Inequality evening out? Child poverty is not just for most deprived says founder of Leeds Baby Bank

People who were judgemental of those having to use baby banks are now finding themselves asking for help as the effects of coronavirus add to the city's growing poverty problems.
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The interesting turn of events come as Leeds Baby Bank is becoming increasingly inundated with referrals and is having to set up a Crowdfunder appeal to raise enough money to buy a van so it can start distributing items, from prams to baby food, to families who can't even afford to come and pick them up.

Chantal Nogbou said there was increasing demand with up to around 60 families per week prior to COVID being referred and now there is another influx.

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She said: "We are definitely getting more referrals, people were struggling more and COVID hit. We were doing emergency bundles and had a real influx of referrals for that working with children's centres and Leeds City Council. With children going back to school and people returning to work, the people who make the referrals are back in the office, seeing people face to face and we are definitely seeing a big influx of referrals."

Leeds Baby Bank charity manager, Will Munton with the stock at the unit in Leeds city centre.Leeds Baby Bank charity manager, Will Munton with the stock at the unit in Leeds city centre.
Leeds Baby Bank charity manager, Will Munton with the stock at the unit in Leeds city centre.

Origins

Whilst Leeds Baby Bank was initially set up to help families who found they were having twins or triplets and needed double or triple the amount of baby clothes and equipment, even in 2017 it was apparent that the need was greater than that.

Mrs Nogbou explained: "Even though the idea was for multiple births, we realised when we set it up at the time there were people struggling already. It was for everybody, not just multiples. We were very open in the beginning, we have not got a lot of criteria that people have to fit. They don't have to be in receipt of this benefit or X, Y and Z. We said as long as you live in Leeds and someone like a doctor, health or social worker refers you, we will help you without without having to go through all these hoops."

However, she says that for those that were critical of the scheme and the people that use it, the tables have turned since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.

Child poverty rates are probably being underestimated says one of the founders of the Leeds Baby Bank.Child poverty rates are probably being underestimated says one of the founders of the Leeds Baby Bank.
Child poverty rates are probably being underestimated says one of the founders of the Leeds Baby Bank.
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She said: "The inequality is almost less or evening out. People that would have been on the other side of the balance are finding themselves in the same situation. They say 'don't have children if you can't afford to, don't have a baby if you can't afford to feed your children'. I think people are finding themselves in a situation where they have had good jobs, maybe that company has closed down and they have found that they are the ones that also need that help.

"The inequality balance has shifted a little but there is always the super wealthy, they are very lucky and have no worries about where the next meal is coming from."

Mrs Nogbou had the idea for the baby bank after she herself had twins and a midwife asked if she could post in a local facebook group whether anyone could donate baby clothes or equipment they no longer needed to help families expecting twins or triplets and struggling to buy everything they need.

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Read More: Child poverty crisis in Leeds sees more turn to baby bank
Some of the mums that set up Leeds Baby Bank pictured in 2017. L-R; Lynsey Jayes, Chantal Nogbou and Marilyn Earp.Some of the mums that set up Leeds Baby Bank pictured in 2017. L-R; Lynsey Jayes, Chantal Nogbou and Marilyn Earp.
Some of the mums that set up Leeds Baby Bank pictured in 2017. L-R; Lynsey Jayes, Chantal Nogbou and Marilyn Earp.

"People would say I have got this and this but we could only take so much and I thought wouldn't it be amazing if we had a way to get the stuff that people no longer needed, to the people that need it.

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"While we thought it was a good solution, we did not realise how it would get. People really wanted to help, and people really needed help. We thought we could do this from a corner of the kitchen or have a few bits in the living room but when we had an article in the Yorkshire Evening Post we were overwhelmed with donations, we were completely flabbergasted. We got some offers from businesses of empty rooms or offices we could use. There was no way we could do this from our own home."

Case Study

One health visitor said: "I supported a teenage mum, who had been in care herself and had no friends or family in the area, who I met for the first time 14 days after her first baby was born. It quickly became apparent she did not have funds to pay for rent, gas and electricity let alone pay for more than two babygrows. The two babygrows she had, she was attempting to wash in the sink then quickly dry before baby would need to be changed. Mum did not have the money to buy an appropriate cot, mattress and bedding and was therefore using a pillow in an old moses which goes against the safe sleep guidance which helps reduce the chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

"Mum was struggling to breastfeed but only had one baby bottle and no steriliser so had been using water to wash the bottle. I put in an urgent referral to Leeds Baby Bank who provided all the equipment, baby clothes and formula she required to ensure that her newborn baby could be cared for. This in turn gave mum more confidence and helped built her trust up with professionals so she engaged in the other services which were required."

Future?

Leeds Baby Bank has been run by the founders and volunteers but has recently taken on a charity manager to expand the work that it does amid fears that the child poverty statistics have been underestimated.

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Mrs Nogbou said: "Where a child in 2020 has two babygrows because the parents have not got the money to buy anything else is shocking and heartbreaking. The ideal would be for there to be no food banks or baby banks, we don't really want to have to have the need to do it because it means the general population is in a better situation.

"Still there is a need for food banks and baby banks and that is going to be increasing. The political picture is 'aren't we clever that we have food banks', from a political view that is amazing but we should not need them. They should not be essential, it is not something to brag about."

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Thank you

Laura Collins