Leeds School Uniform Exchange, a project ran by Zero Waste Leeds, were successful in distributing thousands of pieces of uniform to children across the city this summer.
The free uniform exchange was set up at the beginning of 2020 to provide an affordable uniform option to children and parents across the city. Zero Waste Leeds has facilitated the initiative through Social Business Brokers CIC, a social enterprise that has been working for over ten years on creative, collaborative approaches to tackling social and environmental problems in Leeds.
The uniform exchange operates across 70% of Leeds with plans to cover more schools and areas soon. Currently, the main Facebook group has over 2,100 members that anyone in the city can join to find swaps near them, with 28 separate pages for individual areas and 191 schools involved.
On Tuesday 31 August, Zero Waste Leeds facilitated a pop-up shop at Shine in Harehills, east Leeds where the project gave out over a massive 900 items of uniform to 76 families in the area.
Gill Coupland, director of Social Business Brokers that runs Zero Waste Leeds, said: “The event at Harehills was really successful. It was well promoted on social media, and it was just amazing.
“One lady at the event said that in previous years she has spent hundreds of pounds on uniforms for her children, but just couldn’t afford it this year and so was delighted that she had this option. She said it was a ‘god send’.
“There was another woman, a grandmother, who was there to shop for all of her grandchildren and left with over 20 items.”
The items available at the pop-up shops included trousers, shorts, skirts, pinafores, summer dresses, shirts, polo shirts, jumpers, cardigans, PE kit, shoes, and coats.
Despite the uniform exchange being well received by families across Leeds, the project was still left with surplus stock and so they plan on distributing the remaining items to places such as Family Action food club in Richmond Hill, a charity that organises food parcels to residents for a low cost.
Independent uniform exchanges are still ongoing via the Facebook group, but pop-up shops are being planned for the upcoming winter and Easter breaks.
The areas that benefit from pop-up shops the most are in most need of donations, says Ms Coupland. She said: “I noticed that the schools and areas that need the School Uniform Exchange the most either do not have the programme in the area or do not have a lot of uniforms to give away and swap.
“This is because school uniform is either handed down to younger children or are swapped in their own network. We are working on moving uniform from areas with surplus stock to the areas in need.”
Ms Coupland estimates that the uniform exchange has saved families in Leeds over £130,000 on school clothes this summer. She said: “A lot of families have struggled this year to put food on the table, pay the bills and buy uniforms. If we can provide the uniform for free, then we are basically putting money back into people’s pockets.”
Leeds School Uniform Exchange is looking at helping facilitate free uniform exchanges in other areas across West Yorkshire and beyond. In Bradford for example, there is a need for the service, with income deprivation levels high in the inner city and with only one free uniform exchange service that is being operated out of a mum’s house in Shipley.
Zero Waste Leeds is also in the early stages of setting up a sports exchange, a project that will see sports kits and equipment donated and swapped so that every child in the city has the opportunity to take part in sports and exercise.
For more information or to get involved with the uniform exchange, visit the Facebook group here or email Leeds School Uniform Exchange at email@example.com