Jo Land was horrified when she realised how much her youngest son’s school uniform would cost. “A jumper was £25. A polo shirt was £15,” she says. “This isn’t a fancy school; this is the comprehensive down the road.”
She started thinking about how others managed: “If it was this expensive for us, how on Earth must families with three or four children cope? And that’s not taking into account the cost of living. Food, fuel and energy prices are going up for everyone.” Land, a 53-year-old teacher turned private tutor from Hereford, is not on the breadline. “My husband is a teacher, so we’re not struggling, but it seemed wrong that the cost of uniforms prevented some children from attending school.”
So Land set up a Facebook group called School Uniform Swap Shop where people could post unwanted items of uniforms for others to claim. The response was overwhelming, and Land soon found herself running a full-scale operation from her front room. She now has more than 5,000 members, many of whom are low-income families who say the service has made a huge difference in their lives.
For Land, the project is about more than just providing free school uniforms; it’s about tackling inequality and ensuring that all children have an equal chance to succeed in education. “If you can’t afford a uniform, you’re at a disadvantage,” she says. “You feel like an outsider. I remember how hard it was growing up, and I didn’t have the right clothes. I don’t want any child to feel like that.”
The project has been so successful that Land is now setting up a charity to ensure it can continue to operate long-term. She also works with other organisations to help them set up similar schemes in their communities. “I never imagined that this would take off the way it has, but I’m so glad it has,” she says. “It’s making a real difference to people’s lives.”
According to the latest figures from the Department for Education, the average cost of a secondary school uniform is now £339 – an increase of almost 4% from last year. The price is slightly lower for primary school pupils at an average of £249, but this still represents a significant expense for many families.
With the cost of living continuing to rise, the pressure on family budgets will only likely increase in the coming years. For Land, this makes her work even more important. “No child should have to miss out on an education because their family can’t afford a uniform,” she says. “I’m determined to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
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