A LIGHTBULB moment for East Renfrewshire gran Sandra Douglas has resulted in thousands of deprived children across the country getting free school uniforms.

Six years ago, Sandra and her daughter decided to support a Barrhead church’s appeal for Christmas gifts.

Cash-strapped families had been asked to submit a list of presents they were unable to afford for their children.

However, 69-year-old Sandra was shocked to find that parents were asking for school clothes, instead of the normal toys or computer games.

She decided to set up a local ‘school bank,’ similar to a food bank, which could provide parents with new uniforms free of charge.

Sandra told the Barrhead News: “I thought it was heartbreaking that wee ones would be opening their presents and finding a pair of school trousers instead.

“It was what they needed though and was what parents were putting on their Christmas list to the church instead of gifts.

“Parents were facing the choice of one or the other for their children.

“It ruined my own Christmas because all I could think of was the look of disappointment on their wee faces on Christmas Day when they took off the wrapping paper.”

Sandra was helping her daughter buy presents for the Jesse Tree appeal organised by St John’s Church, in Aurs Road, when she made the shock discovery.

“It was so very wrong that people living in poverty were struggling to clothe their children,” she said. “I just couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks afterwards.

“That’s when I had my lightbulb moment for a school bank that would work in the same way as a food bank but, instead of buying groceries and tins of food, people could donate a pack of shirts, a pair of trousers or a school bag.”

A few months later, Sandra launched Back to SchoolBank East Renfrewshire from her home in Clarkston to provide uniforms to poverty-stricken children free of charge.

In 2019, the charity gave away more than 200 outfits to local children, with demand increasing last year as the coronavirus pandemic struck.

People are asked to donate uniforms or cash to buy them.

Sandra has secured additional funding over the years from local businesses and through numerous grant applications.

The School Bank also has the support of supermarket chains such as Tesco and Asda.
Sandra added: “It began with an appeal on Facebook five years ago.

“From there, it grew into the back bedroom of my house, then the hallway and finally my own bedroom.

“Eventually, we got our own premises at Speirsbridge Business Park, in Thornliebank, where we could keep all the stock.

“Now we are a registered charity, with more than 20 volunteers and six trustees.”

Since her lightbulb moment in 2014, more than 20 other school banks have been set up across Scotland, including branches in Glasgow, Ayr, Paisley, Edinburgh, Livingston, Cumbernauld and East Kilbride.

Barrhead News: Thousands of children have benefited from clothes donated to Sandra’s charityThousands of children have benefited from clothes donated to Sandra’s charity

Two were also launched recently in Yorkshire.

Sandra added: “As the founder, they contact me and ask what we are doing and then set up their own independent school bank.

“We are not a conglomeration. People can run their own bank in the way they see fit.”
Families supplied with uniforms have to be referred by organisations such as Citizens Advice and Women’s Aid or the schools themselves, with everything done in the strictest of confidence.

Sandra added: “We’re not told the names of the children or parents. The children we help are used to hand-me-downs, which is why we give them brand new uniforms.

“We also provide notebooks, pens, school bags, gym kit and winter jackets.”
Demand for help to get school uniforms is growing in East Renfrewshire.

In 2018, the local school bank provided 118 outfits but, in 2019, that increased to 209.
Sandra said: “Our busiest time is from June to August, as you would expect.

“We spent the same amount on uniforms in that period in 2020 as we did for the whole of 2019, which is a wee bit frightening.

“A uniform is an expensive thing for parents who are struggling to feed their children and we are now supplying whole families.”

Sandra, who has four grown-up children and seven grandchildren, also pointed out that everyone at the school bank gives their services free of charge.

“Some kids don’t go to school because they don’t have decent clothes,” she added.

“They are embarrassed and that throws them off kilter. They could be clever kids but they are walking about in torn and dirty clothes and that must affect their confidence and ability to learn.

“They also grow out of clothes but the families then don’t have the money to replace them.”

The charity also provides clothes for kids at nursery schools in East Renfrewshire.

Back to SchoolBank East Renfrewshire now has the support of AR 26 – the charity launched by Scotland captain Andy Robertson.

Funding from the Liverpool star will provide warm winter clothing for pupils to wear over their new school uniforms.

Andy, who is from Clarkston and went to St Ninians High, in Giffnock, set up AR 26 last year with his partner Rachel.

To find out more about Sandra’s charity, visit here.