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Covid-19 has impacted all our lives in many ways. As we ease out of lockdown and begin to navigate the ‘new normal’, many uncertainties remain and a recession looms ahead. Families are feeling the pressure. The Trussell Trust recently revealed that ‘In April 2020, foodbanks in the Northern Ireland Network saw a 128% rise in parcels distributed for children compared to April 2019’. With schools due back for the new school year in September, new uniforms will be needed. And they are costly.

The Children’s Society published a startling report, ‘The Wrong Blazer 2018’, on the increasing price of school uniforms and the impact it has on families. The average cost of a school uniform per year per child in Primary School is £255 and £340 per child in secondary school. Last year, the ROC Lower Falls Action Group in West Belfast identified a practical way of reducing this burden and stress on families in their community providing 130 families with items of pre-loved uniform.

With demand expected to be significantly higher this year, the School Uniform Project is expanding to three areas of West Belfast with the ROC St James Action Group getting involved too. But the project looks very different to last year.  Tony Meehan, who is coordinating the project shares how the Action Group has adapted this year’s project as a result of Covid-19; ‘With schools closed and restrictions in place, getting word out has been more challenging. So we created a new website and Facebook Page to promote and to encourage families to self-refer onto the scheme. We’ve also contacted Principals and the Irish National Teachers Organisation to raise awareness of the project. We’re dependent on receiving donations of uniform items. This week we’re opening the Foodbank as a drop-off donation point and these items will be quarantined for at least 72hours before volunteers can sort. This year instead of families picking their own uniforms, volunteers will put together uniform bundles for those who have self-referred via the website. These can be picked up at the collection points or delivered directly to families’ homes at the end of July.’ Tony adds ‘There’s much more organising and work behind the scenes this year as well as providing volunteers with PPE. But we believe we can help many more families.’

The School Uniform Project seeks to help families, regardless of their circumstances, in this practical way. No one should get into debt or be put under financial stress to provide their child a uniform. We aim to show dignity, love and compassion to all we support. One parent shared her experience after her visit to the school uniform project last year – ‘I want to thank all who organised the uniform event as it’s such a tremendous help. All involved today were so lovely, friendly, willing to help me find sizes. I was so nervous but my 5-year-old son and I were made to feel important even though I feel ashamed of my circumstances. My daughter was so excited about the navy coat. I felt very blessed today. Thank you all.’.

We can easily overlook the simple things in transforming our communities, but they can be the most effective. We encourage you to find out if there is a school uniform project in your community to support. If there isn’t one, get in touch with the ROC team to hear how you can go about setting one up.

Visit the School Uniform Project Website –  www.schooluniformproject.com & Facebook: School Uniform Project-Belfast