According to Channel 4’s Dispatches, 1 in 100 families in the UK are reliant on baby banks for extra support. That is a 500 per cent increase in the last five years.
The Dispatches documentary Born on the Breadline focuses on the rising use of baby banks in the UK. Baby banks are centres that, like food banks, offer basic provisions for parents, usually for age 0 to 2-years-old.
Highlighting these stark statistics is important. We need to be aware of and review the impact of changes to the benefits system.
The causes and circumstances of childhood poverty or need are often complex and can escalate quite quickly leaving families in a vulnerable position. Yes, government benefits are confusing and can leave families struggling – I don’t want to take away from that point. Baby banks are clearly playing a vital role for the families they are supporting helping to bridge these gaps. Dispatches points out that much of child poverty is hidden as families who are in work still struggle to make ends meet and this is certainly our experience of the families we support at Growkids.
However, I think there’s another way to look at it, one that shows the positive impact of groups, beyond just providing physical provision. One of the priorities for us as we established Growkids was to create an environment that welcomed all, regardless of income or employment status, faith or background. We intentionally decided to open the doors without the need for professional or charitable referrals, though we welcome these too, and for people to be empowered to choose the items they need rather than given items by the team. We often find people want to give back to Growkids, either bringing items they no longer need or offering their time to support the project, which is also empowering in itself.
From an on the ground community point of view we have the capability and willingness to work together to make it easily accessible to everybody. We hope people leave us feeling more empowered, listened to and able to give to others. I think there’s something really powerful about being able to give back, not just receive.
Grow Kids, like many groups, came from seeing a need and wanting to fill it. I came up with the idea having worked as a midwife in Leeds. I loved car boot sales and was seeing an abundance of stuff people were trying to get rid of while also meeting families with hardly anything and I wanted to bring the two together. I felt a burden to bridge this gap.
I never realised until I joined a Vineyard church that it’s something they already do. There are around 24 Growbaby or Growkids groups running out of Vineyard churches around the country.
We went to visit Kingston Vineyard, who set up the first Growbaby. They provide for 0 to 5-year-olds but we felt we needed to do 0 to 12 as we were fortunate to have the space to store this amount of clothing. Most of these families have older siblings and there’s not just a need for baby things, there’s actually a wider need for the whole family. The social pressures on these older children can be significant and cause additional stress, but seeing a 12-year-old choose her own clothes that fit and a style she likes is a really wonderful gift to be able to give.
We started out as three mums and a few boxes and it’s grown massively. We honestly don’t know where this stuff comes from but it turns up week on week. We bring our children and they play with other kids coming in. We all have different skill sets and we work well together.
Growkids is about trying to build a sense of community. We run it alongside what’s become a bit of a play group. People bring their children, there’s tea, coffee and cake, and we give time to talk and offer to pray for people.
At Growkids we believe that a community has a big role to play in supporting those in need around them, whether that is for practical needs or social contact and support. As children grow out of clothes, toys and equipment they no longer need there is a choice about what we do with this excess
I know that giving clothes and equipment won’t solve a family’s wider issues or the core issue of why they are in need, and we often meet families that we wish we could do more for. But I do see incredible value and potential in community taking action, being generous without expectation, offering a place to connect with others, being empowered to choose their clothes and to have an opportunity to give and help others if they wish. I believe that we can all invest in making things a little better for each other.
It’s biblical that people give out of what they have, whether it’s a lot or a little. The writings and stories of Jesus, the things he spoke about were about loving each other, living in community and giving what you have and looking after each other. I think those are the basics of what he was teaching and was modelled by the early church in the book of Acts. It makes a lot of sense.
Baby banks are amazing resources for communities in the provision they offer for people and they should be celebrated not criticised. There’s no doubt in our minds that they have grown in availability and use as they meet a need that’s all around us. I think biblical community looks like looking after each other on a more holistic scale. For us the ‘stuff’ is an invitation to come and meet us, build relationship and community and be empowered. We’re finding that people just want somewhere to be around, someone in a similar life stage. Poverty and parenting can both be isolating, so providing welcoming places to meet that are easy to access is important for all churches and a way of serving our communities.