A charity which gives away free school uniform saved parents across Kirklees almost £1m in just 12 months.

Huddersfield-based Uniform Exchange helped 10,188 children in 2023 – nearly double the number it helped in 2022 and over 10 times more than it helped in 2018.

The charity gave away more than 92,000 items of clothing last year plus a special winter coat giveaway project which provided more than 4,000 coats to children in need.

Founder Kate France says it’s proof of how badly this frontline service is needed at a time when the average cost for secondary school uniforms and sports kit costs families £422 a year for each child and a full primary school uniform is £287. This is money people simply can’t afford.

Many of the most poverty-stricken areas across Kirklees are in the 10% most deprived neighbourhoods in England.

Thousands of people donate outgrown uniform every year to Uniform Exchange in a remarkable community effort through dozens of collection points which the charity collects and then cleans and redistributes to families in need from each individual’s specific requirements.

So much uniform is now collected that anyone can apply for free school uniform to help save the environment. Each year Uniform Exchange prevents 50 tonnes of school uniform needlessly going into landfill in Kirklees.

Kate France by Matt Radcliffe Photography

Kate said: “Looking to the future, we know there will continue to be significant need for this service, especially as the cost of living crisis continues to pinch families’ budgets and the service is already making a difference for thousands of children throughout Kirklees every year.

“Our mission now is for second hand school uniform to be the first choice for parents. It’s all about alleviating poverty while promoting sustainability in a circular economy that aims to reach zero waste when it comes to school uniform.

“By making preloved the norm we encourage everyone to reuse and recycle which makes financial and environmental sense for all.”

No uniform donated to Uniform Exchange is ever thrown away … if it’s not good enough to be reused it will be recycled or turned into rags.

The charity now costs just over £100,000 a year to run taking into account the running costs for its offices and warehouse in Lockwood and providing a service to pupils and their families at all 182 schools across Kirklees.

Apart from school uniform, the charity also provides underwear, socks, coats, bags and shoes.

The charity also runs a project called Sustainable Exchange where schools organise their own uniform giveaways with the uniform provided by Uniform Exchange.

In 2023, 22 Kirklees schools did this holding 50 events often run by the pupils themselves who gave away almost 3,000 items of school uniform totalling £26,812. School uniform has a lot of plastic fibres in it so the Sustainable Exchange giveaways kept the equivalent of almost 12,000 plastic bottles out of landfill.

Uniform Exchange has a team of more than 20 volunteers – boosted by 14 companies who provide voluntary staff to help the charity now and then – giving 10,227 hours of their time in 2023 which is the equivalent of 1,278 working days. Volunteers do everything from sorting out clothing and sewing to driving, running the charity shop and supporting the Sustainable Exchange programme.

Kate said the charity’s positive impact is far-reaching.

“Children who don’t wear school uniform are vulnerable to bullying, truancy and often lack a sense of self-esteem, identity and belonging,” she said. “Many would then be vulnerable to falling prey to those who would lead them into anti-social behaviour, gangs and crime.

“Their parents also feel a sense of shame and guilt by not being able to provide school uniform for their children. Wearing school uniform certainly helps them to learn better in school, building that critical foundation for everything else they do in life.”

One parent said: “Uniform Exchange is the best initiative in Huddersfield. It saves me a fortune, is fantastic for the environment and gives kids an understanding of reusing and recycling.”

Money to fund the charity comes from funding applications, grants, donations, a weekly lottery, its charity shop and funding for specialist projects such as the winter coat appeal from Kirklees Council.

Freelance journalist Andy Hirst from Huddersfield-based AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) has taken on the role of making funding applications for the charity and brought in almost £48,000 since January 2023.

For more information on Uniform Exchange, including how to support the charity or apply online for free school uniform, go to https://www.uniform-exchange.org/