Baby bank charity helping new mums sees demand increase by 185% during pandemic

Baby Basics UK provides baby and toddler starter packs for new mums who might be fleeing domestic abuse, seeking asylum or needing help as teenagers

A charity supporting vulnerable families has seen referrals for essential help for mums and their babies quadruple in the last year - as it gets set to open its 50th baby bank.

The Sheffield-based charity, which was founded in 2009, trains volunteers at its centres to provide toiletries and baby clothes to new mums who have next to nothing.

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The starter packs are made to last for the first three months of the baby’s life and will be given to professionals, including midwives, domestic abuse charities and social care works, through referrals.

But the pandemic has meant more mums and babies than ever before now need vital help.

Baby Basics is now anticipating their charities will need to cope with the Covid fallout as new families brace themselves for financial hardship.

‘We are now waiting to catch up with Covid referrals’

The charities referral rate has gone up 185% during the pandemic, compared to the previous year.

Baby Basics UK CEO (left) Cat Ross welcomed the Duchess of Cambridge to the charity's HQ in Sheffield on a royal visit last year (Getty).

CEO Cat Ross told NationalWorld the charity is preparing for an increase in referrals come September when the furlough scheme is planned to end.

She said: “All those families who were just coping before Covid hit have now dipped into a scenario where they need to be able to access support like ours from baby banks and food banks.

“For some of these families it’s the first time they have ever had to do that.

“What we are seeing is month on month our referrals are increasing at around 10% across the country.

The Duchess of Cambridge talked with Ali Wartty, Sahara Hamawandy and their triplets San, Shan and Laveen, who received support from Baby Basics, during her visit to Sheffield on August 4, 2020. (Photo by Chris Jackson/POOL /AFP).

“We anticipate because, although people can quickly dip into needing the support, because they’ve lost jobs or they have been furloughed, it will take them a lot longer to get out of that situation.

“That ongoing support from baby banks will be needed long term.

"I think we are also anticipating that come September when furlough ends we may well see another sharp increase in referrals for our support as those people who have been furloughed actually find out if there’s a job for them to go back to or not.”

‘Bittersweet success’

The Baby Basics UK team in Sheffield pictured outside their latest premesis in September 2019, after moving away from the church centre.

The charity is about to open its latest centre in Portstewart, Northern Ireland.

It will be the 11th centre to open since the first lockdown on March 23, 2020 - and the50th Baby Basics centre in the UK.

The charity has come a long way since starting as a social action project in a Sheffield church in 2009.

In 2020, The Duchess of Cambridge gave the charity her royal backing and headed to the centre in Sheffield to speak to parents who have relied on help from baby banks.

Last year, she brought together 19 British brands and retailers across the UK to donate over 10,000 new items to more than 40 baby banks - including Baby Basics.

Ross added: “It’s an amazing milestone for us to have reached 50 centres and we want to be able to celebrate that we’ve supported families in those communities but it is bittersweet.

The King's Centre in Sheffield was where Baby Basics was born as a church charity before later moving on to become an independant charity in 2015.

“Our hope and our prayer is that in years to come we don’t need to have Baby Basics centres all around the country.

“But until that point, we want to celebrate as many communities as we can and therefore we will continue to open centres where there is a need.”

To mark the milestone, the charity has kickstarted its 50 for 50 fundraising campaign to raise £50,000 to open and staff a national warehouse to meet soaring demand.

The current lack of warehouse space for the charity means that donations consistently have to be turned down.

‘We give hope to mums’

The Northampton branch of the charity has given out 48 more emergency starter packs within the last year, they told NationalWorld.

They were the first branch of the Baby Basics charity to open outside of Sheffield eight years ago with volunteers making up the vital starter packs in their spare rooms and sheds before taking on a larger premises in a Northamptonshire village.

Micki Carey-Slater said: “When we receive a referral we create a basket that is a gift that gives hope and value to mums and their newborns.”

Baskets include baby wipes, toiletries, nappies, toys and towels for the baby but the hampers include treats for mums – so they know they are special, too.

She added: “We found that we were all set for a massive influx in referrals at the start of the pandemic.

“But a lot of our referrers - the health visitors and midwives - weren’t allowed to go into homes so they couldn’t see the need.

“We are now in catch-up and because things have changed slightly, particularly in January, we are seeing the referrals that we have been waiting for, knowing they are going to come in. It’s really sad.”

In January 2020, the Northampton branch sent out 11 Moses starter packs and this year it was 27.

Carey-Slater recalled one mum who paid thanks after having her baby nine weeks premature.

The mum told the health visitor to take her son away because she didn’t have any supplies the baby needed.

“The midwife bought a basket and she could enjoy her baby and it’s that kind of thing that makes you realise what we do,” Carey-Slater added.

“To get to this point where we know we are coming out the other side even though we know we are going to have to build a heck of a lot of baskets over the next few months, I think we are really proud that we’ve done it and we’ve kept going through it all.

“We know that there are mums who have nothing and now we know they can keep their baby.”

Micki Carey-Slater pictured (left) packing up a Moses basket baby starter pack with two staff members from Baby Basics Northampton (Kirsty Edmonds).