Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Crack + Cider

May 12 2016
The launch event in London was well attended © Crack + Cider The launch event in London was well attended © Crack + Cider
Is the controversially named enterprise a good deed or well-meaning meddling gone wrong?

Mat Amp, who has spent time sleeping rough himself, went to meet the women behind the social enterprise Crack and Cider. Is it a good deed or well-meaning meddling gone wrong? Mat ended up more impressed than he expected.

I am sitting in Pret a Manger talking to Scarlett Montanaro, 26, about the controversially named enterprise ‘Crack and Cider’ that she founded and now runs with friend Charlotte Cramer, 25, to raise cash donations from the public which are used to buy clothes for homeless people, which are then distributed.

They came close to calling the enterprise ‘John’s Shop’ after one of the homeless people who helped with research, but their background in advertising told them it wouldn’t generate the media interest they desperately needed to make the project a success. But when a homeless man suggested they shouldn’t give him money because “I will only spend it on crack and cider”, they had their name.

The name has attracted pretty fierce criticism. But when I ask Scarlett if she ever regretted using it, her answer is unequivocal: “Not one bit, because it got us talked about and without being talked about we wouldn’t have made the impact we have,” she says. “I know the name could seem a bit insensitive, but what we were trying to do was put that stereotype out there to encourage people to talk about it openly and plainly. A lot of charity representatives can’t be that out there. They have to be safe. We can.”

It is hard to argue with Scarlett when I find out that to date Crack and Cider has raised the money to buy in excess of 6,000 packs of quality clothes, more than 20 times their initial target. But despite the project’s success and overwhelming support, it has been slated by some.

Scarlett is animated when she tells me about the anonymous internet trolls and threatening abuse aimed at them both. “People were letting us know they knew where we worked and lived and that scared us and made us not want to carry on.”

More coherent criticism has come from a blogger named Johnny Void, who launched a vitriolic attack on ‘Crack and Cider’ in an entry on his blog entitled ‘with hipster friends like @crack and cider [sic] who needs enemies?’.

Void says the project stereotypes homeless people and diverts cash from those on the street. He questions their ability to distribute the clothing, and claims the charity's sole raison d’etre is to ease the guilt of Hoxton’s middle-class hipsters.

Perhaps Void is right to object on the basis that this is not their world. Montanaro and Cramer have no substance abuse or mental health issues and are seemingly supported by a functional family network. “Even my Gran likes the name,” Scarlet tells me with obvious joy.

And certainly neither of C&C’s founders have ever ended a night out listening to teeth-grinding gabba at a warehouse party in a meat packing plant off the Lea Bridge Road while lying in a pool of their own vomit, whacked on K.

And yet, when all’s said and done, you get the feeling that for some, Crack and Cider’s co-founders just seem to be having far too much fun.

“I think people criticise us and misunderstand what we are doing but that’s because they haven’t met us,” Scarlett says. And she is right. I was expecting to meet a character from an Enid Blyton novel – ‘Scarlett and Charlotte’s Big Adventure with the Homeless’. But instead I’m confronted with a genuine, passionate, media-savvy woman who has taken a huge step outside of her comfort zone to help those people in our society who need it most.

For Scarlett, there is only one thing to consider when it comes to the name ‘Crack and Cider’ and that is what homeless people themselves think about it.

“Every homeless person I have spoken to likes it and they are not offended because they have been on the receiving end of that stereotype and they get the humour behind it,” she says.

With no direct experience of homelessness, they have had to find the time to learn by observing and listening, visiting shelters and rough-sleepers and talking to outreach workers. Scarlett admits it’s been a learning curve. “But we admitted to people that we didn’t know how best to help and I think that’s why [they] side with what we were doing,” she adds.

Their stance on begging has also been questioned. In their press release they quoted a high profile anti-begging poster campaign by London borough Kensington and Chelsea that asked people not to “contribute to a person’s death”. But Charlotte insists they do not back the overall message of that campaign. “We don’t judge homeless people for using drugs or people for giving them cash to do that. It’s a matter of personal choice and we respect that”

To the accusation that the project is just a Bandaid, as someone who has spent time on the streets myself, I can’t help thinking, so what? A Bandaid is, after all, the first thing you reach for when you're bleeding.

Scarlett describes it all as a journey. “We originally just did it because we just wanted to help. Now we are trying to use the position we find ourselves in, and our press contacts, to raise awareness and add to the conversation.”

With a similar project planned for San Francisco, a documentary on homelessness in the pipeline, a dog pack and plans to open another pop-up in the UK next winter, it seems whatever your take, Crack and Cider are here to stay.

If you’re in London and need any warm kit, contact Crack+Cider via their website and they’ll try to help: