Madlug: the backpacks that give back

When Dave Linton learned that children and young people in the care system rely on trash bags to transport their belongings, he saw a chance to help.
Madlug backpacks 16x9 hero

There are more than 100,000 children and young people in state-run social care in the UK and Ireland, with one child entering the care system approximately every 15 minutes. In 2014, youth worker Dave Linton was attending a fostering course where he watched a young girl share her experience of moving through the care system. She explained that when children and young people like her moved, they often weren't provided with suitcases – instead, they moved all their worldly belongings in black garbage bags.

Heartbroken by what he saw, Dave left with an intention to do something about it. ‘The more I thought about it, the more I realized that these children and young people have amazing value, worth and the right to make their way and to live with dignity,’ says Dave. ‘So, that's really where Madlug came from – this idea that we could use business to generate funds so that we could give new bags to children in care.’

Madlug stands for ‘make a difference luggage’ and aims to enable customers to do just that through their purchases. Set up as a social enterprise, it operates under a ‘buy one, give one’ model. For every bag purchased, another is given to a child or young person in care. Madlug worked with care-experienced young people, health trusts and local authorities to develop a bag centered around the needs of children in care.

Unbranded to avoid stigma, the ‘pack-away’ bag folds up easily to fit neatly into a sock drawer or a social worker's car without taking up too much storage space. Each bag also has a label that says ‘You are incredible’ to remind every child that they have value, worth and dignity. 

Since Madlug was founded in 2015, the organization has given more than 52,000 bags to children and young people in care. Despite never being in care himself, Dave experienced loss at a young age – something that inspired him to become a youth worker.

‘I've always been driven by fighting for the underdog, I suppose,’ he says. ‘Because children and young people in care aren't given a voice, many people don't know about the problems they face every day. That's why it's so important that their story is heard.’ Not wanting to compete with charities, Dave set Madlug up as a business instead. ‘I wanted to be able to generate income so that I didn't take away money from other charities,’ he says. ‘People asked: “Are there not bigger problems to fix in the care system than a black bin bag?” But, if you're trying to fix the whole system, you become a competitor to the other charities and social enterprises. The black-bin-bag story is our part to play in the bigger story.’ 

Dave has since set up the Madlug Foundation, the registered charity foundation of Madlug, and Madlug Your Business, a separate selling platform designed to make it easier for businesses to partner with and join the Madlug movement.

This article was first published in 100 Ways to Make a Living 2022. To purchase a copy or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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