First Days was established in 2013 and works on a very simple principle. We take donated toys, clothes, equipment and school uniform and redistribute them to children in Berkshire, and beyond, whose families cannot afford these basics.
4.5 million, or 30% of children in the UK are classed as living in poverty - just under 43,000 of whom live in Berkshire.
First Days works with professionals in the health, childcare and social care fields, as well as churches, schools, universities and housing associations. If these professionals identify a family with young children that is struggling to provide the basics, they can put a referral in to First Days for the items that they need. This could be something as simple as a stairgate or a pair of school shoes and a winter coat, or a bundle of everything needed to a new baby. Because we dont means test - we work on the basis that the professional knows the family and their needs - we are able to provide support quickly. Most referrals are turned around within 7-10 days and we can accommodate emergency referrals, such as a newborn baby or a child at risk of going into care, the same or the next day.
Since it was started six years ago, First Days has helped over 7000 children. We currently receive in excess of 100 referrals each month. Most are for children from newborn to seven, but we also provide school uniform for students up to the age of 16.
Families can find themselves needing our help for a variety of reasons, including physical or mental health problems, employment issues, family breakdown or domestic violence, or simply the increased cost of living. Around a third of the families that we help have at least one member of the family in employment.
Most of what we give out is secondhand and we are incredibly lucky to have a large network of supporters who help keep us well stocked with these items. However, there are three main areas that we need funding to over. The first is those items that we cannot provide secondhand, such as nappies, toiletries or mattresses. The second main expense for us is our premises - work space for our staff and, more significantly, space to store and sort all our stock. The final expense that we incur is for our small staff. Whilst we have an army of about 30-40 volunteers who help us, we also have 8 paid staff, all of whom work part time and who, together, equate to 2 full time staff.
At First Days we receive no local government or statutory funding and rely solely on our own efforts to raise the money we need to survive and continue our work with families. This includes applying for grants and similar funding, and also sponsored events and community fundraising.
The money raised by Reading Roadrunners will make a real difference to the lives of Berkshire children. This mum explains what a difference the support she received made:
"The cost of compulsory specific uniform is so expensive that at times is just unaffordable, especially if items are only sold in packs and several items are needed simultaneously. Not only did it help me financially it also helped emotionally and mentally - its hard to have to say no to a hormonal teenager that can already see life is so much harder for her. It reduced the effects on her as she was no different to her friends and for someone who takes a pride in how she looks to help her confidence it was amazing. It also helped me not to feel so much of a failure, to feel halfway normal. Although seeking help is not ideal it's far better than getting into debt! Yes even for a school uniform as paying for it would have meant a bill or food costs would not have been met. To make a simple phone call and for it then to be delivered by a polite unassuming person without judgement but with care and understanding was amazing. I'm truly grateful for the help I have received."