Baby Bank Norfolk Trustees, Vicky and Pippa, talk about the year that was and the impact it’s had on the work of the baby bank.

I often get asked: “What’s a baby bank” and I usually reply with: “We’re a bit like a food bank”. But actually, our proposition is a bit different in that we’re solving a few issues with one charity (that’s in no way aimed at downplaying the essential work that food banks do, of course).

What we do is make it really easy for people to help us help others – and in turn it helps them out too. When you have children you amass so many things, lots of which you only need for a short amount of time. Parents often end up with a mountain of barely worn baby clothes and lots of good condition equipment that they want and need to hand on to someone else.

And that’s where the Baby Bank comes in. We’re basically facilitating what used to happen all the time informally in communities: people passing on what they no longer need to others to get the benefit from too. To know your items are being put to good use is a really great feeling. And it’s obviously good for the planet to reuse rather than buying new.

And that often leads on to the question: “So who uses a Baby Bank?” 

And to that I always reply that it’s perhaps easy to make assumptions about who would need to use a Baby Bank. But, actually you’d probably be surprised – especially over the last year in particular. I believe that the reality is: you just never know when your personal circumstances, or your wider environment could take a serious turn (hello – 2020).

People get referred to us for a number of reasons: maybe they’ve left a violent partner; we get referrals for parents who’ve split up and are sharing custody so need two lots of everything; there’s been lots of people who have been victims of rogue landlords; we help lots of families who are refugees; there’s people who have lost their jobs, and people on low incomes that can’t make ends meet at the moment. Many people we help don’t have a support network to help them out at that time. It doesn’t matter why people need our support, and we only know very scant details about their circumstances. If we can help, we will. Life is complicated and for many it got a lot more complicated over the last year. 

In an ideal world charities like ours wouldn’t exist as a lifeline for families – it would be great if one day we are no longer needed. It would be amazing if we could run not because we had to, but to just enable things to be shared and reused. 

When we started the charity we were a group of people with no previous experience of setting up something like this, that all got together with the idea that we could alleviate several situations with one charity. We have worked together in our spare time to make Baby Bank Norfolk happen and after five years we’ve got to a point where we run really smoothly. We were supported in the early days by other established baby banks, and learning from them was crucial.

All of the trustees of Baby Bank Norfolk volunteer their time to running and maintaining the charity, each having families and jobs themselves too. They all collect donated items from drop off points (currently closed because of the pandemic), they sort the donations, monitor stocks of what they have, manage referral relations, keep a track of data, bid for appropriate grants and funding, pack bundles, arrange collections of bundles and work to promote the charity and its work. 

In addition to the trustees, we have a few regular volunteers who help out with packing bundles. They usually come in for a couple of hours one evening a month. Together we go through the requests we’ve had in for the week and prepare bespoke bundles for families. We work to a set list of what we provide for families but try to accommodate specific requests if we can. For example, if the family also has an older child as well as a new baby, we will try to add in some clothes and toys for that child too. Knowing that each bundle is going to help someone out is really personally fulfilling.

Pippa (pictured packing referrals above) has been a trustee at Baby Bank Norfolk for four years. “It has been really positive for me to be able to help families, especially during the pandemic. As my day job is a non-key worker, volunteering at the Baby Bank has enabled me to feel like I am making a contribution during this difficult time.”

“We have two absolutely amazing volunteers who come in during the day to sort the donations. They have completely turned our storage facility around. It’s in such great shape now and that’s all down to them.

“Before the pandemic we used to also get groups of volunteers come in to help with sorting. Some professional teams did a day here and there as part of their away days and the Good Gym did a very high energy sorting session for us too! 

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in referrals this year so far. There are more people struggling given the extreme environment that the pandemic has brought about. We provide around 200 families with bundles a year. Last year we provided around the same number of bundles despite being closed for referrals for more than two months during the first lockdown.  In January this year we fulfilled 28 referrals. That’s the biggest number we’ve ever done in a month and if that trend continues would mean we will be providing more than 300 referrals this year. 

“We also saw a large number of new referrers registering for the service. We added 89 in 2019 and 88 in 2020. We’ve had a further 12 this year already.

“More requests are coming in for larger bundles of items too. Which suggests people are in greater need for longer. We typically prepare bundles that includes essentials for a newborn, bedding and toiletries, enough clothes for six months, and some toys and books. Often families don’t need the whole offering because they have some items but we’re seeing now that more and more, they do need everything.” 

And then people usually ask how they can help us. And we say:

Drop off items such as toiletries for babies (baby shampoo, baby wash, lotion, cream, soap, sponges, toothbrushes, no talc) and mothers (essentials such as maternity pads and breast pads but we try to make sure we include something nice for mums in each bundle so things like nice shampoo, bubble bath, shower gel, body lotion, a nice soap etc). We also give out small boxes of washing powder, nappy sacks, bottles and teats and dummies. We always need nappies (of all sizes, including opened packets) and wipes

* Donate items via our wishlist – this is on our website and our Facebook and Instagram pages. This is a really easy way to get new things like books and toiletries to us.

* Donate financially to us. Our running costs are incredibly low. We just need to cover rent on the storage facility and to buy new things like Moses basket mattresses, changing mats and bags to pack bundles in. 

*Volunteer for us. We just need a couple of hours in the evening every other month to help us pack referrals.

* Fundraise for us! We’d love more people to do this and help us raise awareness of the charity as well as helping us pay our bills. We’re particularly looking for businesses to sponsor us for the next year.

* If you work with families that we could help – register to be a referrer. Help us spread the word about what we do.

* Follow us on our social media feeds to keep up to date with things we need at a particular time. Social media has been really instrumental when we need donations of particular items. We did a shout out for winter coats last year and it was shared several hundred times. The response to these requests is usually brilliant. 

*  We’re not taking donations of pre-loved clothes and other items again yet but we will soon – when we do, please give us your good quality goods and we will do the rest!

 A big thank you to Greenfields Community Centre for renting us our storage space and to Busy Bees Meridian and Gymboree for being so wonderful in being donations stations for us (when we are taking donations).