And as restrictions ease, the charity is poised to reopen its ‘safe space’ in a new property on Avenue Road in town and is encouraging struggling families to attend.
Emilie de Bruijn, who launched the service in February 2019, said: “We’re frantically trying to get the safe space finished so that people will be able to come in with their little ones and combat loneliness.
“Eventually we’ll be open 5 days a week – giving vulnerable parents the chance to make friendships with other families and take any items they need home.”
She has observed a steady increase in the number of families using the Baby Bank since the charity’s inception.
She said: “We began aiding just 6 families, it jumped up to 30 before coronavirus, and now we are helping 60 families week on week.
“It’s been a really bad period: we’ve had families ringing us crying, especially those who had to shield or self-isolate.
“A lot of people imagine it’s only single, young mums, but in reality, we get people from all kinds of backgrounds.”
The charity offers a mixture of new and good quality pre-loved items to those in need, with donations coming in from the community, as well as commercial suppliers like Tesco.
Although there are many young parents and asylum seekers using the service, through the last year, Emilie said there’s been a sharp increase in working families and furloughed families who require help.
To be eligible, individuals only need to have a child or be more than 28 weeks pregnant.
Emilie said: “It doesn’t matter what your situation is – we’re non-judgemental, and we don’t turn anyone away.
“And it’s a tailored service- not a one-size-fits-all thing. Some people come just for clothes or nappies, others for advice and support.
“We help families who are fleeing domestic abuse as they move onto pastures new, or heavily pregnant woman who are uprooted and plonked here by the government.”
A report from charity Little Village and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that 1/3 of children in the UK live below the poverty line.
The North of England has the second worst rates of poverty, after inner city London, and this level of impoverishment has become increasingly clear to Emilie through her work.
She said: “As a mother myself, it’s been really eye-opening. I really feel for the families – it’s very hard and vulnerable to be a parent right now.
“Trying to keep your children safe during Covid is hard enough, and then there’s the worries about feeding and clothing them appropriately.
“Often we see kids who are dressed sensibly and looked after, but parents who are freezing and going without.
“Recently we helped out a lady on furlough who couldn’t afford a winter coat, it was very sad to see her so desperate.
“Luckily she came and asked for help, but unfortunately some people still feel a sense of shame or have the attitude that ‘somebody else needs it more'”.
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Covid has eroded the Baby Bank’s volunteer base down to a two person team, however, the pair can still be found running a pop-up every Thursday morning at St Aidan’s Church, as well as undertaking deliveries throughout the week.
Together, they are plugging a gap in government welfare and providing a safety net for vulnerable families sinking further into poverty.
Reflecting on this gap in state support, Emilie said: “I’m really sad that baby banks exist. We’ve created something beautiful, but I wish we hadn’t needed to.
“If the government had better funding for early-years, we wouldn’t be in this mess.
“More and more children aren’t reading and writing, because parents are frantically trying to provide for, feed, and get a roof over their children’s heads.”
She highlighted Universal Credit as an issue her clients raise time and time again when speaking about their hardship “I can see Universal Credit has made lives harder. We get a lot of people complaining about it.
“Although it’s simplified benefits, sanctions are up and the cost of living has skyrocketed. I know the government are giving an extra £20 a week, but it’s pretty much lost through inflation.
“The poor are getting poorer, and you can see them being squeezed.”
The Government says it has supported those on Universal Credit by offering an extra £20 on top of basic benefit payments during the pandemic, while they’ve previously said benefit reforms have helped more people into work.