As the year draws to a close and it prepares to help its 100th family, one of Bristol’s newest charitable organisations looks back at an amazing six months.
What started as a conversation between two Bristol mums has blossomed into an important organisation with premises, regular volunteers and a growing presence in the city. More importantly than this, it has helped many families in need in its first six months and is expecting to process its 100th referral over the Christmas period.
“It’s been an incredible few months,” said co-founder Becky Gilbert. “When I first got chatting to Eva, I had no idea it would take off this quickly. We knew there was a need for a service like this, but we’ve been inundated with support on both sides of the process – from parents wanting to donate goods, money or time to the health professionals and families receiving our help. It’s just amazing what you can do with a little determination and a lot of volunteers.”
A team of around 35 active volunteers – covering all elements of the organisation from the warehouse and distribution side of things to fundraising and marketing – has worked together putting in more than 1,500 hours of work to help establish the organisation in Bristol.
Similar in concept to the food bank, Baby Bank Network collects items (in this instance, baby essentials) from people who have enough to redistribute to those who don’t. It works with around 70 referral partners in the shape of health visitors, midwives and other charities looking after refugees, homeless people and victims of domestic violence.
Referrals Co-ordinator Suzy Harris said: “There certainly is no shortage of families in need of baby goods in Bristol. We’re working with referral partners to help some of the most vulnerable people in society – people who have nowhere else to turn for help with baby essentials. Until now, health visitors were feeling pretty helpless but they tell us this service is making a real difference.”
One Family Support worker and referral partner said: “It can be so difficult to help families access basic provisions at times so this is a really invaluable resource.”
A Tenancy Support Assistant recalled the moment she handed the package over to one of the families she sees, saying: “She was in tears when I gave her the stuff. Her little girl loves all of the toys especially the baby and pram. It was so lovely to see her so happy! Bringing her the items really built our relationship today, we had a very emotional support session and we are both just really grateful to all the volunteers at Baby Bank Network.”
To-date, the venture has been funded by small pots of money here and there – with regular cake and donate events at Cake and Kudacan in Bishopston; public appeals via Localgiving and campaigns with retailers such as Waitrose and Starbucks – which allowed Baby Bank Network to upgrade from a donated unit at Big Yellow Storage to its own home in Southmead.
The challenge is now to become a registered charity and secure bigger pots of regular money to help cover the ongoing costs of the operation – including a large, permanent home, a staff member and items which must be new such as mattresses and bottle teats.
“We’ve got so far with small pots of money thanks to the generosity of our supporters,” said Fundraising Co-ordinator Hollie Morgan. “But as we grow and establish ourselves as a vital national organisation we could really benefit from more regular funding to help cover the ongoing costs and help us grow and meet our potential. We’d love to hear from anyone who could help us with this.”
The processes are now in place to allow Baby Bank Network’s flagship Bristol arm to run smoothly – with lots of donations coming in and lots of referrals going out – almost one a day, but the organisation is also seeking more volunteers to ramp up its efforts even further.
Georgina Cairns, Volunteer Co-ordinator, said: “Our existing volunteers are brilliant – and there’s a real sense of community among the team, but we’ve got a lot of mums on maternity leave who won’t be able to put in as much time when they return to work so we’re looking to expand the pool.
“Roles available are flexible, with the majority of volunteers doing it around childcare and learning through doing – from fundraising and transportation to sorting referral packages to social media marketing. Training and support will be given.”
Potential volunteers are invited to attend a Volunteer Open Day at Kudacan in Bishopston from 3.30-5.30pm on Sunday January 24, 2016. It’s a chance to meet some of the team of volunteers, find out more about the organisation, roles available and how to get involved.
Baby Bank Network has ambitious plans for 2016 and hopes to be a fully-fledged registered charity by its first birthday with permanent premises and a growing army of volunteers – helping on average at least one family every single day.
Co-founder Eva Fernandes, who also runs Born on Gloucester Road, said: “2015 was the year we were able to launch Baby Bank Network and I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved in such a short space of time. 2016 will be the year we really shine and help hundreds of families in need in Bristol and beyond. Thanks to everyone who’s helped us get this far.”
For more information please visit www.babybanknetwork.com