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Focus On: Mums the Word
  • Mum's the Word

    Mum's the Word

    "Supporting children, families and the environment"

  • Mum's the Word

    Mum's the Word

    "Supporting children, families and the environment"

Focus On: Mums the Word

13th Jan 2015

Mums the Word: Supporting children, families and the environment

A uniform gives a sense of belonging. It’s inclusive – but in Lancashire, with some of the highest rates of child poverty in the country, what about the children whose families cannot afford to provide their growing children with a school uniform and PE kit?

That’s where Mums the Word step in.

MTW are fighting the impacts of child poverty, based in Blackburn with Darwen - the authority ranked as one of the worst in Lancashire for levels of income deprivation and inside the worst 10% nationally:

  • Blackburn with Darwen has one of the worst levels of child poverty in Lancashire with 27% of children living in income-deprived households – considerably above the national average of 20%.
  • 21% of Primary School children receive free school meals - significantly above the national average of 14%.
  • The authority also has high levels of fuel poverty with 13.4% of households in Blackburn with Darwen required to spend more than 10% of their income on fuel – ranking the district within the bottom 20% nationally.

Affordable School Uniforms

Mums the Word specialise in collecting and reissuing good quality second hand school uniforms, as well as supplying affordable and durable new uniforms, and in doing so they offer parents on low incomes and their children a lifeline.

The LGA reports that the average secondary school uniform now costs more than £200, with primary school uniform setting parents back £160, not including additional items that are worn out, lost or out-grown. For families on low incomes it can be difficult or impossible to get their child ‘school-ready’.

MTW Co-Founder Caroline Fortios said “School clothing grants have been scrapped and with the welfare reforms, families are feeling the difference and its hitting the poorest families the hardest. We see kids with trousers too short, shirts and jumpers too small, shoes worn through, no coats – those children see and feel that they are different because they don’t have a uniform, or one that fits.

It's more than just a uniform...

“There is a huge emotional impact on a child who isn’t school ready – but a happy child, a child who can fit in and feel part of their class, is happier and can concentrate better in school. How can a child concentrate properly when they’re cold? How can they have any self-esteem and engage properly when they’re being bullied? We’re supporting these kids’ basic wellbeing to give them a chance; it’s something we’re really passionate about.”

MTW have phone calls from support workers or food banks and numerous different agencies asking for help for a child without a coat or uniform.

“We hear that they’re getting told off at school for not having the right uniform or shoes or kit, but they know their parents can’t afford to buy what they need - that’s a lot of pressure on a child. Today we had a grandmother come in and buy two second hand school jumpers and two coats for her grandchildren for £6 – she can send them to school tomorrow and know they’re warm and they’ll feel part of their class. That’s two more children who stand a chance in the classroom and the playground again.”

Caroline says MTW are able to offer such low costs on second hand items because they generate revenue through the sale of new uniforms and benefit from amazing community support – knitting circles making jumpers for very young children and babies, members of the public buying new white shirts and other basics for MTW the provide, textile company Clarke and Clarke who donate end of line fabrics for sale at Crafty Vintage events – all revenue raised covers the costs of the enterprise and any surplus is used to purchase school shoes and costs.

So, how can you help?

Supplying New Uniforms

As a successful social enterprise, MTW are not grant reliant but keep their costs low and cover their outgoings through sales of good quality new school uniforms.
Caroline says “We are asking parents and schools to buy their uniforms from us – they’re good quality, great value and allow us to support disadvantaged children in their schools in our community”.

Donate school uniforms in confidence

Some parents donate school uniforms back to their schools and although a few might be retained for reuse, the remainder are recycled into rags or sent abroad for reuse or recycling. A lot of uniforms are landfilled which is a terrible waste of these resources (see statistics below).

“We want parents to think of us when their child outgrows a uniform, or when they leave the school –donating it to us means they’re uniforms will go to a new home and help a child in their community to engage in the classroom and fit in in the playground.”

It’s important to MTW that anyone buying a uniform from them to donates the uniform they are replacing – children can outgrow uniforms quickly and MTW want to facilitate an exchange to support more children.

Volunteer

The team are keen to hear from any volunteers who can collect donated uniforms from schools or other MTW ‘drop-spots’ around the region (or host new collections), to launder and iron donated uniforms and to fundraise for them.

“We would love to work more closely with schools and see MTW champions on PTFAs!

“Everything we do, we do to support disadvantaged children and families in our local community – the more we can reach the better.”

Next Steps:

Mums the Word have exciting plans ahead to develop the enterprise further and support the most deprived children in Blackburn and East Lancashire. With their new website about to come online the only way is up…

Join Mums the Word on Facebook, on their website and see photos from our visit here.

Environmental Impact of reusing clothes:

  • 31% of used clothing (350,000 tonnes) goes to landfill in the UK every year
  • Production of a tonne of clothes takes 10 times more energy than that of steel or glass
  • 24% of the world’s pesticides are used in cotton production
  • The annual footprints of a household’s clothing are equivalent to that of over 100 pairs of jeans, the water needed to fill 1,000 bathtubs, and the carbon emissions from driving an average modern car for 6,000 miles
  • Extending the average life of clothes by just three months of use per item would lead to a 5-10% reduction in each of the carbon, water and waste footprints
  • For every tonne of textiles reused rather than put into landfill, harmful carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 3.6 tonnes

Sources: WRAP and Defra.
 

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