Pleas for help to Leeds Baby Bank doubles in just a few months as working families struggle to feed and clothe their kids

Referrals to Leeds Baby Bank have doubled in just a few months as working families are forced to ask for help to feed and clothe their newborns.
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Last month the charity recorded its busiest ever period since starting up in 2017.

A record 117 referrals were made to the service, which provides emergency bundles from prams to nappies and formula to cots, for the month of July - a month on month increase of 22 from June (95 referrals) and 50 from May (67 referrals).

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When the charity started with a few mums getting together to help out families who had had twins or triplets, it would average around 40 referrals a month - but it has quickly become a lifeline to help out those who have nothing and the consequences of the pandemic are placing an increased demand on the service.

Will Munton, the manager of Leeds Baby Bank.Will Munton, the manager of Leeds Baby Bank.
Will Munton, the manager of Leeds Baby Bank.

In the last few months Leeds Baby Bank has fundraised to purchase an electric van so it can deliver items and help more families and quicker.

However, when the delivery driver turns up the bigger picture begins to unfold.

Charity manager, Will Munton said: "Sometimes our driver turns up and they are putting the only items in the house. Sometimes we speak to families and they don’t know where to start, they are due in a few weeks and don’t know what they need.

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“If we are working with asylum seekers or refugees, the houses are completely empty, they are having a fresh start and we are getting them set up for the young one. It is heart-breaking really."

Tim Baxter, the delivery driver for Leeds Baby Bank.Tim Baxter, the delivery driver for Leeds Baby Bank.
Tim Baxter, the delivery driver for Leeds Baby Bank.
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Mr Munton added: "It has been building, we kept on hitting records for the last few months. February was one of the busiest months, then we went to May and June took another increase.

"We have reduced our restrictions on how many bundles people can get. It was two a year as we didn’t want to create a dependence but we have seen families hit so hard we have told partners they can refer again if they are really struggling. We have spoken to a lot of families about housing, mental health, well-being and support and we have connections that can take the family as a client and help them out of that situation.”

The service has proved to be a way out for families in Leeds, with one telling the Yorkshire Evening Post she was too scared to leave the house to buy things for the baby she was expecting after having fled domestic violence and experienced threats from her ex-partner.

Volunteers Esme Varley (left) and Angela Rai sort through items that are being prepped for emergency bundles.Volunteers Esme Varley (left) and Angela Rai sort through items that are being prepped for emergency bundles.
Volunteers Esme Varley (left) and Angela Rai sort through items that are being prepped for emergency bundles.
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She was referred to the baby bank by her domestic violence practitioner when she was 38 weeks pregnant. Two weeks later Leeds Baby Bank dropped off everything she needed and the next day, she gave birth.

Another client said: "I cannot begin to tell you how much this service has meant for our family, we were able to get a cot bed, clothes, formula and toys for our daughter when we were in unexpected financial difficulty and the relief we felt was enormous. We cannot express how grateful we are to the commissioners providing some of the funding, staff and volunteers who are angels in disguise and of course those who donated their items and money to the baby bank. Thank you for being non-judgemental and for your kindness, it means the world to us."

Recent research carried out by Loughborough University for the End Child Poverty Coalition shows that the North East of England has seen the most dramatic rise in child poverty in the past five years, fuelled by stagnating family incomes.

Overall, in the North East, the child poverty rate has risen by over a third - from 26 per cent to 37 per cent - over five years, moving from just below the UK average to the second-highest of any region, after London.

Jackie Appleton, supervisor at the Leeds Baby Bank.Jackie Appleton, supervisor at the Leeds Baby Bank.
Jackie Appleton, supervisor at the Leeds Baby Bank.
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Leeds fits into the 20 local authorities with the highest increase after housing costs. Figures for children below 60 per cent median income after housing costs was at 35.3 per cent for 2019/20, a 6.7 per cent increase from 2014/15 figures of 28.6 per cent.

While people who come to Leeds Baby Bank all have different circumstances, Mr Munton added that it is mainly working families who still can't cover basic costs and the pandemic fall-out is also becoming a factor.

He added: "We get a huge range of circumstances really, we are seeing an increase in domestic violence cases which is really sad, we are seeing a lot of cases where the parents have jobs but they are on low income, there are contracts that can manipulate people where their conditions are not brilliant, they come to have a child and it is not enough to pay the bills.

“We serve a lot of asylum seekers and refugees but the majority are white, British, working but it is not enough to cover the basics. The pandemic will have impacted the permanency of roles. We have a lot of statistics where one of the parents has dropped a job before the baby and planned to go back but the job market is difficult and they can’t.

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“We started doing a handful of referrals each month, now we have got 330 partners, we have an electric van dropping off referrals, it is a military operation and growing in numbers but we have got capacity and infrastructure in the charity and can see it growing in the next few years. We are geared up to reach more families.”