Meet the Bristol-based charity, the Baby Bank Network. Founded by Eva Fernandes and Becky Gilbert, the charity re-purposes old baby gear and much-needed supplies for parents in need. Between March and June we have teamed up with a local health food shop chain, The Better Food Company in Bristol to help raise money for them.
We met up with BBN’s co-founder, Eva Fernandes, to get an insight into their amazing work and how the money raised will be used!
So, what is Baby Bank Network all about?
Baby Bank Network (BBN) is a charity that was started by myself and Becky Gilbert. It’s a simple and effective idea; we take outgrown baby things and pass them on to families in need. With the proceeds from campaigns such as with Natracare, we are also going to be able to start supporting families with practical support that they can’t access otherwise.
What were the driving forces for creating the charity? Where did they idea come from?
I was motivated to do something positive to help families when they are in a very vulnerable time of their lives. Having run an ethical nursery store business for 16 years, I was also very aware that there is a lot of pressure through marketing to new inexperienced parents-to-be to buy stuff they don’t really need. Often it is poorly made and in my opinion just landfill fodder.
Having a baby puts a great deal of financial and emotional stress on a person and this is exacerbated right now due to the lack of support from structures we used to rely on like social services and the NHS. Becky (BBN’s co-founder) too felt strongly that no family should go without and wanted to ensure her kids outgrown items went to a family that really needed them.
A few months before starting Baby Bank Network I had been in India and of course you expect to see poverty there. But it occurred to me that the UK is one of the richest countries in the world and there is no excuse for the levels of poverty experienced here.
I was shocked to learn that 25% of children live in poverty in the UK. In Bristol we have areas where the child poverty is as high as 60%.
It is not ok and the figure is rising. These families are not all on benefits, in most circumstances one or even both people might be working. Worldwide wealth inequality is finally being recognised. According to Oxfam, the wealth of the richest 1% is more than the rest of the world combined. That’s crazy! Maybe it’s because I’m a Libra that I am constantly looking at how we can balance things out.
We are also more aware that re-using items it far more environmentally friendly and cheaper than making new things all the time. But that said, we do have enough resources on the planet to satisfy everyone’s needs just not for everyone’s greed.
I also believe that the post-natal period is incredibly important for the well-being of the baby and the parents. Being present to their baby’s needs and to one another is the priority to establish bonding and for the mental health of the parents. If you are worried and stressed about finances you can’t focus on just being with your baby.
I wanted Baby Bank Network to help ease the stress of having a new baby by taking away at least some of the financial worry so that parents and children can get the best beginning possible.
What are some of the challenges faced by families you support? And how have you impacted on lives of families?
When we were starting out Becky and I went to visit the early intervention team in Bristol. We needed to establish if there was going to be a demand for our services. We were going to trial the set up with a couple of referral partners to see if there was a need and to check that we would get donations. In that meeting I was struck by how helpless social workers and health care professionals feel by the lack of funding to their services.
We focus on providing essential items like clothes and equipment – just the basics can quickly add up to hundreds of pounds.
The biggest issue facing the families we support is the expense involved in having a baby. They told us that when they visit vulnerable families they often come away distressed because they were not able to offer practical help to the families. There just isn’t the funding available any more to help people.
Social services were overwhelmed that we were offering to provide them with everything a family would need to support the arrival of a baby in a practical way. After that meeting I knew what we were planning had to happen so we launched straight away without a trial as the demand was so high.
What’s your big dream for the future of BBN?
When we set up we did so with the intention of helping other people do similar things in their area. That’s why we are called a Network. We have a partner branch in Aberdeenshire and one to start shortly in Exeter. We are happy to give away our learning and tech to anyone who can commit to doing the same in their area. We also want to extend the age range we can help by going up to pre-school age children. At the moment, mostly because of time and space restrictions we focus on babies to 18 months. If we had more volunteers we could have the help we need to sort older clothes, toys and books which are the things toddlers and preschoolers need.
Currently we focus on ‘stuff’ and whilst meeting a families physical needs is important, the need for practical support and guidance is just as, if not more important. We know that what we do helps to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that parents have around having a baby but the cuts to services means that the support new parents need isn’t there unless you can pay for it.
The secondary aim of the charity is “For the public benefit, the advancement of health of women who are pregnant or who are mothers of young children and of children in particular by providing advice and support in relation to pregnancy, birth, post-natal health and breast feeding.” The money we raise from this Natracare campaign will kick start that part of our work. There are some brilliantly skilled people who can support parents but they need to earn a living just like anyone else. By making this help available to more people we are helping to prevent issues from occurring in the first place. There is a vast amount of help available out there but the first issue is people don’t know it exits and the second is they can’t afford it. Through our work we aim to address both those issues.
What can we do to help?
When we started off we weren’t sure that people would want to donate their used baby things to us. However as soon as we put the word out on social media that this is what we were doing we were very quickly overwhelmed with donations of things. Getting donations has never been a problem but the two things we are always in need of are more volunteers and money.
We are 100% volunteer led. Some people have been with us since the beginning volunteering a few hours a week to sort clothing and pack a bundle or clean buggies and make sure they are safe. Our referrals currently stand at around 20 families per week. That’s a lot of stuff to sort, check, clean and have ready for collection. The more volunteers we have the easier that job is. As well as practical help at the warehouse we need help with things that can be done at home such as social media marketing, fundraising and finance management.
Although all of us are volunteers we need to pay the rent, bills and for boring admin things like paper and pens! The biggest cost to us outside of the rent is the new things we need to provide to the families, such as mattresses for cots or cribs/moses baskets and teats for donated feeding bottles as these are things that must be new.
For every pack of Natracare that you buy between the months of March – June from the The Better Food Company in Bristol we will donate 50p to the Baby Bank Network.