Charity urges parents to use second hand uniform as cost of clothing school children in Leeds is estimated at staggering £6m

A charity has mapped out a series of school uniform swap shops as the cost of sending children back to school in September becomes "overwhelming" for parents.

Thursday, 20th August 2020, 6:00 am

With children set to return to the classroom for the first time since March most of them will need new or replacement uniform and stocks across the city are getting low as parents prepare for the new term.

But a project that started in Leeds last year, Zero Waste, has launched a campaign to make second hand school uniform the norm - for both cost and sustainability reasons.

Gill Coupland leads the project and says there are "mountains" of items available that are in great condition because it has been unworn or hardly used due to schools being shut down as part of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The cost of specific school uniform requirements can run into hundreds of pounds per pupil.

She said: "This is peak school uniform season. There is a definite balance of you don't want to buy it too early in the summer holidays and there is potential to grow out of it, or leave it too late and there is nothing left. My business partner set out to get some school uniform yesterday and there was no stock of anything including shoes.

"All of the school uniform re-use schemes over the last couple of weeks have been saying we have lots of stuff but no customers, but over the last couple of weeks it has gone crazy and created a demand. Because children have not been at school full time this year, there are mountains that have gone unworn so it is in great condition and not going to fit these children, there is lots of great quality stuff to pass on."

In order to help raise awareness of the project and let parents know where they can donate or pick up items Zero Waste has created a map of the school uniform re-use projects that it is aware of. There are dozens and dozens from schools, to community projects and parents swapping between themselves as well as extra locations are being added all the time.

Read More: Rothwell mum sets up school uniform schemeMs Coupland explained: "There is no one way of running a reuse scheme. It could be that the school collects lost property and calls it a scheme, there could be a full scheme run by the PTA, it could be a facebook group run and swap between themselves or it could be a community group. There are lots of different ways of running them.

Rows and boxes of clothes and shoes have been donated to the Zero Waste school uniform re-use project.

"But for a lot of parents you are just not aware. My daughter was at school for three years before I even knew they had one. We want to find them all, get them on the map so parents can find them and make it an option so they can donate or pick up some uniform."

In the last year that the project has been getting off the ground, Zero Waste has contacted every school in Leeds to find out what their uniform colour is, whether they have logos and whether that was compulsory.

These are often the most sought after items, such as blazers, due to the cost of buying them.

Research by the Department of Education puts the average cost of school uniform per child at around £350.

Some of the school uniform that is available at Morley.

Ms Coupland said: "If you have a few children that are going back to school, you are going to need more uniform. If you have say three children, that is a lot of uniform, there is the cost of shoes, a school bag, PE kit, trainers. It can be absolutely overwhelming and that spend comes all at one time."

And while you can buy bundles of cheaper clothing from supermarkets - there is also a sustainability argument to go alongside the cost.

Ms Coupland added: "People are divided into two camps. They do it because they are coming from a sustainability angle, a swap between parents or they are doing it from an affordability angle, they have three kids and are struggling.

"It does not matter who you are or how much money you have got, we have all got better things to spend money on than uniform. We would love to make this normal for Leeds. It is not just about cost and affordability, it is also about zero waste. If something is in amazing condition and not re-used, what do we do with it - throw it away?

"When you start thinking about it like that it helps a little bit with the stigma of second hand. We just need to make it so that picking up second hand is the first choice and a viable choice."

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Laura Collins