Social enterprises have been at the heart of community responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of our Social Enterprise Stories series find out how two sisters, worried about the lack of availability of hand sanitiser, set up a social enterprise to address this issue.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK and we entered the first national lockdown in March, we all collectively took a big step into the unknown. A disease we really didn’t know much about completely altered the way we live, at the same time devastating communities and the economy. At first there was talk of the pandemic being something that affected us all, a disease that doesn’t discriminate. Only it does.

The pandemic exposed pre-existing inequalities of health, wealth, race and class –  disproportionately impacting vulnerable groups, the low-paid and those who could not work from home especially key workers in health, social care, public transport and those supplying our food. Research from the Kings Fund in June showed that COVID-19 followed the “fault lines of inequality, with people in the poorest neighborhoods more than twice as likely to be killed by the virus as those in the richest areas.” Ethnic minority communities have been hit extremely hard with British BAME deaths in the first few months of the pandemic being twice that of whites, prompting calls for a public inquiry.

Amidst the crisis however, we have seen a real sense of communities coming together to support one another, mutual aid groups being set up and a newfound appreciation of the key workers keeping the nation going. Social enterprises have often been at the heart of community responses to the pandemic, showing the innovation that is so characteristic of the sector.

One immediately pressing issue that became apparent as COVID-19 became part of our lives was the initial shortage of essential products, we all remember the footage of long supermarket queues and stories of people hoarding toilet paper.

A product that was initially hard to find, which we now cannot safely live without was hand sanitiser. UK sales of hand sanitiser went up by 255% in the month before lockdown with many retailers experiencing shortages. There were also numerous stories of inflated prices and dodgy products being sold, all at a time when keyworkers were not only struggling to access hand sanitiser but also having to deal with well documented shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Seanna and Ciara Hamill are two sisters from Kenilworth in Warwickshire aged 17 and 19 whose mother is a senior healthcare professional with a BAME background. When the pandemic hit she faced huge difficulties accessing PPE, despite having a front-line role, causing great stress both to herself and her family. The family were also worried about the availability of hand sanitiser both for themselves and their wider community.

Faced with this Seanna and Ciara decided to do something about it:

“We were collectively concerned and afraid (our little 8-year-old brother didn’t understand why everyone had stayed home – but his mummy had to go to work) – We decided to fight fear with hope! Sick of price gouging and dubious products we set out to find the best product we could.”

Their father had a connection with a distillery in Northern Ireland and using this link the two sisters decided to set up SanHanzUK, a social enterprise community interest company (CIC) to manufacture hand sanitiser which is both affordable and safe which also gives back to communities struggling through the pandemic.

With time frames being tight and the need to get sanitiser manufactured and sold as quickly as possible SanHansUK was completely self-funded with Seanna and Ciara initially setting up pop-stalls to sell their products:

“We started with pop up stalls, stood in the rain, felt disappointed sometimes, got frustrated but we didn’t give up! We didn’t watch Tiger King or bake much Banana bread – we worked to develop SanHanz every day in lockdown – and it allowed us to remove ourselves from the bondage of Self – focusing on others as opposed to ourselves gave us purpose and confidence. Lockdown didn’t weaken us – it steeled us.”

From the start the business was set up as a social enterprise with a mission to get sanitiser to the people who most needed it. Sales have allowed them to give away over 3,000 bottles of hand sanitiser to frontline workers, mostly in Warwickshire. They also work closely with foodbanks, which have themselves seen a surge in demand as the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic became apparent. SanHansUK donates 20% of proceeds to food banks across the country.

In an incredibly short period of time the business has grown from strength to strength and they are now providing both branded and white label bespoke products to clients ranging from law firms and cafes to engineering firms, professional football clubs and car dealerships!

They also distribute products free of charge to charities even designing labels for them and letting them sell them on given normal methods of fundraising have been affected by COVID restrictions.  Recent beneficiaries have included the RNLI and Myton Hospice. If customers are social enterprises they are automatically suppled with an additional 20% gifted product.

SanHans UK are now moving into the gifting marketplace and are eager to partner with a socially responsible mask manufacturer.

Our own research at SEUK found that there has been a surge of businesses set up to support their communities during the pandemic with an incredible 1 in 7 existing CICS set up since March. Increasingly more and more people are looking to set up social enterprises to help their communities through this difficult time and the success of SanHansUK shows the incredible difference a small start-up can make to communities.

To contact the team email – or call +44 7521 717510

Twitter – @SanHanzUK
Instagram – @SanHanzSisters

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