Traditionally, January is a month for looking both backward and forward, of reflecting upon past experiences while also anticipating those are yet to come. Therefore, we thought it might be useful and interesting to not only detail some of the lessons learned during the previous year but also to outline our plans for the coming months.

As Madlug enters its fifth year of trading, we have become more committed to the belief that every child deserves value, worth and dignity, and we have been galvanised time and again by the support and encouragement offered by small groups, businesses, conferences, and schools alongside many, many individuals who have shared our story or invested in a Madlug product. Such empathy is essential for communicating the frightening facts of the matter: there are currently more than 90,000 children in care in the UK and Ireland, with one child entering the care system every fifteen minutes.

It is our vision that we can continue to create very simple ways through which people can help and make a real difference to the lives of young people in care.

This vision has been consolidated by the many positive highlights of the past year. Firstly, the Madlug staff team has grown and streamlined, which has in turn enabled us to communicate our message effectively, chiefly by providing over 10,000 bags to those in need. We were also able to raise enough donations to give a backpack and travel bag to every care leaver who attended Christmas Day dinners in Hackney, Huddersfield and Birmingham. Christmas, of course, is a time of giving but it is not only the gift of a practical solution to carrying possessions - it is also a gift of dignity and self-worth. We continue to be moved by both the generosity of our supporters and the very real impact that it has upon those who benefit from such investment.

Also, we were amazed to have the Madlug story communicated in the Flybe in-flight magazine in November - such opportunities are vital for extending the reach of our mission, and it is incredible to think about how wide and far the message of value, worth and dignity could spread as a direct result.

Other memorable moments included being invited to Buckingham Palace for a garden party, and winning the Great British Entrepreneur for Good award in London. While accolades are always welcome, it is the positive publicity that is generated by these appearances that is important.

Of equal importance are the many stories of those closer to home who have received or bought a bag. These emotive personal testimonies are a constant reminder of why Madlug exists: young people in care should possess a way to transport their worldly belongings, and no child should have to carry their things in a black bin bag. Again, all of these opportunities were in part made possible by building partnerships with local authorities, charities and other social enterprises. Put simply, we are all stronger when we work together.

Then there are the lessons learnt from another year of trading. While our core vision of offering value, worth and dignity to those in care has not changed, we have refined and streamlined our way of doing things. Clear communication and structures are essential for ensuring that the Madlug message is conveyed to the general public and to keep our focus on continuing to create desirable, quality products. To keep us innovative, we must continue to build and maintain momentum - again, this drive forwards is fuelled by the personal stories that we hear from those who have benefitted from a Madlug product. The groundswell of public enthusiasm that propels Madlug is never less than amazing - people can be shocked when they hear about young people in care but this shock more often than not translates as a very real desire to help others. We are very grateful. If we all believe that every child has value, worth and dignity, then we can continue to work together and make the best decisions to support those in care.

Naturally, none of this work comes without its challenges. It is as yet unclear how our current political climate will impact the future of those businesses that are based in Northern Ireland. The greatest, most benevolent thing the government could do is helping children in care would be to listen to the many care leavers who have worked in this field. Learning would be the key to making essential changes that will benefit everyone. As time passes, we only grow more committed to the idea that the simple act of listening will lead to better decisions being made about where young people live and how they are cared for - it is paramount that these young people are always placed at the centre of our work.

Also, there is no doubt that the social enterprise space is growing very crowded as a viable way to raise funds and to fix social problems. However, we believe that this is a great thing: it is wonderful that people are so willing to help so many who work tirelessly for the good of others, and this inspires us to be creative and flexible with our approaches to the work. We have a number of exciting plans for this year as we continue to grow our online sales whilst developing our offer to the corporate market. There is also the possibility of collaborations with other well-known and established brands but the common factor in all of these pursuits is that we want to continue to work with those who care about the needy, particularly as so many needs are hidden.

We are grateful, we are energised and we are excited about continuing to bring value, worth and dignity to children in care.

January 13, 2020 — Dave Linton

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