Crack + Cider to help thousands of rough sleepers in London keep warm this winter

Two young advertising and marketing professionals have created “the world’s first shop for rough sleepers” in London, to help keep thousands of people warm on the UK capital’s streets over Christmas.

Their innovative approach has captured public attention, and also ignited a debate on how best to help the thousands of people sleeping rough across London during the festive period.

Social enterprise Crack + Cider has collected more than £34,000 worth of winter gear for people sleeping on the UK capital’s streets in the past six weeks.

The controversial scheme is the brainchild of Londoners Charlotte Cramer (25) and Scarlett Montanaro (26). They say it offers people an alternative way to help.

“With big charities sometimes it doesn’t feel personal or direct and giving money on the street people can feel uncomfortable with so I think it’s just tapped into something,” co-founder Scarlett told INSP.

According to homelessness charity Crisis, 7,581 people slept on London’s streets between 2014/2015, a 16% rise from the previous year and more than double the figure of 3,673 from 2009/10.

Essential items of clothing, such as hats, socks and jackets, can be bought from the Crack + Cider pop-up shop on Kingsland Road in Hoxton, London, or ordered online via the project’s slick website.

The items will be distributed to rough sleepers via outreach teams from five shelters and soup kitchens across the city later this month.

The pair consulted staff at Shelter from the Storm, a free emergency nigh shelter in Islington, north London, and other charities to decide on what items to stock.

While doing their research, Scarlett was surprised to discover that socks were the most requested but least donated item of clothing to homeless shelters.

As well as warm socks, customers can also buy backpacks, fleeces, umbrellas, hats, gloves and winter jackets, with prices starting at £7. These can be purchased separately or altogether in a ‘Warm and Dry Set’ for £60. Customers can also include a personalised note to the recipient.

“It’s really restored our faith in humanity!” said Scarlett. “The average donation on the site is £28 per transaction. I think very rarely would somebody hand that over to someone on the street, or even a big charity, in one go.”

Scarlett says that the name Crack + Cider was inspired by a homeless man she had met on the street several years ago. He told her “People don’t give me money because they think I’ll spend it on crack and cider.”

“It goes to show the kindness of people and how much they want to help.”

His words stuck. When it came to naming their project, the Scarlett and Charlotte figured stalking the line of controversy might bring them more attention.

Their gamble paid off. Since launching on 4 November, Scarlett and Charlotte have been overwhelmed by both the public and media response to the project.

“It goes to show the kindness of people and how much they want to help,” added the co-founder.

After receiving an influx of donations, the Crack + Cider team hope to expand the project to support rough sleepers in other English cities.

Scarlett believes the project’s continuing success lies in offering people a more personal, direct and unique way of giving to homeless people at Christmas.

Crack + Cider founders Charlotte Cramer and Scarlett Montanaro.

Drawing on their professional backgrounds in advertising and marketing – Charlotte is a freelance creative strategist at VICE, and Scarlett an art director with creative agency AnalogFolk – they sought to devise a different online experience that feels more like Christmas shopping than charitable giving.

The stereotypical image of the homeless person huddled in a doorway holding a cardboard sign is entirely absent from their website and marketing campaigns.

“Everyone knows the problem… our audience don’t need to be guilted into giving by seeing that image,” said Scarlett.

While Crack + Cider has successfully tapped into a festive feeling of generosity and goodwill, the founders are determined to keep the scheme running into 2016.

They also hope to grow the project by adding more lines, some of which will cater to rough sleeper’s canine companions. After a London-based dog food company offered its support, Scarlett and Charlotte have plans for a package containing a dog jacket and dog food for rough sleepers’ pets.

The project has been endorsed by many celebrities (including Times columnist and novelist Caitlin Moran who said the pair were doing “great things”) and numerous charities, including The Big Issue Foundation. CEO Stephen Robertson was a guest speaker at the Crack + Cider launch on 4 November.

“The interesting thing is you have younger people feeling overwhelmed by the size and scale of the homelessness issue but they are thinking enough is enough and doing something,” he told INSP.

“It might not be the whole solution by any means but the fact that they are taking action, creating an impact and raising the level of debate about what giving and supporting means, with some creativity and a bit of colour, is good and very practical.”

But the project – and its provocative name – has proved divisive. A number of organisations within the charity sector have expressed concern over the negative impression that the name gives, and the long-term effectiveness of the project in tackling such a complex issue as rough sleeping.

“It’s heartening that so many of the British public show support for those experiencing homelessness.”

Mike Nicholas, from Thames Reach, a London-based charity that supports homeless and vulnerable people, said that while Crack + Cider’s creativity was admirable, he felt it would be more beneficial if channelled into schemes that proactively helped rough sleepers off the streets.

“We welcome the great enthusiasm that these individuals are showing to helping homeless people,” he said.

“What we would also say is that often the best way to help homeless people is to help them get off the streets because it’s dangerous. A lot of our energy goes into helping people escape homelessness and get their lives back on track. It would be great to channel the fantastic enthusiasm shown by Crack + Cider to help us do that.”

Thames Reach teams operate every night of the year around London. Trained staff identify rough sleepers across the city and help them access shelters and support services.

“Sometimes people think homelessness can be never-ending or immutable but the good news is that most people can be helped off the streets to move on with their lives,” added Mike.

London youth homelessness charity Centrepoint also pointed out that providing warm clothes is a short-term solution to a bigger and complex problem.

A spokesman added: “It’s heartening that so many of the British public show support for those experiencing homelessness. Donating money or clothing is always matter of personal choice; everyone can help those they see rough sleeping by calling the free Street Link line (0300 500 0914) which will connect them with charities, like Centrepoint.”

Centrepoint estimates that 15,000 young people will find themselves facing homelessness this Christmas alone, their spokesman added.

“They are particularly vulnerable and it’s imperative that we help young people off the streets as soon as possible and into a safe place to stay. Centrepoint provides homeless 16-25 year-olds not only with a safe place to stay, but the two things they need most to leave homelessness behind: the support they need to find a job and an independent home.”

You can visit the Crack + Cider pop-up concept store at 73 Kingsland Road, in One Good Deed Today, 73 Kingsland Road, Hoxton, E2 until 23 December or check it out online.

Find out more information about Thames Reach or Centrepoint.