Tackling school uniform costs on the north coast

As many people worry about the cost of living crisis and the issue of heating their homes this winter, parents of school-age children are facing a more pressing concern - how to afford to kit out their child(ren) for school.

As the new school year approaches, many people are finding the cost of uniform, PE kit (sometimes branded) and shoes simply unaffordable.

Now, in the Causeway Coast and Glens Council area, a number of bodies have taken the initiative and stepped in to help worried parents.

One example of community action helping parents is the Building Ballysally Together group in Coleraine who have, just this year, established a hub for pre-loved school uniforms to be passed on to those who need help.

Some of the uniforms available from the Building Ballysally Together hub

BBT administrator Samantha Watt said: “We started the school uniform exchange this year purely because of the cost of living crisis.

“We noticed an increase in demand for our other services like the food bank and in conversations, people were saying they were struggling so we put out an appeal and asked for pre-loved school uniforms.”The uniforms are available free of charge but if anyone wants to make a donation for the clothing items, the money will go back into projects in the community hub in Ballysally.The uniforms are available during community centre opening hours: Monday to Friday 9am - 2pm. BBT has a range of uniforms from local schools such as Ballysally Primary and Nursery, Coleraine College, North Coast Integrated College and Sandelford School.

Samantha added that they are also working in tandem with a community centre in West Bann to swap uniforms when needed.

“If we can save someone, say, £20 for the price of a jumper, then they can put that towards their electric this winter,” said Samantha.

Meanwhile in Castleroe Primary School outside Coleraine, the principal has also recognised the challenges faced by parents at the moment.

Samantha William said: “At a time when families are finding themselves under increasing financial hardship, here at Castleroe we work closely on an ongoing basis with S&T Moore, our uniform provider, to ensure that our uniform is of a high quality and at an affordable cost.

“Our uniform complements the curriculum and the teaching and learning strategies that we employ. Children learn best when they are actively engaged, so our uniform reflects this. It is important to us the uniform is practical and of good value for parents while comfortable for our very young pupils. We wear plain navy, unbranded joggers, and plain black trainers along with a sweatshirt and tee-shirt that is affordable, durable and relaxed for pupils. Boys and girls wear the same items, making the ‘hand me down’ process easier.

“We also have a pre-loved boutique in school, where we recycle high quality, second hand uniform. The costs are 50p a tee-shirt and £1.00 for a sweatshirt with all proceeds going to the pupil school council account.” The next pre-loved boutique at Castleroe PS will be held on Monday, August 22 from 11am to 12 noon.

This Ballymoney church is also taking actio to help struggling parents

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“As well as supporting families with the cost of uniform here at Castleroe we continue to provide all stationery, which can also add up to a costly shop for families,” added principal Samantha Williams.

“We also offer a subsidised breakfast club from 8am at a cost of £1 per session, and a subsidised stay and play facility for P1 to P3 to allow one pick up considering the rising cost of fuel. We will endeavour to offer ongoing community support in the face of the financial pressures the months and years ahead will present.”

And local churches are also offering support to struggling parents - St James’s Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney is one example.

Through Living Hope Community, a ministry of St James’s, they recently ran a sale of free pre-loved uniforms in their church hall. The schools featured included Dalriada School, Coleraine Grammar School, Ballymoney High School, Leaney Primary School the Ballymoney Model Controlled Integrated Primary School.

Many other groups are operating similar sales of pre-loved school clothing items, so if anyone is having difficulty meeting the cost of uniforms, it’s worth checking with local schools, churches and community centre for information on uniform sales or swaps.

Coleraine and Ballymoney Times readers have also been voicing their concerns over uniform costs.

On Facebook, we asked for opinions on what schools could do to make things easier for parents before term begins. Some of the comments ranged from: “Stop making them wear uniform with the school logo on it so it can be bought from the local supermarket ie plain cardigans and pinafores can be got at a fraction of the price.”

Another reader said: “Allow child to wear variations that might be cheaper eg PE kit or footwear” while another reader who said their grandchild’s PE kit alone cost £100 added: “These have to be ordered and paid for in July online. Come September, my grandson got two months wear out of his, and because you can’t order till July again, they let him wear track bottoms etc. Why not from start?”

Some families are entitled to extra support with meals and uniforms for school. Check out the Education Authority website for information on this scheme www.eani.org.uk