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Scots school uniform banks: How do they work and who can access them?

Daily Record logoDaily Record 22/07/2020 Kathleen Speirs
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Scots families plunged into poverty due to the coronavirus crisis are reaching out to school uniform banks ahead of pupils returning full time in August.

Thousands of desperate service users across the country rely on these banks term after term.

But, with close to 630,000 Scots placed on the furlough scheme and others hit with unemployment, volunteers running these vital charities are seeing more referrals than ever before.

With children and young people returning to school full time in just a few weeks, here is everything you need to know about Scotland's school uniform banks.

a person holding a suitcase: Julia Grindley from the Edinburgh School Uniform Bank © Daily Record Julia Grindley from the Edinburgh School Uniform Bank

What is a school uniform bank?

A school uniform bank, similar to a food bank, provides essential items to those most in need.

What does a school uniform bank provide?

Service users can access any uniform item, from cardigans, to ties, to blazers.

The groups also source outdoor gear like jackets, coats, shoes, woolen hats and trainers for PE Items such as school bags, stationery and toiletries can also be accessed.

Who can access a school uniform bank?

Anyone who has been referred to their closest uniform bank can access their services.

a woman standing in front of a store: Sandra Douglas runs the East Renfrewshire Back to School Bank © Daily Record Sandra Douglas runs the East Renfrewshire Back to School Bank

Who would refer a family or individual to a school uniform bank?

A variety of organisations make referrals including health visitors, Barnardo's, Women's Aid, family support workers from local councils, social workers, school teachers, youth groups, outreach groups, befriending schemes and more.

What kind of situations would lead someone to require the help of a school uniform bank?

Groups receive referrals for a whole host of reasons such as in-work poverty, unemployment and domestic abuse.

Are referrals anonymous?

Yes, referees will note down the gender and age of a pupil, what they require, if not everything, and sometimes what they are into e.g a particular cartoon character, colour or theme.

a woman sitting on a table: Volunteers Meg Wishart and Collette Moran at West Lothian School Uniform Bank, Livingston © Daily Record Volunteers Meg Wishart and Collette Moran at West Lothian School Uniform Bank, Livingston

How did school uniform banks receive donations before the pandemic?

Most banks would hold pop-up drop off points in school, libraries, church halls, supermarkets and more. Donors could drop of individual items or enter into the popular 'Sponsor a Child' scheme where they would be given a description of a child and buy a complete uniform.

How are many school uniform banks taking donations during the pandemic?

While some banks may still take clothing donations, there are concerns that having to quarantine the items would not be feesible. To combat this, groups are accepting cash donations online for volunteers to then buy the items themselves.

How can I contact my nearest school uniform bank?

Many local banks can be found on Facebook or simply contact your local council.

a person standing next to a suitcase: Julia Grindley and her team of volunteers fear they'll be swamped with referrals © Daily Record Julia Grindley and her team of volunteers fear they'll be swamped with referrals

Case study

One of Scotland's busiest groups, Edinburgh School Uniform Bank (ESUB), based in the city's Balerno Academy.

It's Chair of the Board of Trustees, Julie Grindley, 50, fears her team of volunteers could be swamped with referrals amid the rise of in-work poverty.

Full time volunteer Julia, told the Record: "The pandemic has shown a light on the fact that so many people are just one pay check away from a massive financial crisis at home.

"In-work poverty is a huge problem.

"Last year we found that 80 per cent of our referrals were sent in because the family was on a low income.

"That's often down to parents on zero hours contracts or working a few part-time jobs for example, which are precarious positions to be in."

Between January and March this year alone, ahead of lockdown, ESUB's referrals soared by 34 per cent on the same period last year, from 129 to 173.

ESUB would normally start taking 'Back to School' referrals at the beginning of May.

In May 2019 alone they received 476 applications.

Lockdown ground the bank to a halt this year but operations started back up at the end up June.

In the past three weeks, the bank has received 472 referrals.

Mum Julia added: "This year we are down on volunteers are some are unwell and others are shielding.

"We've had to cap the number of referrals one referee can put in per week to 10, so we are not swamped.

"This means that the referrals come in a more steady flow than last year, but we will still get through them all when we can.

"So to see 472 referrals already, knowing that's with the weekly cap and that there are more to come, our referral numbers are bound to be sky high." 

For more information on how to volunteer or donate to the ESUB visit their website.

Keep up to date with all Scottish coronavirus news by following our live blog.

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