Baby steps in Leeds

A vital service helping mothers and their children, including Big Issue North vendors, is in growing demand

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Big Issue North vendors in Leeds are among many benefiting from a charity in the city centre that provides access to essential items for babies, children and mothers. Established in 2017 as a way of families donating pre-loved items to one another, Leeds Baby Bank now supports hundreds of families across the city every month, and the need, says charity manager Ellie Brown, is growing.

“We exist to support families who are living in poverty in Leeds and provide them with the essentials they need to look after their children,” says Brown, speaking from the charity’s base inside Leeds’ St Johns shopping centre. “We provide everything that you would need for a baby and children up to the age of five and siblings as well. It’s a very busy time. It’s the busiest it’s ever been and it’s going to get busier.”

Inside the former shopping unit, racks of shelving are stuffed with boxes of baby clothes and toys, cots, prams, nappies, baby food and formula milk, all organised by volunteers. Demand is high and the charity is desperate for new premises as it has run out of space to store everything.

“We’re a very green charity and most of what we pass on is pre-loved, which relies on people in Leeds and beyond donating items,” says Brown, noting that there is currently a big demand for warm winter coats for children and warm bedding.

Certain items have to be new, however, such as mattresses, nappies and the formula milk and toiletries the Baby Bank provides. There is valuable support from Leeds City Council but Brown says cash donations from the public are also vital.

With only four part-time paid staff, it also relies on a large bank of volunteers.

“They’re absolutely crucial and we couldn’t do this without them,” says Brown.

Demand for the service has been growing, especially in recent months. “At the start of 2022 there were about 50 referrals a month,” says Brown. “Now it’s well over 100 a month and it’s just going up and up. There’s a perfect storm of the cost-of-living crisis and winter hitting.

“Many of the families we support are in work, and we’re seeing a lot more working poor now. Most of the families will be experiencing other issues as well such as domestic violence or seeking asylum.”

Many clients are mothers who are about to give birth and who are struggling. One is 37-year-old Big Issue North vendor Marianna, who sells the magazine in Keighley.

Marianna has a large family but is expecting another baby next month.

“I wouldn’t know what I would have done without them,” she says. “I got milk, some nappies, some clothes, and a bed. They have been a really good help for me.

“I earn what I can selling the magazine, but things are very hard at the moment. Things like baby milk are so expensive.”

Marianna is one of around a dozen vendors that staff in the Leeds Big Issue North office have referred to the Baby Bank in the last few months alone. The service operates on a referrals-only basis, accepting clients from charities, social workers and health visitors.

There is a waiting list but “we’re getting through them as quickly as we can”, says Brown. She’s also noticed an increase in people turning up at the unit “in desperate need” and Baby Bank is usually able to link them up with an organisation who can refer them, or encourage them to attend one of its weekly outreach sessions where they give out some essentials.

According to Baby Bank’s website, it is estimated there are at least 33,000 children living in poverty in Leeds.

“Of course, things like this Baby Bank shouldn’t need to exist,” says Brown. “But it is a real privilege working here with this wonderful team. We’re a grassroots charity supporting people in need every day.”

Leeds Baby Bank has a winter giving campaign which you can support by visiting For more information visit

Photo: Ellie Brown (2nd from left) with staff and volunteers at Leeds Baby Bank

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