Closed South Shields WH Smith store transformed into clothing bank shop helping families

A mum who couldn’t afford to replace her son’s torn school trousers has opened a community shop in South Shields’ former WHSmith store to help families stock up on essential items.

Freema Chambers, 48, has opened the ‘Community School Clothing Scheme,’ in the unit on King Street to provide families with free school uniforms for their children, whatever their circumstances.

Parents can also loan essential items such as cots and prams for babies and young children for free, returning the items when they are no longer needed.

“My washing machine had broken and I had to spend all of my money on a new one so I could get the school clothes nice and clean, but then my youngest came home with holes in his trousers,” Freema said.

Community School Clothing Scheme founder Freema Chambers outside of the new South Shields store.

"I couldn’t afford new ones so I had to take him to school in his jogger pants and he thought he was going to get into trouble.

"But I had a chat with the head and he was so supportive. I thought; ‘I can’t be the only parent who has these struggles.’”

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From that experience Freema came up with the idea of setting up a uniform exchange scheme in her son’s Northumberland school, collecting ‘pre-loved’ uniforms in good condition that can be passed onto other pupils in need.

Founder Freema Chambers inside the new Community School Clothing Scheme store in South Shields.

The idea took off, and, in 2017, Freema founded the ‘Community School Clothing Scheme’ going on to open dedicated shops offering free school uniforms, among other items.

The South Shields store is one of four ‘Community School Clothing Scheme’ shops already in the North East, with stores already in the likes of Sunderland’s Fawcett Street and Wallsend High Street.

Freema said: “It has just grown and grown as parents really want the service.

"The uniform is free for all parents, they don’t have to be on benefits.

Founder Freema Chambers with the racks of uniform inside the Community School Clothing Scheme store.

"We also provide free fancy dress outfits as the likes of World Book Day can be so stressful for parents.”

The shop tries to provide three of each school uniform item per child to ensure they have spares and general clothing and toys can also be bought from as little as 10p.

Freema added: "The feedback from the shop has just been fantastic, everyone is so welcoming,” she said.

"The kids love it – one little boy calls it the treat shop.”

The shop is open from 10am to 5pm, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. It is open from 10am to 12pm on Wednesday.

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