HAPPY NEW YEAR
In a normal year, we would be reflecting upon and giving thanks for the standout moments of the previous twelve months. We would highlight the various events and social media mentions that help champion the Madlug cause to act on behalf of children moving through the care system. However, 2020 has been, as we all know only too well, far from a normal year. There is no shortage of words to describe this period of history that we have shared collectively, the impact of which we cannot yet fully comprehend: unsettling, frustrating, saddening, worrying… it has been an emotional year that has pushed everyone to their physical and mental limits, the aftershock of which we will continue to experience for a long time to come.
Therefore, it would feel insensitive and disrespectful to talk about Madlug’s achievements without acknowledging the challenges that so many have faced - and continue to face - during a year that has been at once surreal and altogether real. Many are battling personal circumstances: financial insecurity, illness and loss, alongside increasing restrictions on visiting family members who may also be suffering. Many others, most notably those within the health service, are working at and past their limits to safeguard the health and wellbeing of others.
In the face of such uncertainty, the knowledge of how young people in the care system will be affected by COVID-19 tightened our focus and motivated Madlug to choose to live out our values during this extremely difficult period. Very early on, we made the decision to continue trading: we were aware not only of the need to provide for our invaluable staff team but also that one of the many consequences of COVID-19 is that life has become even more difficult for children in care as all of the things that were part of their previous life have been stripped away. Many young people are not able to see birth parents and regular contacts such as social workers. Schoolteachers and pastoral staff continue to report deep concern for those in their pastoral care: for many children and young people, being locked down is the absolute worst situation in which they could be placed. Schools, youth clubs and other organisations are not only a source of meals - perhaps the only daily meal that they will receive - but also a routine of safety, encouragement and support.
Of course, we knew to keep Madlug running was a risk - one that in turn posed further challenges - but we were also confident that it was absolutely the right thing to do. Our founder Dave Linton puts it this way:
“A friend takes me out sailing several times a year, and in my mind facing COVID-19 was like facing a storm. In such a situation, you have two choices: to throw the anchor into the water and hope for the best, or sail boldly into the heart of the storm. If you drop anchor, you may survive the storm battered and wrecked but you will have nothing to start with afterwards. If you go at the storm, at least you’ve tried. To extend the metaphor, in a storm you’re holding onto a rudder all day, reacting and responding to every wave that hits you, the last thing you throw off the boat is your crew… here at Madlug we are indebted to those who run things day by day and keep the company afloat so it was always imperative that we supported each other emotionally, physically, mentally… in all ways.”
It was this attitude that allowed us to be creative and courageous in the months that followed the arrival of the coronavirus. And in turn we were amazed at how positively, even in the thick of lockdown when life seemed so bleak and unpredictable, people responded enthusiastically to the Madlug cause. One of the positive things to come out of COVID-19 is the increased desire to help others, to work together to rescue those who are lost in the storm. Look, for example, at the wonderful and selfless work carried out by public figures such as Marcus Rashford. There is undoubtedly a greater awareness of the need for social justice, and the innumerable charitable events, independent fundraisers and acts of kindness are testament to that fact.
Likewise, at Madlug we have - and continue to be - deeply moved and emboldened by the support that so many have offered to us as we work through this challenging time together.
For example, back in May the launch of our Madlug Activity Book was met with a very warm reception. This book of puzzles and games was not a commercial venture designed to make money. Rather, it was another way of communicating to all children and young people that they have value, worth and dignity. We were delighted when our supporters chose to donate books to those in need, thereby further spreading the Madlug message and helping us to educate children who weren’t in the care system about children in care. Also, and perhaps most importantly, the activity book gave us a purpose at a time when we most needed one.
Social media can often be a wonderful tool for sharing the Madlug message with new audiences and building trust in the brand. In August, the actress and comedian Aisling Bea shared a post on Instagram about a Madlug bag that she had purchased. She outlined the work that Madlug carry out, recounted statistics about the number of young people in care and requested that her followers would consider purchasing a Madlug backpack for their children’s schoolbags for the new term. The post was accompanied by a number of kind comments and, crucially, sales. In fact, it was so influential that it resulted in three days of solid shipping and selling. It cleaned our shelves of bags. Now, we don’t say this to boast about a win for Madlug. What is more important is that those sales mean a huge number of pack away bags being given to young people in care, and in turn those young people being told that they have value, worth and dignity.
The core focus is always, and should always be, on helping young people in care. The business part is never as exciting as the impact of the business. Put simply, by investing in a new bag you are investing in a young person.
As a result of higher profile posts, more people are finding out about what Madlug do and are excited to join the movement. In June, the clothing and lifestyle company Joules approached us with the opportunity to sell through the Friends of Joules platform on their website. Such offers are fantastic as they give Madlug further authority (as a direct result, we were included in a gift list in Heat magazine) and as a result further publicise the fact that 40,000 children enter the UK care system each year. We realise that we are working within a competitive space but we are not trying to compete with any other charitable organisation as we are all working towards the same goal: to help those most in need of help. What makes Madlug different is that bags by nature are a niche product: on paper, they should be a harder sell, as our bags are high quality and durable and therefore less likely to necessitate regular return customers. However, we have found our supporters to be so generous in purchasing bags for multiple uses and gifts. Again, each of those sales equates to an act of kindness towards a child in the care system. Each purchase of a Madlug bag reaffirms that message that our customers believe children in care deserve value, worth and dignity. Due to the generosity of our customers, this year an incredible 10,954 bags were gifted to children in the care system. How amazing!
There are many other things that we could say about this year. There have been personal highs and lows, and of course there is our recently announced partnership with IKEA (read about it in more detail in the previous blog), but ultimately the driving force behind all of our decisions, the motivation that keeps Madlug going, even when the world is in the midst of a global pandemic, is the mission that has been mentioned many times in this piece of writing: to give value, worth and dignity to the incredible young people in the care system.
We are so excited that you are a part of the Madlug movement and thank you sincerely for your ongoing support.
The Madlug Team