Bermuda Post

Sunday, Sep 27, 2020

The masked duchess! Kate Middleton is seen wearing a face protector for the first time as she helps unpack donations at a baby bank in Sheffield in £15 cotton covering from Amaia

The Duchess of Cambridge, 38, helped to unpack donations at Baby Basics UK in Sheffield on Tuesday. Kate Middleton spoke to parents about how baby banks have provided them with support amid lockdown. Royal donned floral face mask for the first time, which retails at £15 from London-based brand, Amaia. Paired with timeless £1850 dress by Suzannah and recycled £531 mock snake skin heels by Tabitha Simmons

The Duchess of Cambridge revealed how she has been left in tears after hearing the stories of families coping amid the coronavirus pandemic during a visit to a baby bank in Sheffield on Tuesday.

Kate - who sported a £15 reusable cotton floral face mask from London-based label Amaia - spoke of how she went home and wept after visiting a baby bank helping vulnerable families at the start of lockdown.

'It can get very emotional,' she said. '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.

The mother-of-three, 38, who cut a stylish figure in an elegant white £1850 dress by Suzannah, was talking on a visit to a Baby Basics UK, to launch a new initiative she has spearheaded, getting 19 major UK retailers and brands to donate more than 10,000 new items to more than 40 baby banks across the UK.

Baby Banks are a crucial nationwide service, run by volunteers, helping to support some of the most vulnerable families in the UK by providing essentials such as nappies, clothing and bedding.

Most of those who seek their help come on professional referral from services including health visitors, midwives and social workers.

The banks have proved to be a lifeline for many struggling parents during the coronavirus crisis, but have found their services under increasing pressure, both as a result of demand and because they have been unable to accept second-hand donations on health and safety grounds.

Hearing of this, Kate - who has also previously visited Baby Basics in West Norfolk the start of the crisis - decided to put out feelers for donations from brands and high street retailers.

In all, she has persuaded nineteen brands to donate more than 10,000 items to Baby Basics, Little Village and AberNecessities, who operate more than 40 baby banks across the UK.

The Duchess, who paired her ensemble with £531 mock snake skin heels by Tabitha Simmons, which she first donned during the 2011 royal tour of Canada, could also be seen wearing an apron and rubber gloves as she helped to unpack the first donations, which included clothes and toys.

Despite her vertiginous heels, she pulled boxes from a pallet with ease and carried them inside, helping staff from Baby Basics UK which started ten years ago in Sheffield, who have teamed up with two other baby bank services, Little Village and Aberdeenshire-based AberNecessities.

Inside their temporary distribution centre - which with the help of couriers DHL is transferring the donations as far afield as Aberdeen and Hastings - Kate helped unpack some of the boxes - exclaiming as she picked up a bottle of Child's Farm shampoo, which she clearly recognised.

Cat Ross, CEO of Baby Basics, told her: '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,' replied Kate. 'One of the mums I met was a nurse. These are families who do fantastic jobs and even they are struggling. All of the research shows how vital things like this are for them and that they are being recognised.'

The Duchess also talked at length about what the impact of Covid-19 would be, particularly for children.

'It's difficult for sure but there is a lot of fear about worry about when furlough ends and what it means for families,' said Miss Ross.

'But one of the positives to come out of it is the strength of communities across the UK and people wanting to help, volunteering and wanting to provide for each other. Organisations like us want to harvest that and it keep it going as much as possible.'

'It's been wonderful during lockdown, hasn't it?' said the duchess, 'about the way everyone has been busy knitting away and actually 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.'

Sophia Parker, Chief Executive and Founder of Little Village, agreed, adding: 'We say the currency in this is kindness, this is what this is all about.

'It's really special being able to facilitate people to support others. They are often just looking for that opportunity to do something.'

Kate added: 'It's about finding new ways of still providing people with the support they so desperately need.'

Kate then set about opening some of the boxes and chatted with the helpers about organisations they worked with to offer emotional support to families.

'Sometimes it's just about having the opportunity of offload,' she said. 'And once someone has received a basket do you often see them coming back for support in different areas?'

After helping with the packing, Kate met with one family who have been helped by Baby Basics UK in Sheffield, Ali Wartty and Sahara Mrs Hamawandy, both 47, who have lively triplets San, Shan and Laveen, aged one year.

The family came to the UK from Iraq seeking asylum and were given leave to remain, but with no access to public funds.

Mr Wartty, who is self employed, a managed to buy a one-bedroom, 12th floor flat from Sheffield Council, but the couple - who were initially told they were were having twins but found out about their triplets at their 20-week scan - have struggled financially, emotionally and practically with three young children.

They were referred to Baby Basics by their support worker who have helped them with basic necessities including a triple pram, as well as Moses baskets and starter packs, as well as clothes and toiletries as the babies have grown.

'Hi, all of them, of course they are triplets! ' exclaimed Kate. 'Gosh they are all doing very well and sorry to intrude on your family time.'

'Yes it's so fun!' she said, as Shan cooed and blew raspberries as he toddled.

In an emotional conversation, Mrs Hamawandy told Kate how she had struggled to cope.

'Is was living on the 12th floor of a block of flats and trying to cope with the three of them,' she explained.

'It must have been so stressful,' sympathised Kate. 'Is that when you sought the help Baby Basics? Is the fact that someone talked to you and someone listened to you, is that what made the difference? '

Mrs Hamawandy replied: 'Yes, it wasn't just the practical help, it was having someone to reassure me and give me a chance to have five minutes to myself.

'I wasn't coping at all, my brain wasn't coping. I had huge anxiety. Is wasn't able to go out with three babies. How do you take your three babies down from the 12th floor without a pram? We weren't able to go out at all. After eight months I tried to take them out. But when I tried to take them out I was crying because I couldn't.'

She told Kate that she had no family or friends that could help - her sister here in the UK is herself ill.

'That must have been so difficult for you,' Kate said. 'It must have been even harder with lockdown. Did that make things more difficult?;

'Yes it was even worse as I couldn't go out,' she replied. 'When they started to walk and I was in the house by myself, it was really difficult. It really was a very bad time.'

Kate replied: 'I am so sorry to hear that. Do you still feel now that it will affect you in the long term, the struggles you had at the beginning? Do you feel you get support emotionally, as well as the physical support?'

Speaking after meeting the duchess, Mrs Hamawandy said it had meant a great deal to her to have the chance to tell her story to the duchess.

She continued: 'I wanted to tell her for a family like me, especially with three children, that mum needs help. If mum is not feeling good, it will affect the baby.

'To give support to mum means giving support to the whole family. If mum has the chance to sleep for half an hour or get a little help, it helps the whole family. I was really devastated and shocked and crying all the time.

'I didn't get the chance to look after myself and get at least ten minutes to myself. I couldn't even find half an hour to lie down in the day because I was always getting up to check on each one of them. I didn't have any support or family to help.

'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. '

The duchess also spoke via Zoom on a lap top to mothers helped by two of the other baby bank charities, Little Village and AberNecessities.

Chatting to Amy Cotton, who fled a violent home with only her baby son Ricky, now three, and the clothes on her back, and has received a buggy, clothing and toys for her child.

She now works as volunteer for the Little Village and has a 12-week-old daughter, Ellie-Rose.

'Do you feel it is good for you being part of that volunteering community, helping mums who have been in the same position as you?' asked the duchess.

Amy said it had mean a great deal of her to say thank you.

Kate added: 'It's so valuable. You hear so often that its very hard for parents and families to reach out for support because of the stigma about saying "I'm finding it really hard and I'm struggling'. Is that something you've come across, particularly with the families you are working with?"

Amy told her that it was, but added: 'We all want to do what's best for our children.'

'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 fanatic 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,' smiled the duchess.

She also chatted to Ella-Mae Michalski, who has twin girls Bella and Ruby, born prematurely and who are now 21-months-old and was helped by Little Village with a double pram., clothes, muslins and other essentials.

She has been shielding during the coronavirus outbreak because the girls have chronic lung disease.

'As a mum the one thing you want too 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,' she explained.

'It must have been heart-breaking and such a huge worry and anxiety for you during pregnancy and after birth,' Kate said.

Ella-Mae replied: 'Yes, Little Village is amazing. 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 then asked: 'Do you feel there is a judgement around being able to put on a facade and pretend that everything is going great? Is it places like this that are needed in communities where parents don't feel judged and mums can go and be honest and feel like they are being listened to?'.

'One hundred percent,' she was told.

After her hour-and-a-half visit, the duchess left by car, still sporting her mask, after saying a muffled goodbye to the volunteers.

Speaking after the visit, Baby Basics CEO Cat Ross said: 'Having her visit and seeing the work we do has been just amazing. It will really help people to hear and know about Baby Basics and the work we do. A lot of people have heard about food banks but don't necessarily know about the baby banks and what we do. '

The charity, she explained, helps families including those in economic poverty, teenage mothers, women seeking asylum, women fleeing domestic abuse and trafficking.

She added: 'Having someone like the Duchess behind us is amazing and her helping us by getting in all these amazing brands has been incredible. We can get more to families and treat them to the goods they would never, ever get. It's just fantastic. '

Announcing her 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.'

A 2018 survey estimated that 1 in 100 families in England with children under 5 have visited a baby bank , and statistics from a new survey conducted by the charity Little Village shows that baby banks across the UK have found a substantial increase in the use of their services during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, many baby banks have been unable to accept second hand items at this time and the Little Village research shows that 77% of baby banks desperately need more nappies, mattresses and other products.

It also reveals that 9 in 10 baby banks say the outbreak of COVID-19 is making it harder to support families in the way they would want.

On her previous visit to Baby Basics West Norfolk, Kate packed up Moses baskets with supplies and spoke to families who had received support from the charity.

She has also continued to speak to vulnerable families and the organisations that support them throughout lockdown, Kensington Palace said.

In recent weeks, she has held calls with Family Action, Home Start, Action for Children, London Early Years Foundation, Cocoon Family Support, East London Research School, and Coram about how they are continuing to support and nurture families and children throughout this challenging time.

In addition, DHL Express has provided logistical services for the dissemination of donations to baby banks across the UK.

Cat Ross, CEO of Baby Basics, said: 'We are thrilled to be part of this amazing initiative from The Duchess of Cambridge. To have the opportunity to highlight the importance of Baby Banks and the amazing service that Baby Basics Centres across the UK provide has never been more important than at this time when we are in the midst of a national crisis.

'So many more families in the UK will need support of a Baby Bank, some for the first time, and we are committed to doing all we can to support them in a way that restores dignity and values parents and their children.

'To have the support and donations of so many amazing brands makes our work that little bit easier and means that we can continue to ensure we can provide what is needed for every referral we receive.'

Sophia Parker, Chief Executive and Founder of Little Village, also welcomed the initiative, saying that they were 'delighted' that the duchess was helping to bring brands together to support them.

She added: 'Our survey with baby banks on the impact of Covid-19 shows huge gaps in support and rising levels of need among families living in poverty. The pandemic appears to be making the situation much, much worse for many families.'

The charity is set to support more than 6,000 children this year, double the number they helped in 2019.

She commented: 'We know that the first 1,000 days of a child's life are absolutely critical for their future outcomes around education, employment and health. 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 5's.'

Danielle Flecher-Horn, Founder of Aberdeenshire-based AberNecessities, added: 'We are extremely proud to be part of this initiative which is dedicated and committed to supporting children living in poverty across the UK.

'Having taught children who have social and emotional difficulties I have seen the affect early childhood experiences have in later life.

'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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