How Small Steps uniform bank is making a big difference to Wakefield families

Small Steps Uniform Bank founder Katie Senior'.
Small Steps Uniform Bank founder Katie Senior'.

When Katie Senior put her children’s old school shoes on Facebook, she had little idea it would the start of a new service that could help thousands of struggling parents.

A kitchen designer by trade, the 34-year-old’s spare time is now occupied by her not-for-profit school uniform bank – supplying clothes to families struggling to meet the soaring costs.

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In a nutshell, parents donate unwanted school uniform items, ready to be recycled for parents in need, free-of-charge.

And Katie says demand for newly-found Small Steps, which is run from her Sandal home, is rising at an alarming rate.

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The mother-of-two explained: “I hate waste and just couldn’t throw the shoes away. I thought that other parents must be in the same situation as well and thought there was something we could do.

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“The donations have been overwhelming. Most days when I drop my kids off at school somebody will give me a carrier bag full of clothes.

“I’m surprised how it is going and very surprised by the need for it locally.

“I could get it if it was inner-city Leeds but this is very close to home, and I still don’t think I’m tapping in to all the areas of the Wakefield district yet.

“I’m seeing more referrals come in all the time.”

Initially storing the donations in her spare room, they now fill her painting studio in the garden of her Milnthorpe Crescent home.

The room is packed with racks of shoes, trousers, shorts, polo shirts, sweaters, tights, socks, rucksacks and even underwear.

Run like a food bank, families can be referred from health visitors and support workers and a growing number of schools.

With more than 1,100 followers on Facebook, parents can also contact her directly.

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Logoed clothing for individual schools is not stocked, allowing her to provide generic garments across the Wakefield district.

Speaking with social workers and foster carers, Katie admits it has opened her eyes to the need for the service.

With only a handful of similar uniform banks dotted around the country, Katie is uncertain if the need has been ever present, but admits a tougher approach to uniforms by many schools may be putting added financial pressure on parents.

“Some schools do help and go above and beyond but some are being very specific about what their pupils have to wear,” she added.

“They are trying to make it more level playing field but it’s backfiring.

“A lot of these kids are coming from a difficult place and it’s shaming them by putting them in isolation.”

Jason Khan, who has run The Uniform Centre on Wakefield’s Kirkgate for 10 years, agrees that schools are clamping down, particularly those that have converted into academies.

He says some are now controlling who supplies their uniforms.

But he claims the move is less about instilling discipline through uniform conformity, and more about squeezing parents’ budgets.

He said: “Businesses like mine can cut the cost in half, but more schools are now dictating to parents where to spend their money because they want full control.

“It’s a money-making exercise and some want to corner the market and that’s against competition rules.”

Mr Khan takes standard school uniform clothing tailored to parents’ requests, including recreating each school’s embroidered badges.

However, last year he was sent a letter threatening legal action from St Wilfrid’s Catholic School in Pontefract if he continued to infringe on the school’s trademark badge.

The school has since denied it has a financial motivation, telling the Express, this week: “Uniform is an important part of school standards and this helps students prepare for their working life.

“We currently work closely with vulnerable families to support them with uniform purchases and also have plans to grow our own St Wilfrid’s uniform bank.

“The decision to work with official suppliers is based solely on quality of products and there is no financial gain to the school, as the uniform is sold at cost and savings are passed on to parents.”