Most small charities can only dream of having their logos and products in the window display of a major retailer. But in the run-up to Christmas, this is precisely what happened to Sea-Changers, an entirely volunteer-run marine conservation charity.
Over the festive period, the clothing retailer River Island sold festive ornamental penguins and seal figures in aid of the charity and featured its logo prominently in its Christmas window displays.
Rachel Lopata, co-founder of Sea-Changers, which has an income of less than £40,000 a year, says the partnership came about after it was contacted by the corporate responsibility agency The Giving Department on behalf of River Island.
"The department approached us in October," says Lopata. "It knew what the designs for the figures would be and was looking for a marine conservation charity."
Lopata says River Island was keen to support marine conservation after the Blue Planet II TV series, presented by Sir David Attenborough, highlighted the effects of plastic pollution on sea life and it became a big political issue in 2018.
In total, the retailer created 450 limited-edition seal and penguin figures, which it sold in 73 stores. As of 4 January, more than 360 of the figures had been sold, raising a total of about £12,000 for the charity.
The partnership is purely a one-off seasonal collaboration with the aim of raising money for the charity, but Lopata says that it has brought other benefits. "We have already seen a big increase in the number of our social media followers in recent weeks," she says. "That’s been helped by the fact that River Island is tweeting about the partnership and there’s a hashtag for the campaign.
We haven’t set targets, but it’s the biggest exposure we’ll ever have had."
The money raised will be distributed to local marine conservation projects later this year through the charity’s two existing funding rounds.
Lopata says it has been interesting to see the changing the attitudes towards marine conservation over the past year.
"We’ve been going since 2011 and we’ve mainly received support from marine-reliant businesses," she says. "For the first time this year it has felt like people are approaching us, which is fantastic.
"I do think that the awareness has changed because of the David Attenborough effect."