“The idea of a school uniform bank came about after a teacher in Glasgow noticed that some children were writing ‘school uniform’ on their Christmas wish lists,” explains Kirstin Shemilt, Chair of The School Bank West Lothian.
Going to school in the “wrong” clothes, children are vulnerable to bullying, social exclusion and low self esteem; the knock-on effects on their education are significant. “The idea was to model it on food banks, where families are referred by professionals, donations collected from the community, and children provided with everything they need for school. I heard about this and said to my mum – I’m going to start a school bank, it can’t be that hard!”
That was in August 2015. Days after launching the first referral came in. Since then, The School Bank West Lothian has helped over 600 children and the demand is ever-growing. Families experiencing financial hardship come from all walks of life. Referrals come from teachers, social workers, other charitable organisations, the Advice Shop in Bathgate, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, and women’s shelters – sadly it is not unusual for a woman to have to flee domestic violence and leave her home with the children and nothing else. Imagine what it’s like for the children starting at a new school in a different area and not being able to have a decent set of appropriate uniform.
Although the process sounds simple, a huge amount of organisation and co-ordination is involved in getting the packs out to the children who need them. The local community has been very generous with donations, and having outgrown their living rooms in the early days, Kirstin and the wee team were fortunate to acquire the use of a premises at Kirkton Campus for storing, sorting and packing. Second hand donations are sorted, washed and folded so that every pack is beautifully presented. “Each child referred receives one complete set of brand new uniform, and usually a couple of sets of nearly-new uniform. We don’t want to hand out anything that is not in excellent condition. It’s about respecting the recipients.” The packs also contain a lot of other school essentials such as gym kits, stationery, a back pack, a warm coat and scarf for the winter, to name a few. They always include brand new footware.
“You get quite involved with the child you’re packing for,” says Kirstin. “although we never actually meet them, as the packs are sent via the referrer. But in the referral you are told the age and gender of the child and it is fun to add in extra items such as hair accessories and sanitary towels. Teenagers are the hardest to pack for – it’s always difficult to know what they might want in as extras or what clothes they will like!”
Sponsor a Child
“Over the summer, we’re looking for supporters to sponsor a child. We give you the age and gender of the child in need, and you can donate a set of school uniform and equipment such as pencil case and stationery for her/him.” The community was incredibly generous with the Sponsor a Child appeal last summer, and The School Bank West Lothian are hoping for a good response this summer too.
Alternatively you can donate just an item or two – pick up a pack of polo shirts or a pair of trousers while you’re doing your shopping. Pencil cases, calculators, lunch bags and stationery are welcome too. All the shops will have their “Back to School” ranges in store this month before the holidays!
The local drop-off points for donations are:
All West Lothian Libraries
Astro Gymnastics: 7 Brewster Square, Brucefield Industrial Estate, Livingston EH54 9BJ (next to the Larder). Open 9am-8pm Monday to Saturday.
Homestart, Cameron House, 13a Fairbairn Road, Livingston EH54 6TS. Opening hours: 9.00am-5.00pm Mon-Thurs and 4.30pm on a Friday.
Craigshill Good Neighbourhood Network, Almondbank Centre, Livingston, EH54 5EH
The Beauty Spot, 28a Academy Street, Bathgate. Opening Hours: Sunday closed, Monday, Tuesday 11-7, Wednesday 10-8.30, Thursday 9.30-9pm, Friday 9.30-6, Saturday 9-4.
Warriors Gym, 43 West Main Street, Whitburn
Weslo Housing Management, 66 North Bridge Street, Bathgate. EH48 4PP. Open 8.30am – 4.30pm Monday – Friday.
To donate items, sponsor a child, volunteer to sort and pack, refer a family, or to get involved in any way with The School Bank West Lothian, please contact them, they will be delighted to hear from you!
Facebook: The School Bank West Lothian
First published in Konect June 2018
Author: Helen-Jane Shearer