Handbags for Hope
1086. Michelle Bell
Michelle Bell, from Crawley, created the ‘Handbags for Hope’ Project after being subject to horrific domestic abuse 12 years ago.
She has personally delivered over 1,000 bags of products (shampoo, hair brushes, sanitary products, underwear) for women in refuge. In each of these bags, which she finds in jumble sales, she includes a handwritten note that says “I have been there and this is the bravest thing you will ever do and the first step on your journey.” She has received responses from the women who have received these bags saying how much this has meant to them. Michelle recently supplied her local Crawley refuge and homeless centre with enough bags to help the residents for 6 months. Michelle is a founding member of the body positivity group ‘Positively Perfect’, as she believes that raising the confidence of young women, will decrease cases of domestic abuse, self harm, bullying and depression. She also works closely with ‘Refuge’, giving talks and telling other victims about her own story. In September, she took part in a charity plus-size beauty pageant which gives women the opportunity to share their ideas and visions for the future.
In a personal letter to Michelle, Prime Minister Theresa May said:
“The success of your ‘Handbags for Hope’ project shows tremendous dedication to supporting victims of domestic abuse. By bravely drawing on your own experience, you are raising awareness of this devastating issue and helping to combat the stigma around abusive relationships. You should feel enormously proud of your work to help women when they most need it.”
“As a survivor of domestic abuse myself, I had wanted to “pay back” the life changing support I received during my stay in a refuge. I knew that for many women arriving at a shelter was unplanned. They often have nothing but the clothes on their backs. I had some old handbags which I thought could be useful to those ladies, I filled them with the basics that could be needed when you first arrive. Hygiene essentials such as toothbrush and paste, hairbrush, shower gel, sanitary wear etc. I took the bags to my local refuge and they thought the bags were great. So I created more. I have donated to refuges all over the country, both those aimed at domestic abuse survivors but also homeless shelters.
“My sole aim was to make those first few terrifying days a little easier. Having been supporting the survivors of abuse for so many years, seeing the statistics remaining quite stable for over a decade, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find a way to help reduce the numbers of victims in the first place. Speaking to so many survivors, a theme of low self esteem and lack of confidence was visible. In most cases the abuse was never obvious to begin with, it starts with an erosion of their self worth.
“It was this knowledge that lead me to team up with some other like minded friends from around the country to create ‘Positively Perfect.’ As a group we utilise social media to promote body positivity. We inspire the confidence to be at ease with who you are, irrespective of how you look. We remind people that your appearance has no bearing on your worth. It is our belief that by helping instil this greater understanding of self worth that when an abuser attempts to belittle or undermine that confidence, they will fail. And fewer victims will ever reach the point of crisis.
“To have been recognised and honoured as a point of light truly astonishing. I am completely overwhelmed that I should even be considered. Thank you, for noticing at all. I hope that by sharing my little projects, it can inspire others to help in their own local area too.”