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women packing childrens clothes into bags
women packing childrens clothes into bags

Giving children's clothing a new lease of life with Berwickshire Swap

Over the past two years, Berwickshire Swap has applied for funding to support equipment and core running costs. They have been awarded £10,367.69 from the Dronehill Community Fund, enabling them to grow from a small grassroots community group in Reston into a thriving SCIO in Eyemouth.

About the Fund

The Greencoat UK Energy Drone Hill Wind Farm Community Fund opened in 2012 and supports community projects benefiting those living in the areas covered by Reston & Auchencrow, Grantshouse, Coldingham, and Cockburnspath & Cove Community Councils. The fund is provided by Greencoat UK Wind, the owners of the Drone Hill Wind Farm in East Berwickshire.  

About Berwickshire Swap  

Berwickshire Swap was established in Reston in 2019 and became a Scottish charity in 2020.  It supports children and their families struggling with clothing poverty by organising and delivering children's clothing, toy, book, and baby equipment swap events.  

The events are aimed towards supporting a more circular economy, keeping good quality children's clothing and items out of landfill. In addition, it also provides an emergency clothing parcel service that runs on a referral basis partnering alongside health visitors, social workers and schools.  

In 2023 the groups warehouse relocated to Eyemouth due to the need for a larger premises to process the clothing, shoes, and toys it received as donations.  

The Swap Events are peripatetic as the events travel and are delivered throughout Berwickshire, the Central Borders, East Lothian, and in 2024 the group is now preparing to expand into Northumberland.  

The Journey with the Fund  

Berwickshire Swap originally started in the Community Council Fund area of Reston, where a small group of individuals came together to combat poverty and helps families live more sustainably, as well as reducing items going to landfill.  The momentum gradually increased over the first three years and in June 2022, the group had provided more emergency parcels to families than it had in the whole of 2021 combined.  

The referrals from the emergency parcels came predominately from one health visitor serving the TD11 area including the Fund area of Grantshouse.  As well as emergency parcels, it was also delivering clothes swap events in the four Community Council Fund areas including Reston, Cockburnspath and Cove, Coldingham, and as mentioned Grantshouse.  

It was at this time that the group undertook plans to move into premises which could support its needs, including laundering and storage space.  It approached the Drone Hill Fund to request £6,660 to support the cost of rent of the premises for one year and the Panel agreed to award the funding for core running costs.  

They identified premises, located within Duns and provided enough space for offices as well as volunteers to come and make up essential emergency packages. The premises had facilities to launder items of clothing which were provided for the emergency packages as well as space to hold pop-up swap shops.

Along with the larger premises there was also a need for part-time employees to support the flourishing organisation.  At the same time as seeking new premises it hired its first two part-time members of staff.  (A finance/funding officer and a project manager). The salaries were covered for a one-year period by the Scottish Borders Council through a fund to address long-term unemployment.

The Panel’s decision to award its first grant to Berwickshire Swap provided larger premises and created employment opportunities within the fund and wider area.

As the team and the operation gradually grew, Berwickshire Swap required electronic systems to manage, monitor, and support its operational requirements.  In March 2023, Berwickshire Swap once again applied to the fund to support with its expansion.

"We are rapidly upscaling and improving our services as a charity. We recently obtained funding through the National Lottery Cost of Living Fund to employ two (part-time) Project Facilitators on 12-month contracts. These roles will underpin our growth and improvement in an efficient and strategic way. To support these roles, we would like to purchase office equipment; two laptops to enable flexible and remote working, and a large printer (a4 and a3 capability) with which we can produce promotional materials (mainly leaflets and posters)."  

Following the second grant request, the Drone Hill Panel agreed to award the full amount of £1,937.69, providing Berwickshire Swap with the opportunity to purchase two laptop computers, software, printers, and cartridges.

Whilst the IT and printer equipment in and of themselves did not solely benefit the Drone Hill communities, it was evident that equipment would underpin successful continuation and growth of swap events and emergency clothing parcels for families within the fund area and much more widely, with an emphasis on those most economically or socially vulnerable.  It was identified that the grant level would likely to be well within a share of costs considered commensurate with benefits in the fund area. It was also considered that this relatively small grant investment would likely contribute towards wide-ranging and significant impact both within and out with the Fund area.

Berwickshire Swap continued to grow and positively impact the fund area and the wider communities in and around the Scottish Borders, Berwickshire, and East Lothian.  In September 2023 it once again applied to the Drone Hill Fund and were awarded £2,040 with the Panel agreeing to award the requested amount.  The funding request was to purchase 160 robust Ikea storage containers which would support with sorting stock and keeping the clothing safe whilst stored and in transport.

Lianne from Berwickshire Swap said:  

"The Drone Hill wind farm has massively helped the progress of Berwickshire Swap by enabling us to purchase of Berwickshire Swap by enabling us to purchase boxes and hold sorting days. Having clearly sorted children's clothing, toys, and baby items allows us to display these items at our events in a clear and simple way, helping these events run smoothly. Our sorting days are a great way for volunteers to get tucked into helping out and 'give back' to the charity."

Berwickshire Swap Today

Berwickshire Swap now has four part-time employees including from the fund area and has continued to grow and move around the wider geographic area, delivering roughly one swap event each week in different locations, including the Drone Hill Fund area.

Since it began Berwickshire Swap has held 42 swap and sort events, 19 of the events were held in 2023 (up to September). Out of the 42 swap and sort events, 17 have been in the fund areas of Reston, Cockburnspath, and Coldingham. The most recent fund area event was held in Reston and had 43 attendees (from both the fund area and the wider community).  

About Swap Events

The Swap Events were created to reduce the amount of new and quality clothes being discarded to landfill and the events create a circular economy.  All clothing donated is sorted and laundered before an event and if it is unsalvageable it is disposed of through a recycling scheme which makes items such as insulation.  

On the day of the event the team from Berwickshire Swap load up the van with a range of girls and boys clothing, shoes and toys for ages 0 through to 12 and heads to their destination.  The events are well advertised in advance and can be attended from anywhere between 30 to 50 people.  

The particpants can bring clothing they wish to donate, but this is not mandatory.  It is not unusual following an event for the van to be just as full as when it arrived with newly donated clothing.  All particpants can look through the clothing, shoes and toy options available on the day and take home what they wish, all for free.  The group have noticed a shift in the demographic attending the events which is associated with the cost-of-living crisis.  

Emergency Parcels  

The emergency parcel service has continued to grow and is referred through local partnerships including Health Visitors.  In June 2024, it has received the same number of requests for parcels which it had received for the whole of 2023.  

Each emergency clothing parcel contains new and quality clothing and enough items to support a child for up to seven days of wear.  Baby and toddler parcels can contain up to 50 pieces of clothing including a new knitted blanket and toy.  Children’s parcels contain up to 30 items of clothing and during winter this also includes underlayers and winter warmers such as hats and gloves.  

During the Christmas period, the group also make up smaller emergency parcels which include winter warmers and toys to support parents during the colder months.  

Volunteer Sorters

Berwickshire Swap rely on volunteers to support with sorting the received donations.  An innovative idea to attract volunteers to support with sorting has included arranging corporate sorting days where members of an organisation come and sort clothes as part of their team building activities.  Berwickshire Swap recently hosted SBC Council employees in Coldingham to sort clothing as one of their volunteer days.

A little more about the group in 2023

It helped provide clothing for over 1,600 children. Over 2,100 pieces of clothing and baby equipment were sent as emergency parcels to children and families in need.

It held 29 swap events across the Scottish Borders and East Lothian.

Environmental Impact  

It is estimated that in the UK around 300 thousand tonnes of clothing ends up as waste. Berwickshire Swap aims to become the first stop for people donating children's clothes and for getting new to them items in the local area.  The core work of the organisation creates a positive environmental impact by actively diverting items from landfill, extending the 'useful life' and usage of clothes and toys, and promoting long-term behaviour change. Berwickshire Swap encourages the recycling of children's clothing, toys and equipment in a non-stigmatised way.  

Final Thoughts  

Berwickshire Swap started as a grassroots community group.  Its experienced and committed team has successfully grown the SCIO to a point where it needed to find a large fit-for-purpose space which was located in the main service centre, just out with the area of benefit.  

This project is a fantastic example of how funding a small grassroots group within the fund area can lead to sweeping and lasting long-term impact for the fund area, service centre and wider community. Creating jobs, volunteer opportunities and most importantly alleviating financial burden and supporting those that are most vulnerable in our communities.