.
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The Sparrow Centre, which is based at Unit 2 in Ledcom Business Park, has been supporting people during the cost of living crisis with its ReFresh hygiene product project since October 2022.

The centre provides people in need with basic toiletries including toothpaste, deodorant, sanitary products, shower gel and baby goods such as nappies and baby wash. It also provides laundry products.

Anyone can access the service and pick up what they need free of charge with no referral required.

Some of the items residents can avail of as part of the ReFresh project.Some of the items residents can avail of as part of the ReFresh project.
Some of the items residents can avail of as part of the ReFresh project.

When this reporter visited on Wednesday (February 15), he was greeted with a warm welcome and a refreshing cup of tea. Volunteers Jill McIlreavy and Heather D’Amzi had just finished supporting users of the service and took time to explain the programme.

Jill said: “We have all ages coming to the Sparrow Centre to avail of the ReFresh project. Our goal is to help the community, especially during the current difficult economic climate. We help students, families and elderly residents and are currently operating three mornings each week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) 10am until 11.30am.

"We have opened on the occasional evening too. People don’t need to be referred to us. Some local agencies know we are here and have suggested to their clients that we could help them.”

As well as providing basic toiletries, other items such as haircare, skincare and make-up products are also available. Heather said: “Basic toiletries cost so much now. Usually if people are struggling to make ends meet, they start by cutting back on the money they are spending on hygiene products so they can use money to buy food.

The Sparrow Centre at LEDCOM.The Sparrow Centre at LEDCOM.
The Sparrow Centre at LEDCOM.

"We want people to have dignity. We also provide things like make-up to restore the dignity. Even if people are struggling, we want them to have a little bit of a luxury.”

The items in the Sparrow Centre’s store are provided solely through generous donations from the community.

Jill added: “We were set up through the adjoining Antrim Coast Vineyard Church in Unit 1. We place our trolley in the church during services and people donate items. The trolley then sits in the Sparrow Centre throughout the week and people drop in with things to donate.

"We are very grateful for all the support we have received. Each item we receive is helping those in the immediate area who are struggling to pay for food or fuel during the cost of living crisis.”

Users of the service can stay for a cup of tea and a chat with the volunteers.Users of the service can stay for a cup of tea and a chat with the volunteers.
Users of the service can stay for a cup of tea and a chat with the volunteers.

Commenting on how vital the service is for east Antrim residents, Heather said: “Up until last Friday (February 10), we had helped 343 people. We mainly support people from Larne town, but have had some people come from Carrick and Ballynure.

"The numbers have grown since we started the project and we will continue to provide the service for as long as it it needed. We have a team of eight volunteers as well as those who help when needed.

"No one will be turned away. ReFresh is open to everyone. As well as providing the hygiene service, we are also a listening ear for people. We have a sitting area and the kettle is always on to provide people with tea or coffee. People can call in for a cuppa, a biscuit and a chat.

"We’ve found this social aspect really helpful for some of the service users and we are glad to be able to help any way we can. The volunteers are discreet and people can speak to us in confidence.

"When people call into the centre to use the service, all we ask is for a name, post code and details of how many people are in the property. No one is judged and we try to always make sure we have enough items to support those in need.

“Every single item placed on our shelves will make a difference for local families in receiving help for essential hygiene. It is basically a shop where you don’t have to pay! People come in and get a basket and then can take the items they need. We help bag them up and they are welcome to come back when they need more items.

"We have regular people come in now and it’s great to be able to have this positive impact on someone’s life.”

Another service provided by the team at the Sparrow Centre is the Restart scheme. It offers practical assistance to anyone who is looking to get back into employment.

Jill said: “The Restart service helps people with CV writing, interview techniques and practice and even gives people suits for their interview. Christians Against Poverty (CAP) will also be providing support for anyone wishing to get back into the world of work.

"Our main ethos is demonstrating God’s love for the community. We want to treat people with dignity and respect.

"We have links to groups including Larne Foodbank, CAP and Women’s Aid and believe this multi-agency approach is vital to helping the most vulnerable people in society. We are all self-funded and rely so much on the support of the local community. If you are in need of any of the services we provide, please do not hesitate to get in touch or call in. We are only too happy to help.”

For more information, check out the Sparrow Centre Facebook page or email [email protected]