Over 50 families helped
Given the current economic climate, it is likely that many families, if not most families, are struggling to make ends meet, and to meet the needs of their children.
There are costs involved with having children that are unavoidable, such as clothing and feeding them, particularly clothing them for school.
In response to this need, the Oulton Broad Team Ministry in partnership with Lowestoft Rising, which comprises a group of five public sector partners – Suffolk Police, Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner’s office, East Suffolk Council, Suffolk County Council and NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group, set about starting a uniform bank.
The aim of the uniform bank has been to help in any way that it can to bridge the gap and supply families with as much as possible so that their needs are met with dignity and respect.
New items are provided, where possible, for the generics (shirts, trousers, skirts and dresses), and good quality pre-loved items are given, where available, for the school-specific items, and all items are free.
We have formed a relationship with the community champion at Morrisons Pakefield so that anyone can buy a Pick up Pack in store, containing brand new essential uniform items. We have also built up a good stock from local donations, with people travelling across the town with their preloved items so that we can give them a second life, and received donations from several local charity shops that were struggling, as well as some lost property from several schools.
Although each school has its own approach and policy for helping those who struggle, many families feel that they may be stigmatised or judged if they admit to financial strain and so choose to not disclose to the schools that they need help. It can be easier for a family to go to a third party that has no involvement with the school.
People do not have to meet any qualifying requirements and no questions are asked. We believe that if people are trusting us enough to be vulnerable and come to us, they deserve to maintain as much of their dignity and independence as possible.
National studies have shown that children perform better in school when they have a uniform that they can be proud of and helps to give them a sense of community and shared identity. Equally, we recognise that the independence of families is important and so we wanted to provide as enjoyable a ‘shopping’ experience for them as possible, rather than creating an environment that made them feel uncomfortable. We use our own labelling and tagging system, everything is laid out on tables and rails in size order, and everybody who they meet is friendly and unobtrusive so as to give them the respect they would expect when visiting any shop.
To date we have been able to help in excess of 50 families, since starting at the end of August, and many of those families have multiple children. It has been a privilege to help families in this way but also get to know them. We are hopeful that they get a sense of community when they come to us, which may mean that they seek support from the Church in other ways. This has been an important focus as we emerge from a time where people have been shut off from their communities, forcing people to think very individualistically.
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