By Andy Hirst
The ever-rising cost of living means parents are turning to a Huddersfield charity to help them with free school uniform far earlier than usual.
Uniform Exchange is seeing a huge surge in demand already for September yet new statistics suggest some parents are still throwing perfectly good uniform away in their household rubbish rather than recycling it to those in need through the charity.
Research reveals that parents in the north of England are throwing away 350,000 wearable school uniforms each year, just because they’ve been outgrown.
With the average school uniform consisting of 32% polyester or similar synthetic fibres, that’s the equivalent of 87 tonnes of plastic going to landfill each year, making up 25% of the 354 tonnes of uniform discarded annually across the country.
The discarded clothing needlessly causes an environmental problem when it could be given to other families or recycled as rags.
Uniform Exchange founder Kate France thinks the figures could even be even higher as there are 65,000 youngsters in education in Kirklees alone and the charity recycles around 25 tonnes of school uniform a year.
She revealed the charity is already seeing a big increase in demand caused by the cost of living and that could spiral out of control in the coming months.
“Parents who are struggling financially are already asking us for help well before September,” she said. “At this time of year we’d probably have 30 or 40 requests for help but we already have 150 which means we are two to three weeks behind in dealing with them.
“We often don’t get a surge until mid-July but we saw a big increase immediately after the summer half-term holiday.”
The charity helped 1,800 schoolchildren in 2019 but that had soared to 3,500 in 2021. Kate fears the number of families they will need to help this year could well be near the 5,000 mark.
She said: “The increase in gas, electricity and fuel prices is already making a big difference and as time goes on I don’t see how people can afford the huge bills and that will be the majority of the country. It’s just such a depressing thought.”
Kate and a group of Huddersfield mums set up Uniform Exchange after they were deeply moved by a BBC1 documentary called Poor Kids screened on June 7, 2011, when austerity was gripping the nation. The charity was also in response to school uniform grants being cut.
The Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, had visions for what he called the Big Society, urging volunteers to step forward and help their communities.
But Kate says volunteers are now providing essential services, adding: “I think what we could be facing in the months and years ahead may be far worse than the situation in 2011.
“People responded to David Cameron’s call for help but they have never stopped helping since and the demand on the Third Sector is now getting out of hand. The demand is continuous.”
Uniform Exchange is based in Lockwood and needs more volunteers to join its 25-strong team who sort the uniforms and deliver them.
People are urged to always recycle old school uniforms via Uniform Exchange and anything not deemed fit to give away, the charity recycles as rags.
There are dozens of collection points across the town such as libraries, supermarkets, churches, community and sports centres. To find the one nearest you go to https://www.uniform-exchange.org/donation-points/
Anyone who would like to volunteer can email the charity at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07955 724789.
The charity also needs sponsors, especially to help with the spiralling costs of fuel for its vans which pick up the donated uniforms from all the recycling points and delivers them to people’s homes or schools.
The research on the amount of wearable school uniforms thrown away each year was calculated using statistics conducted by Censuswide on behalf of name label manufacturer My Nametags among 2,000 UK parents. Parents were asked how often they replace their child’s school uniform because it has been outgrown and what they do with the old uniform.
My Nametags managing director Lars Andersen said: “With more and more clothing being made from synthetic fibres including plastic, such as polyester, this throwaway attitude to children’s clothes is having a significant impact on the environment.
“To put this waste problem into perspective we have calculated what it would look like stacked up against one of the north’s most recognisable landmarks, the Angel of the North, which we hope will make everyone think twice before needlessly throwing away items of clothing.”
The Angel of the North is 65ft high and has a 175ft wingspan. It was made by sculptor Antony Gormley on the site of former colliery pithead baths in Gateshead and was put up in 1998. It cost £800,000.
* Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting. Copyright Andy Hirst.