The story behind Baby Bank Hellingly – by founder Nicola Walker
In 2016 I finished full time work and decided that not keeping busy wasn’t an option for me. I resolved that every year I would start a new ‘volunteering’ challenge, and this is what I did. I ran a volunteer befriending team, helped set up a volunteer centre, redesigned and fitted a charity shop and delivered for the Foodbank during the Pandemic.
Although I hadn’t been short of the basics as a child, I certainly wore my share of second-hand clothes and when we had our first child, purchasing a pram had been a challenge and most of our baby things had been preloved.
Volunteering alongside the Foodbank, I noticed that many young families in our community not only needed food but they really struggled with the basics for their babies like clothing and prams. Purchasing uniform for growing children was a challenge if you already couldn’t afford food.
Before Christmas 2023 I saw an ad on social media for a Baby Bank and after a bit of research I realised that Heathfield, Hailsham, Eastbourne and Seaford weren’t really covered. Baby Bank Hellingly was born! I started to advertise for donated baby clothing and equipment and a month later two bedrooms at home were so full, I couldn’t get in each door.
My bursting bedrooms at home resulted in my search for storage and many, many emails and calls begging for space resulted in a kind Eastbourne Charity offering me 6m of storage shelves, at no cost, in their warehouse, without which we couldn’t operate.
If you are a struggling family or are expecting a baby, you can’t automatically access help unless social services or a health professional refers you means that some whose circumstances are changing or are ‘just managing’ won’t always get the assistance they need right now.
If we are reassured that a family needs help and have no other alternatives to go to – like family or friends – we deliver donated baby items like clothing, equipment, prams, and toys on a non-judgemental basis. We also regularly put together Moses basket ‘starter kits’ for the Eastbourne District General Midwifery Unit. Our kits include blankets, clothing, toiletries, toys and nappies.
It is still shocking to think that for a variety of reasons some families have absolutely nothing for their new arrival or that there are families that can’t afford shoes or birthday presents for their little ones.
We are now known as Baby Bank & Beyond (South Wealden) CIC and although I still operate mainly from my home in Hellingly , I’m now joined by my daughter Amy who has a background in Social Services Early Years Intervention. Her support in signposting families to other agencies – like the Family Centres, Uniform Banks and Community Fridges has been invaluable.
Not only is our service of benefit to families in need, it’s also a great recycling project, passing on pre-loved items for more use. In fact, we’ve just been given some funding to set up a reusable nappy project which will save families money on nappies which are so expensive and don’t easily biodegrade.
Demand is growing as we become more well-known and without the kindness of those parents and grandparents who continue to donate we certainly couldn’t do what we do. Our next step will be to look for additional storage and expand what we offer now….. so if you have any space….!