School uniform costs: hundreds supported through Antrim and Newtownabbey scheme

Over 100 additional families are set to be assisted by the school uniform re-use scheme across Antrim and Newtownabbey this year in comparison to those helped by the programme in 2021.

Last year the initiative provided items of clothing to around 630 families across the borough, but as the cost of living crisis worsens, it is envisaged that at least 750 families will have received support from the effort ahead of the new school term starting in September.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council supports nine community schemes. For more information on the programme, click here

Commenting on this year’s scheme, a spokesperson for the local authority said: “As the cost of living crisis continues to escalate with food, energy prices and fuel costs, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council is committed to continue to develop and build upon local community initiatives such as the School Uniform Re-Use Scheme.

The uniform shop at Edmund Rice College has supported local families.

“The council is delighted to build on the success of the 2021 School Uniform Re-Use Scheme, developing further schemes across the borough and trialling an ‘Online Digital Catalogue’ with several schemes this year.

“Schemes such as these will help relieve some of the financial burden on our residents and in turn, promote environmental benefits – conserving energy, reducing landfill, reducing carbon and water usage.

“The schemes have already supported over 300 families with a significant increase in footfall predicted over the coming weeks before the start of the school term.

“It is estimated that approximately 750 families will receive support before the beginning of September. Last year 7,300 items were donated, 3,000 items were collected and approximately 630 families were supported.

Edmund Rice College held a free uniform shop this month.

“All our schemes are managed through local community organisations, churches and volunteers. Council has provided schemes with small grants of up to £200 to enable them to purchase storage equipment.

“Council has also supported with the promotion of these events helping to raise their profile.”

The Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Alderman Stephen Ross, said: “Once again this year the generosity of the public is overwhelming, donating hundreds of items which has enabled our schemes to ensure no families visiting leave disappointed. We must acknowledge the commitment, hard work and dedication of all the staff/volunteers at our schemes who provide an invaluable service to many families and continue to go above and beyond expectations.

“The School Uniform Re-Use Scheme is a great initiative for everyone to avail of and there should be no stigma associated with using these schemes which not only help families financially but also support sustainability.”

Rosy Elliott is a volunteer at the school uniform scheme operated at Carnmoney Presbyterian Church. The cross-community initiative has been supporting families across Newtownabbey for a decade.

Rosy said: “I’ve been involved with the scheme at Carnmoney Presbyterian since the start. Families struggling to pay for school uniforms is not a new issue. It has been an ongoing problem for many years, but it has only come to the fore in recent years.

“When we started ten years ago, we were helping around 20 children. We weren’t known about and were mainly helping people who were facing some sort of crisis, whether it be a bereavement, the person had lost their job or had an unexpected bill to pay.

“The team of volunteers started the project here after personally experiencing the cost of school uniform items. We saw how items of clothing, in particular the sports kit, seemed to be very expensive. Most parents thought the blazer would be the big money item, but then after this was bought, you’re left with then having to pay for the games kit.

“We must have been one of the first school uniform re-use schemes to start. I wasn’t aware of anything like this in the borough, let alone across the province.

“Last year we helped 75 children. From the start we have operated a confidential phone line for parents and guardians to call for free items of uniform. The telephone service is there so that people don’t feel uncomfortable receiving donated items of uniform.

“We’ve recently started a summer sale and this year’s was held last week. There was a queue at the door and it was almost like a stampede when parents were allowed in. There were a lot of people helped that day- we weren’t keeping count, but there have been 55 children supported through the telephone line alone this year, so we are assisting a lot more families this year.

“We sell the items because people want to give something for the uniform. There is still a sense of pride and they don’t want to be seen to be getting it for nothing. The likes of rugby shirts are sold for £2 and blazers are £5. Any money made at the sales goes back into the school uniform ministry.”

Rosy, who works alongside seven other volunteers at the Carnmoney Road site added: “We have also been supporting refugees over recent years. So far we have helped around 25 refugee children. This isn’t something we had envisaged when the scheme was first established, but it’s something we are very happy to do.

“Any items of uniform that don’t get sold or distributed to families is sent to our charity shop Mamma in Carnmoney. It helps people with young babies and children, so the items are always available throughout the year. The confidential phone service can also be contacted throughout the year, so uniform can be sourced outside of the summer holiday period if this is needed.

“We cater for nursery schools, primary schools and secondary/grammar schools across Newtownabbey, as well as having some items for north Belfast schools. It’s a cross-community effort, with uniforms available for schools right across the region.

“We are very greatful for the support we have received from the community and the kind donations of uniform we get. We could not exist without this support.”

Principal Paul Berne has outlined that Edmund Rice College in Glengormley is extremely empathetic and cognisant of the cost of living crisis impacting the school community and has been determined to help in any way possible.

The head teacher at the Hightown Road school said: “Throughout the month of August, the school held a free uniform shop and were inundated with uniform items. There was no charge for any of the items to help anyone struggling or in need. This has been a big help for our families.

“Furthermore, we have more than one uniform supplier, ensuring that prices are competitive and cost effective. We offer a range of different brands and costs when it comes to the PE hoodie for example, and this has been well received by our families.”

Parents and guardians at Hazelwood Integrated College have been praised for their community spirit during the current cost of living crisis, with pre-owned items of uniform being donated to help families in need.

Bronagh McLaughlin, the Whitewell Road school’s curriculum operations manager, said: “Hazelwood would absolutely encourage parents to avail of the second hand uniform scheme being operated across Newtownabbey.

“The college’s Parent Teacher and Friend Association (PTFA) has been actively collecting pre-owned uniforms and then distributing them to families in need. The college has sent social media and text messages to all parents informing them of the opportunity to call to collect items of uniform from the college. Any remaining pieces of uniform will be donated to local charitable organisations who are operating uniform distribution schemes.

“We have had numerous calls from parents concerned about the price of uniforms, in these cases we have been signposting parents to the pre-owned uniforms in the first instance. The college has been working with uniform suppliers over the past number of years to keep our uniform costs to a minimum, our PE kit is not branded and prices are much lower than other branded PE uniforms. The college doesn’t benefit in any way from the sale of our uniforms.

“In addition to parents voicing concern, we have also had numerous parents contacting the college wanting to donate pre-owned uniforms. This is one of the positives to come from the story being so high profile at the moment.”

Glengormley High School will reopen next month as Integrated College Glengormley. Ricky Massey, principal of the Ballyclare Road school, has moved to reassure parents that the current GHS uniform can be worn following the launch of the new ICG uniform and that support is available to any families who are struggling with rising costs.

Mr Massey said: “We were pivotally involved in the development of a Locality Planning Group (LPG) for the Glengormley area and a huge focus within our LPG is poverty which is a significant issue for our community. We are partners with a local food bank and have the capacity to support families with food bank vouchers and can refer for energy vouchers.

“As we start out as Integrated College Glengormley, the minister’s very late approval has meant that we have not been able to get a new uniform in place for September 2022. Therefore, all pupils will use the current Glengormley High School uniform for the 2022/23 academic year.

“We strongly encourage parents to use uniform exchange and we advertise this on our social media and within letters to parents. We also put out requests for, and collect second hand GHS uniform and pass to these on to the uniform exchange partners to redistribute.

“Our current school uniform and PE uniform is of great value. We made the decision to avoid the ever growing movement towards the expensive branded sports kits that look amazing, can draw additional funds and benefits to the schools affiliated with them, but cost the earth for parents - these are far too costly for parents and often the PE kit costs more than the school uniform.

“We are currently in the design stage for our new school uniform and sportswear. We have been very clear with the design team - our uniform must meet quality standards - so our blazers and sportswear must have the quality to meet the wear of a teenager, but they must not be expensive.

“Our commitment to parents has already been made - when our new uniform is launched in September 2023, pupils do not have to buy the new uniform - they can continue to wear their current GHS uniforms and the new uniform will be phased in over a number of years.

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“The choice of supplier for school uniform and PE kit is a Board of Governor decision. Our PE kit will not be manufactured by one of these premium brands so that we can ensure that our uniform and PE kit remains inexpensive.”