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365 Club in The Times

Climate Change: South Hampstead High School head gives herself a green dressing down.

Vicky Bingham’s decision to give up buying new clothes for a year has inspired her pupils at South Hampstead High School to do their bit for the environment as well.

A headmistress with a passion for fashion and a weakness for dresses has given up buying clothes for a year, and inspired her pupils to take on comparable challenges to tackle climate change.

Vicky Bingham, head of South Hampstead High School in northwest London, said that her environmental crusade began in the summer when her family headed to Europe on holiday using only trains.

Arriving home feeling virtuous, she began to plan her traditional shopping spree for dresses for the autumn term. However, catching sight of her two wardrobes crammed with dresses, she felt like a “total hypocrite”.

“At the first assembly of the school year I told the school that I was not going to buy any new clothes for a year and if we really cared about the environment we have to take a personal step and give something up that we will miss,” Mrs Bingham said. “I set up the 365 Club and to my surprise 50 pupils turned up at the first meeting.”

At the meeting, the head girl said that she would give up disposable sanitary products, and others gave up single-use plastic, with one student agreeing to pin any failures up on her bedroom wall.

Some pupils have given up all lifts to school, pledging to walk or use public transport for a year. Some have said they will use palm oil products only from sustainable sources and others have stopped using plastic straws or plastic water bottles. The school has supported this initiative by commissioning a branded school water bottle for pupils.

Mrs Bingham said: “I’ve been so impressed by them. I’ve found the no new clothes pledge a real challenge. My daughter said I’d never manage it. I am counting down the months. I am a real fan of the headmistresses’ favourites of Hobbs and Reiss. I am not even looking in the shop windows any more and stare longingly at other people’s dresses.”

She has been dredging out old frocks from the back of her wardrobes that she has not seen for a while.

“I realised I have a quite dreadful habit,” she said. “I am ashamed at how many dresses I have. On the plus side I’ve saved a lot of money.”

The sacrifices have grown into a school-wide project, with students asked to point out to the school any environmentally unfriendly practices it has. One staff member has become an accredited UN climate change teacher and the school has set a target of 2026 when it hopes to become carbon neutral — in time for its 150th anniversary — under Project Zero, the campaign to clean up the oceans.

Next year Mrs Bingham plans to move on to packaging: “I might stop ordering on Amazon. The packaging is unbelievable. The smallest hair scrunchie comes in heaps of plastic.”

The article first appeared in The Times on Saturday 4th January.


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