The Big Exchange
In the summer of 2011, a group of Huddersfield mums (me included) decided to act on something that really matters to us and really matters to our local community – our children getting off to a good start at school.
The action came about because we were deeply troubled by a documentary shown on the BBC, Poor Kids, telling the story of the 3.5 million children in the UK living in poverty. We were deeply troubled by uniform grants across the UK being cut leaving many families without help and at breaking point from the financial strain of a new term. And we were deeply troubled by the thought of a child not feeling ready for school – not just the little ones but right up to those crucial final years where you really need to feel your best to do your best.
In partnership with the local libraries, and with support from Kirklees council and schools, we started to collect unwanted uniforms and got them to the children who needed them, free of charge. Not just skirts, shirts and blazers but all those other bits too – the coats, the socks, the trackies needed for PE.
Over time we’ve started to really make a difference – last year there were 25,000 items donated, 800 uniform packs given out, 181 schools supported. But it’s not just in the numbers where you see the difference, it’s the faces. You see the difference we’re making on mum and dad’s faces when they know their child is going to school looking smart.
It’s so vital every child has a sense of identity and belonging. Wearing a good fitting, full school uniform raises their self-esteem so they feel part of their school community. It can also head off potential problems such as bullying and all the possible mental health issues that can cause young people.
School uniform is so well made that at Uniform Exchange we believe there is #lifeleft in the millions of items outgrown every year. We want to encourage everyone to recycle their items of school uniform instead of sending them to landfill. Let’s all become savvy school uniform shoppers protecting the environment as well as our pockets.
Uniform Exchange held its first Big Exchange last week, where families could exchange outgrown items of school uniform for bigger sizes at no cost. We’re proud that we can bring the community together, a chance for families to drop off uniform, pick it up and take part in free activities like face-painting and craft workshops.
What we do doesn’t just have a community impact, but recycling uniform helps our planet too – which is why we’re proud to work with an organisation known for hand me down quality, a uniform provider who’s uniform can be worn by more than one child – Marks & Spencer.
We’ve been working with M&S since last summer when they asked customers to send back old uniforms and collected uniforms that came in through their shwopping scheme with Oxfam. Over the six week break they collected nearly 200 perfect pieces of uniform and 1,200 not quite perfect pieces that were repaired. These 1,400 items were distributed across Huddersfield.
Since then we’ve continued to work with M&S by picking up stock from Oxfam that’s donated to M&S’s shwopping boxes and M&S has donated a large amount of warehouse clearance to us that’s being used in the Big Exchange.
M&S has a lot of partnerships – with big global organisations, with national charities, but importantly with community-based organisations in towns they serve across the UK too and we know they share our passion for supporting families and for sustainable fashion. It’s still early days in our partnership but we’re excited to see what happens next.