Swap shop helping Wolverhampton families with uniforms from 58 city schools

The cost of buying new school uniform can really add up for parents, especially for families with more than one child.

Available at the swap shop are branded uniform items from 58 schools across the city
Available at the swap shop are branded uniform items from 58 schools across the city

Yet, new research has found that up to 1.4 million school uniforms, many of which could be reused, are thrown away in the UK every year.

This is not only bad news for the environment, due to their high plastic content, but it is also a lost opportunity to pass the garments on to other children who could benefit from them.

One project in Wolverhampton is trying to fix the problem and ensure pre-loved uniform finds a new home. Mother of two Rosalind Shaw runs a school uniform swap shop at St Columba’s United Reformed Church in Finchfield where outgrown blazers, dresses, jumpers and other items of clothing are available for free.

“We were looking for an ecological community project for the church to take part in and having moved back to Wolverhampton with my children, I found finding children’s uniform for a new school was quite costly and I know they grow out of them very quickly.

“We had the idea for a swap shop where parents could drop off uniform that was too small and swap it for a bigger size. We started the swap shop in 2019 and it has grown to such an extent that we have had to convert one of the church rooms into a permanent home for it.

“Parents can come along and choose free pre-loved uniform for their children. They don’t need to bring anything to swap, but we are grateful for all uniform donations. Everyone is welcome to come along,” she tells Weekend.

Rosalind Shaw runs the uniform swap shop

Last year alone, the swap shop took in more than 1.5 tonnes of outgrown uniform and hundreds of children came through the doors to select items of clothing to take home.

“We have branded uniform items from 58 schools across the city along with non-branded items like shirts, skirts, trousers and summer dresses,” says Rosalind.

“Parents have been over the moon about the idea. Some parents come in for ecological reasons because they’re trying to use less in their daily lives and reduce their carbon footprint.

“We also have parents who come in for financial reasons and some parents who want to donate their children’s old clothes because they feel bad about them going to waste,” she explains.

New statutory guidance means schools now have to make uniforms affordable for all families, and parents get the best value for money. From this autumn, they will be required to take steps to remove unnecessary branded items and allow more high-street options, like supermarket own-brand uniform.

The school uniform bill was first introduced by Labour MP Mike Amesbury, with the backing of the Children’s Society and became law in May 2021.

It followed a campaign for action after concerns were raised that pupils were having to sit out class or were being sent home from school for not having the right kit.

The aim was to ensure that in the future uniform would never be a burden for parents or a barrier to pupils accessing education.

Some of the uniforms available in the shop

As part of the new guidance, schools are encouraged to provide a second-hand option for parents, to both support families and help work towards achieving net zero carbon emissions.

The Government says reusing uniforms that have been outgrown or are no longer required will reduce waste and bring down emissions from manufacturing new garments.

In the UK, it has been estimated that around 350,000 tonnes of clothing ends up in landfill sites every year.

According to new analysis by label manufacturer My Nametags, this includes around 300,000 wearable school uniforms that are thrown away by families in the West Midlands each year.

The swap shop will be open every Sunday afternoon during the school holidays

With the average school uniform consisting of 32 per cent polyester, or similar synthetic fibres, that is the equivalent of 74 tonnes of plastic going to landfill each year, according to My Nametags.

Rosalind says the free swap shop is playing its part in trying to tackle this problem by providing schools with a second-hand option, which also saves parents money and helps the environment by cutting down waste. The church is working with a number of schools in the city but is keen for more to get involved in the project.

“A few schools have partnered with us and donate their lost property at the end of term.

The shop has branded items from 58 schools

“In return, each school is sent an eco certificate to let them know how much clothing they have saved from landfill and the amount of carbon dioxide that would have been released to create that clothing again if it hadn’t been reused.

“We would love other schools to join in too,” she explains.

The swap shop will be open every Sunday afternoon during the school holidays, starting on July 24, from 12pm until 2.30pm.

Any schools wishing to take part or anyone wanting further information about the swap shop can email events@stcolumbasurc.com or visit facebook.com/StColumbasWolverhampton.

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