Julia Offord Pearman, a local resident and volunteer, recently spoke to Kelly at the Baby Bank on behalf of Jon Cruddas MP. Kelly is working hard to set up a Baby Bank in Havering. A Baby Bank is a not-for-profit collection of good quality second-hand clothes and equipment given away free of charge to help with the costs of early years parenting. There are currently more than 150 across the UK and it's a movement that's growing quickly. The twin concerns of the sometimes extortionate price of baby and pre-school child items as well as a commitment to recycling and avoiding landfill has driven the growth in the banks.
Kelly a local mum who has been working with families with young children for some time now, both through play and organising other community support programmes, started the Havering Baby Bank in the winter of 2019. Initially the informal collection started with an invitation to parents to donate winter coats at Mothercare and SoftplayEssex that were then regifted to parents in need.
Hello Kelly, it's great to meet you. Can you tell me how you started the Baby Bank?
The campaign started in Mothercare and softplayessex in 2019. Softplayessex just asked the community to donate coats to support local parents who may not be able to buy their child a coat for winter. From there it grew, word got around and Claire the Branch Manager at the Co-Op Gidea Park contacted us to ask if she could support the campaign. She kindly placed a coat stand in the Gidea Park Store and customers hung up their recyclable child's coat. Together we received hundreds of donations of coats and clothes from local parents. The feeling of community coming together was just amazing.
That must have been very gratifying, what was your next step? How do you begin to work out how to carry on with that initial enthusiasm?
All through the pandemic we at Baby Bank have been working hard to set up a sustainable organization that could help those most in need as well service those who wanted to get involved in swapping and recycling. We have set up the organization as a Community Interest Company which is a type of company that's only been around since 2005 and its ideal for us as we want to be able to use any money we make from selling things to reinvest in the Baby Bank and it's a more flexible and quicker way to get the Bank on a more stable basis. We did consider setting up a charity but the amount of paperwork and rules with that are really off-putting. We took loads of advice and setting up a CIC was cheap, quick and easy.
So how did you begin to identify those in need of help as well as those who just wanted to help in passing on or swapping items?
We've met with Havering Council, Co-Operative Group, Food Banks and Havering Volunteer Service to properly set up the Bank so that it's a real community resource We wanted to make sure we talking to the right people to identify who might need help as well local organisations. We launched our first Baby Bank at Gidea Park Co-op store on Saturday 3rd April where parents could recycle their preloved clothes which we then planned to distribute to families who are referred through our Local Authority partners and Local Schools. We have begun a social media campaign as well to encourage donations as well as parents in need to reach out to us.
Apart from that great help at the beginning from parents at SoftPlay, Mothercare and Co-op what do you need now to keep the Bank sound?
Well although Havering Local Authority kindly donated five green recycling bins we really really need storage space and a place where parents can come to drop off their donations and take away their swaps. We also desperately need a space to meet parents so that we can provide any help or assistance they may need. My garage is full to the brim with donations and I don't mind that at all but it does worry me that I may have to start turning away donations because I've got nowhere to put them. That would be a criminal shame. I would feel like I've failed at what I intended to do which was just to be there for parents and children in need.
So, this week Havering, what next?
Right from the beginning I wanted this to be a resource for the whole of South West Essex. We had tremendous support at the beginning from businesses and volunteers in Lakeside and across Thurrock so I want to make sure we are able to help out in both areas. We have had fantastic support from Thurrock Food Bank as well in sorting through donations. I think there will be tremendous advantages to running the Baby bank across both authorities because we can not only reach a much larger population but we also will reach a larger population for donations. I am very hopeful for the future.