Baby Bank Network proves its worth

February 23 2018

In just three years since the idea was born, the Baby Bank Network team of volunteers are helping over 50 families a month in Bristol with baby essentials they otherwise could not afford - and have celebrated their 1,000th referral.

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In just three years since the idea was born, the Baby Bank Network team of volunteers are helping over 50 families a month in Bristol with baby essentials they otherwise could not afford - and have celebrated their 1,000th referral.

It was just weeks after its launch in the summer of 2015 that the group of volunteers had helped their first family with baby essentials, operating in a similar style to a foodbank.

The 100% volunteer-run charity collects pre-loved baby essentials and gives them to families in need - this includes victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, refugees and homeless people as well as low income families. In order to reach those babies, the charity works with a range of referral partners including NextLink, Shelter and Home Start as well as midwives and health visitors across the city.

Volunteers put in hundreds of hours a month at the Fishponds warehouse to check, clean and prepare packages which include cots, prams, baby clothes, toiletries and books ready for collection by referral partners, which then deliver them to families in need across the city.

 Baby Bank Network was born when Bishopston mums Becky Gilbert and Eva Fernandes noticed that there was nowhere in Bristol which offered this service. They quickly pulled together a team of volunteers - mostly mums on maternity leave - and set about gathering, preparing and handing out baby essentials. At first it was helping a few families a month, quickly rising to the equivalent of one a day and is now exceeding that.

With no government or council funding, the charity relies on donations not just of baby items but of money and volunteer time to ensure it doesn’t have to turn anyone away. A network of more than 200 referral partners across the city helps connect those in need with Baby Bank Network which lovingly prepares parcels of quality pre-loved baby essentials for families.

Co-founder and trustee Dr Becky Gilbert said: "It’s a humbling moment to step back and realise that what started as an idea has very quickly evolved into tangible support for families in need. It’s entirely thanks to the dedication and generosity of our volunteers and supporters that we’re able to help people in the way we do and for that we’re eternally grateful.

“We live in a wealthy city in and it breaks my heart to think that there are babies that go without the basics - but with statistics showing that one in four children in Bristol are living in poverty we’ve seen demand increasing year-on-year for our service. Our main challenge now is keeping up with that demand.”

Referral partner Amanda Bryant, from Unseen (http://www.unseenuk.org/) - a charity that helps victims of human trafficking - says that the packages that Baby Bank Network gives to the families they help are gratefully received. She said: "Most of our service users are single women with young children who are predominantly living in asylum seeking accommodation on a small amount of money to cover food, gas and electric and baby products.

“They're obviously not in a position to work so are unable to improve their financial situation so it's been a real lifeline to find a charity that has such good quality second hand baby items that were able to give the women at no cost to them. They're absolutely thrilled and delighted with the help that Baby Bank Network has given."

Baby Bank Network currently helps babies under the age of one but has ambitions to extend this to all under 5s. Last year, it supported the launch of its first partner organisation - Bairnecessities in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and is currently working on the launch of other baby banks elsewhere in the UK.

It is also exploring options to get its own van and volunteer driver so it can deliver the items to referral partners and help even more families. 

 Dr Gilbert added: “I there’s anyone out there who can help us with a van or delivery service, we’d love to hear from you. We’ve got plenty of families needing our help, plenty of items in the warehouse to give them but what we don’t always have is the means of getting these items out.”

If you can help with a van/delivery service, drop Baby Bank Network a line at: becky@babybanknetwork.com