The Duchess of Cambridge donned a mask, apron and gloves today as she launched a major initiative to support vulnerable babies and children. On a visit to the baby bank charity Baby Basics UK in Sheffield, she revealed how she was moved to tears by the stories of families she met during secret lockdown visits to its West Norfolk branch near her Anmer Hall home.
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WATCH: Kate visits Baby Basics UK in Sheffield to launch initiative
Determined to help, Kate has now persuaded 19 British brands to donate more than 10,000 new items to more than 40 baby banks across the UK. As she unloaded pallets and unpacked the first deliveries at the charity’s temporary distribution centre, she told volunteers: "It can get very emotional. I remember a couple of the families I met from King's Lynn and I went home and literally burst into tears, their stories were so moving. The struggles they have gone through, the bravery they have shown...in extraordinary circumstances. Helping their families through extraordinary times."
Volunteer-run baby banks provide essentials such as nappies, clothing and bedding to vulnerable families who are referred by health visitors, midwives and social workers. But while baby banks across the UK have seen an increase in demand during the Covid-19 outbreak, many have been unable to accept second-hand donations because of health and safety concerns.
The Duchess during a private visit to Baby Basics in Norfolk
After learning about the situation during private visits to her local branch, where she helped to pack Moses Baskets with essential products for babies, the Duchess spearheaded a campaign to get UK companies to donate items to baby banks run by Baby Basics UK, London-based Little Village and Aberdeenshire-based AberNecessities.
Retailers taking part include John Lewis, M&S, Tesco, Sainsbury's, The White Company, Matalan, Trotters, Boden, Frugi, Mamas & Papas, Jojo Maman Bébé and Kit & Kin. Green People (Organic Babies), My Little Coco, Bloom and Blossom, Kokoso Baby, Childs Farm and Bramley have also made donations, while DHL Express is providing transport.
In Sheffield, Baby Basics CEO Cat Ross told the Duchess: "Often in a world where there is a lot of judgement and stereotyping about being poor, that additional stress can be even more difficult for parents who are doing amazing things to keep their families going with such strength, such determination."
"Yes," agreed Kate, "One of the mums I met was a nurse. These are families who do fantastic jobs and even they are struggling."
Kate helped to unpack supplies during her visit
Talking about community spirit during lockdown, she added: "It is those small volunteering acts that everyone can contribute to that make such a difference. That inter-generational support system has been amazing. Knowing that you can make such a big difference to another family is wonderful."
Kate also met Ali Wartty and Sahara Hamawandy, and their one-year-old triplets San, Shan and Laveen. An emotional Sahara told the Duchess how she was referred to Baby Basics after struggling to cope. The charity provided them with a triple pram, Moses baskets and starter packs, as well as clothes and toiletries as the babies have grown.
"I was living on the 12th floor of a block of flats and trying to cope with the three of them," she told the Duchess. "It must have been so stressful," sympathised Kate.
Sahara told her: "How do you take your three babies down from the 12th floor without a pram? We weren't able to go out at all." Speaking afterwards, Sahara said: "To give support to mum means giving support to the whole family. That’s why the charity has been so important to a mother like me. It gave me power. It transformed me. I just want to say thank you to everybody."
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The Duchess speaking to Ali Wartty and Sahara Hamawandy and their triplets
The Duchess also spoke via videocalls to Amy Cotton, who fled a violent home with only her baby son Ricky, now three, and received a buggy, clothing and toys from Little Village. She is now a volunteer for the charity and has a 12-week old daughter, Ellie-Rose.
Kate told her: "It is brave and not often the easiest thing to do but it is really fantastic that you've reached out, that you are so open about your own struggles but also the fact that you are in such a fantastic place now. I suppose it is real credit to you, the journey that you've undertaken and the courage and strength you've shown to get there. So well done. And I love the fact that you are volunteering too."
She also spoke to Ella-Mae Michalski, whose 21-month-old twin girls Bella and Ruby were born prematurely with chronic lung disease. Little Village provided them with a double pram, clothes, muslins and other essentials.
"As a mum the one thing you want to be able to do is to provide for your children and it was difficult not to be able to do that but Little Village helped," said Ella-Mae. "It's something as basic as getting a cup of tea when you come here and people asking how you are and being able to offload without fear of what people might think."
Kate met with UK charities during her visit
Speaking aftewards, Baby Basics CEO Cat Ross said: "A lot of people have heard about food banks but don’t necessarily know about the baby banks and what we do. Having someone like the Duchess behind us is amazing and her helping us by getting in all these amazing brands has been incredible."
Announcing the initiative, Kate said: "Over recent months, I have heard from families who have been supported by baby banks through the most difficult of times and I have been deeply moved by their stories. Having somewhere to turn to for support is important for all families, and baby banks work every day, up and down the country, to provide immediate, tangible and practical help for parents and carers when they are most in need.
"Baby banks are driven by incredible volunteers, demonstrating the power of community spirit in supporting families and coming together to raise the next generation. Thanks to the generosity of the companies taking part in this initiative, baby banks across the UK will be able to support even more families through this particularly challenging time."
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Kate said she was moved to tears during her earlier visit in King's Lynn
A Little Village survey of more than 50 baby banks has found that 77% desperately need more nappies, mattresses and other products as demand for their services increases. The charity is set to support more than 6,000 children this year, double the number they helped in 2019.
Founder and Chief Executive Sophia Parker said: "The pandemic appears to be making the situation much, much worse for many families. Every child should have the right to a good childhood and this new initiative is a much welcomed step towards tackling child poverty in the under 5s."
Danielle Flecher-Horn, Founder of AberNecessities, added: "By providing parents with the resources to build a positive relationship with their children - from pregnancy and throughout the first years – we can make a real difference to a child’s development, health and overall happiness."
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