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The internet has given me many wonderful things. ASOS Premier, Facebook messenger, the DM’s sidebar of shame.
But by far the best thing about the internet is the people I have met online. Typing that out still feels a bit weird: seeing the phrase ‘the people I have met online’ conjures up images of old men wearing dirty string vests in their bedrooms with the curtains shut, tapping away at a big old CPUs and massive monitors. Not women who are like me, women who make me laugh, make me feel inspired and make me want to thank Sir Tim Berners-Lee for the magnificent invention that is the World Wide Web.
One of these women is my friend Emma.
Now, Emma will protest until she’s blue in the face that she’s not inspiring, she’s just a normal mum and wife. BUT DON’T LET THAT FOOL YOU! Emma is one of the most magnificent women I have ever met and she’s honestly made me sit and ponder my own life on more than one occasion. She selflessly started a charity, First Days, when she realised there was a need to provide and distribute basic equipment – clothing, bedding, furniture – for struggling new parents in her local area. Throughout 2014 the charity has gone from strength to strength, culminating in Emma’s well-deserved inclusion on the shortlist of Tesco’s Mum of The Year. Oh yes, Emma is a mum, too!
I asked Emma to answer a few questions for me on how she started First Days and the roller coaster ride that has been juggling her own charity and family life. Have a read – feel inspired – and if you ever get the chance to pick Emma’s brains over a glass of wine you absolutely must… she’s a LOT of fun.
You can donate easily to First Days by texting ‘FDCC11 £5’ to 70070 (change the ‘£5’ if you want to give a different amount) – all donations go to help families with young children in need.
– Tell me a little bit about First Days and why you decided to start it.
The concept is really simple – we collect baby and toddler clothes, equipment, furniture and toys and redistribute them to families in need. The stuff comes from families who no longer need it or businesses who want to donate surplus stock. The families in need are referred by other services – like children’s centres, social services, churches and housing associations.
I decided to start it when friends and neighbours generously gave us bags and bags of their second hand baby things. It was all in such good condition and there was just so much – I knew there must have been people out there who needed it more than me. I wasn’t sure what to do about it – then a friend told me about some research she was doing into single mothers in the area we live – she said that there was a practical need that wasn’t being fulfilled – ends that just weren’t meeting in their tight budgets. I know it sounds cheesy but I couldn’t just sit back and watch this happening whilst my cupboards were stuffed full of baby stuff that we never got round to using. So, I talked to people in the community and applied for some start up funding. I was granted it and First Days was born (my third baby!).
– You must deal with a lot of difficult situations in your day-to-day working life. What’s been the most surprising thing about the families you help since you started the charity?
They are never how you might imagine. I have not come across a mother who isn’t trying very hard to do the best for her children. I was asked to find a play pen for a teenage mum for her 8 months old baby. I could have thought ‘oh she wants it because she can’t be bothered to look after her son’ but what I found was a young girl who was preparing home made baby food and needed somewhere safe to put him whilst she was cooking in her tiny flat. She spent a lot of money on fresh ingredients because her baby’s weaning diet was so important to her. The most surprising thing is that we are fed so many stereotypes about how people in poverty live their lives and the majority – if not all of them – are generalisations and just plain lies.
– What do you love most about what you do?
I love being able to help people. It’s a miss-world-esque cliche but it’s the truth. It is such a struggle for the families I work with to just make it to the end of the week with enough money for food. To know that I’ve showed kindness to people who are feeling desperate is fantastic – to be able to take pressure off is incredibly rewarding.
– And what are the low points?
The emotions. I have had to face my own prejudices, assumptions and judgements. I always thought I was a fair and non-judgmental person but I’ve been really challenged. Once I pulled up at a house, just off a road I’ve driven down many times, where I was delivering clothes to a family who were in desperate need. I arrived and looked at the house. It was bigger than mine and had a garage and my immediate thought was ‘oh. They can’t need much! They’ve got a garage! I don’t have a garage!!’ I went in and quickly realised that the family I was there to help lived in one of the rooms. There were 4 other families living in that house. I dropped the stuff to them and got back in my car and cried all the way home. I couldn’t believe the conditions they were living in and how quickly I had jumped to conclusions. Starting a charity from scratch is all consuming and takes an extraordinary amount of time, money and help from friends and family but – whilst there have been low points – it has been so worth it.
– What’s been the one stand-out amazing moment for you since the start of First Days?
We became a registered charity in July this year, which was a fantastic milestone. It was suddenly something bigger than an idea that grew from my kitchen table. It is suddenly a real, recognised organisation. That was a real turning point for me to look at it and think – wow, I’m a part of this! Personally, recently being shortlisted for the Tesco Mum of the Year award in recognition of the work I have done has been a real honour.
– You have two young children and your own charity; without using that awful phrase of ‘how DO you do it?!’, erm, how DO you do it? ;)
Ha! I think when you’re passionate about something you find the time to do it, I genuinely enjoy the work – which I think is really rare. I am also supported by a fantastic board of Trustees and hardworking volunteers. Don’t get me wrong though, I have a husband who does a LOT at home and I live very near to a lot of family who can step in to help with the children if we need it – things are hectic, sometimes stressful and exhausting but it’s exactly how I like it, for now!
– Talk to me about your Christmas campaign, #ShareMyChristmas. How can we get involved?
It’s very simple: we want all families to experience the Christmas they deserve. We work with families who have to choose between Christmas Dinner or presents and we don’t want them to have to make that choice for their children. So we are providing children in poverty with Christmas presents to lighten the load for their parents. Getting involved is simple – take a picture of something festive, share it on social media with the hashtag #sharemychristmas and donate by texting ‘FDCC11 £X’ (X being the amount you want to donate!) to 70070. There are other ways to donate on our website too – www.firstdays.net. I am so excited to #sharemychristmas with other families!
– What’s in store next year for First Days?
I have big plans, as always! One thing I’m really keen on is meeting with people who are interested in setting up a similar project where they live. I want to see communities empowered in every town and city in the UK to help one another, in such a simple and practical way. Watch this space!