Supporting the homeless – The Billy Chip Foundation

Published - 27th Jul 2021

Billy Chip is a foundation that supports the homeless. Local people can purchase a token from retailers which they can then gift to the homeless, who in turn can exchange the token or ‘chip’ for hot food and drink. 20-year old Ambulance driver Billy Abernethy-Hope, from North Somerset originally came up with the idea. However, Billy tragically died in a motorbike accident on holiday in Thailand In March 2018, two months after the idea.

We first heard of Billy Chip when The Somerset Toiletry Company sent us a brief on your behalf for some new packaging to present their foundation. We were instantly struck with the project and having supported other homeless charities before (as there is an affiliation with cardboard and homelessness) we were keen to understand more and wanted to support this project.

The more we learned, the more affection we had for this foundation. Sales director Steve Gabell posed some questions to Jon Hope (Co founder) of the Billy Chip Foundation, and as you will learn, Jon is much more than a Co-founder.

I was instantly struck by this project, not just because of the affiliation with the homeless, but also with the uniqueness of the idea. How did the idea and the Charity initially get off of the ground?

Billy had the idea during a conversation we had, he questioned me why I didn’t give money to homeless people, and it was over concerns that the donation could be used to fuel a drug or alcohol addiction. Billy’s response was,” They should do a token in Costa, MacDonald’s and KFC which you buy for a £2 donation and homeless people could then exchange them for food and drink. People would know then that it was safe and secure to help people who are homeless”. I responded that is a fantastic idea you should do that, “One day” he replied but, he had already planned to travel to Thailand and train as a Scuba diving instructor.

Months after Billy died my friend organised tickets to a Paloma Faith concert where her comments regarding kindness and compassion towards homeless people sparked a memory of Billys idea! I discussed it with Sarah my wife and our daughter Megan. Everyone thought Billy’s idea was great, the more people we told the more encouragement we got. Due to Billys death in a Buddhist country we didn’t have any service here for him. It was surreal watching his ceremony via Skype on April fools day. Billy would have thought that was incredibly funny we all agreed and then laughed, It gave us some much-needed relief, then we all went back to crying.

Lots of Billy’s friends and family agreed we should put on a Festival in our garden of his favourite music and raise some money to get some tokens made and trial the scheme, it all got rather quickly out of hand. The BillyChip was born! but, it was met with a pretty lack luster response from local existing charities and organisations. So we decided we would just go straight to cafes and coffee shops in Bristol with it and see if the community wanted it. That was Christmas 2019 from there we expanded within 12 weeks to nearly fifty outlets and spread to Bath, Oxford and Cheltenham. I gave up my job because we were travelling all over the country working flat out, meeting with Asda, Marks & Spencer, Co-op, funding organisations, lawyers, then……. Global Pandemic, everywhere shut, everything stopped!

But, this time in many ways allowed us the space to create a registered charity, not an easy task and we had a huge amount of help with it. Then to structure a Community Interest Company, generate support and funding. We also needed the space to step back and look at the whole scheme and how we could make it accessible to everyone as we were inundated with requests from every continent! In fact Bermuda set up its own version of the Billy Chip and they did credit Billy with the idea which was really appreciated.

What was Billy like?

Billy was unique like we all are, he had a crazy zest for life, fun and adventure, he always saw the best in people and didn’t take life too seriously, his free nature and spirit was inspiring to be around. He was always naturally kind and considerate of others feelings, that’s something I’ve tried to learnt from him but he was a typical teenager in many ways. Rubbish at getting up or doing the washing up, but I’ve seen all of his qualities through losing him. It makes you realise how we prioritise all the wrong things in relationships and how important it is to realise what an incredible impact our children make in their peer group. It’s something as a parent you don’t get to see normally. We have been very fortunate to have so much support from his friends, they have been inspiring with the love and support they continue to show us.

Many families go through tragedy by applying their time and energy into foundations and charitable causes. What has that journey been like for you? Was it something you jumped in on immediately?

The shock of losing a child sends you into a very different place to that in which you normally exist. It’s strange, you have to experience it because there isn’t actually a language that describes or words that can explain what happens to you, how you feel, what your existence now represents. That saying,” the world looks different now” is the closest it comes. I guess I had an unknown drive to not let Billys life be unrepresented, I had an overwhelming feeling that he was a great loss to humanity, he was a good person who others clearly loved and adored he brought sunshine into people lives, nothing made sense to me. But his idea did represent him and everything he was about and it was as if everything just started falling into place.

Professor Green contacted Megan and she ended up in his and Rag’n’Bone Mans music video, he then performed at Billy’s memorial service in the garden with a thousand people, then we are on BBC breakfast it was very surreal. All manner of important dates coincided with things that were happening and there was coincidence after coincidence, I feel like we are getting extra help from somewhere else some days!

Is carrying on his legacy in this manner out of your comfort zone?

Countless amazing things come out of extraordinary circumstances and tragic events, sometimes things are staring us in the face and we deliberately try to ignore them. I think my experience of losing Billy made me braver than normal and I needed to focus my energy on not making what happened just be all bad, grief is totally consuming. Billy was young and that darkness of grief was totally unrepresentative of everything Billy was about. I have been changed by this experience as a person for the better, and BillyChip project provides me comfort and healing, grief is love with nowhere to go so I’m putting it into something he would have been happy and proud of, helping others.

You may not know that there is currently a shortage of cardboard material and at the time we were approached to help with the packaging, we were not in a position to take on many more orders, but this was a project we just had to support. What impact has Covid related issues had on your charity, and the further implications for homeless people?

First issue we ran out of BillyChips as they came from China lots of jokes about toilets rolls shortages and bat stew. I didn’t really envisage what was to come, we raised a fair amount of money in 2019 through loads of different events and fund raisers, so we reached out. We got in touch with local charities to offer help, we donated over 350 special cool bags to help the “Cheers Drive” campaign deliver 150,000 meals to the homeless during lockdown. Many of those homeless people temporarily housed have now moved into long term housing solutions provided by local council and housing partnership schemes. Statistically it is not great though, 250,000 UK households are reportedly facing eviction according to government figures, and an additional 70,000 have become homeless during the pandemic so the cycle will continue. I’ve personally not noticed a reduction in rough sleepers and more young people than ever before are facing homelessness, teenage suicide rates are also increasing so we need a different approach to supporting people in our communities. Often you find rough sleepers are actually victims of the system. Even the homeless face “computer says no syndrome” we have created a system where, if you haven’t got ones of these, you can’t get one of those and because you don’t have access to that, we can’t help you with this and it becomes an unbreakable cycle. We want to change that.

What can local independent businesses such as us do to help the foundation?

The BillyChip scheme needs awareness so thank you for doing this, companies can do so much, so easily, adding our logo or a link to us on your website home page, a link in an email footer. We have some great media tools being launched on our new website, which business can share to their customer base. Also new is a volunteers sign up page so people can sign up their local coffee shop and win some money can’t but prizes. We are also launching in July an App for outlets to join our scheme free of charge. It really is an amazing scheme with all our profits going to help other homeless cause. We are already funding Streetvet across the UK to accredit homeless hostels to be pet friendly and we have plans in place to work with the homeless on tree planting schemes to help the environment whilst employing and training rough sleepers so they have a recognised qualification.

When you make decisions about the direction of the activities of the foundation, do you think ‘What would Billy say or do’ What do you think he would be saying right now? What might he like and dislike?

I like to think we have an ethos of doing things his way at the BIllyChip even if sometimes they’re a little bit cheeky or off the wall, his energy keeps us going he was a very vibrant soul who shone bright. Billy is every part of everything we do, I think he would love our boxes and the packaging. He had a successful clothing company he set up with a friend at school and I helped him with some bits so I had some kind of experience working with him on design ideas and brand marketing. I think he would love the chip designed by Ray an old family friend and he is old seventy something! Ray is an amazingly talented designer guru who sadly lost his daughter at a similar age, also in a road accident. The Chip design really is quite cool and so many people comment on it when they see a BillyChip for the first time. It carries the words, you’re fabulous and don’t you ever forget it, something Billy wrote in Sarah’s Mother’s Day card just before he left to go travelling. Ray took inspiration from Billy’s car which he had spent a few years customising and that’s where the colours of the chip come from… Billy was always coming up with bright and innovative ideas I think he got that from my grandad, he was an inventor, he designed and built one of the first ever jetboats back in the early fifties in Bristol Docks. Dislikes – I’m bias but what’s not to like? Buying a BillyChip sparks a chain reaction, the purchaser feels good donating to charity when they buy a chip. They feel even better when they hand it to someone in need and so does the person receiving it. It can be used where and when the recipient chooses and for what they want – something we take for granted like choice is completely taken away when you live on the streets. We can expand into providing other items beyond food and drink. We want to partner with Charity shops to.

What’s your ultimate goal in this, both for Billy and the homeless communities?

Goal, operating where ever homeless people need support for basic essentials. For Billy I feel it’s delivering the kindness and compassion that he believed in, he has made a lasting positive change for the better with his idea. Every homeless person I’ve met through the scheme has been positively impacted by the words written on the chip, the positive change to their mental wellbeing the scheme brings was an unexpected bonus. The Charity sector needs disrupters, influencers and mavericks, just like the business sector does to progress and meet the demands of society. We hope our approach and business model will reshape and inspire others to look at how things can be improved for those who most need support.

Thank-you Jon, for answering our questions. 😊

For more about the Billy Chip Foundation visit

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