You might know that Baby Bank Network works on a referral system. We don’t deal directly with families who need our help, but reach them via charities, social workers, midwives and health visitors.
Most Baby Bank volunteers work from our Fishponds warehouse, receiving orders from our referral partners and sorting then packaging thousands of donations every year.
But what exactly happens behind that shutter door? As a mainly volunteer-run charity, how do we make sure all your donations reach the families who need them?
Reaching out for help
People tend to get in touch with us via our website or on email. If it’s an individual who needs our support, we advise them to speak to their midwife or health visitor who can refer them. These are our referral partners.
Once a referral partner makes contact with us, we send them a package about Baby Bank Network, explaining where to find information on our website and how to set up an online account.
The process is pretty simple for the referral partner – it’s much like any online ordering system where you can choose what you need, whether that’s a whole package for a newborn baby or a specific item like a double pram or cot. If the family has specific requirements, for example a light pram that can be carried upstairs, the referral partner can add this to the notes section.
Once we receive an order in the warehouse and everything looks okay, a confirmation email is automatically generated so the referral partner knows their order is in the system.
Where the magic happens
Now the hard work starts!
The team aims to get all newborn bundles out a month before the baby is due, but sometimes we receive referrals later than this – so it can be tight. We prepare all other items as soon as we can – if something is needed urgently, we ask our referral partners to note this on the order form and always do our best. At the same time, if a family needs an unusual or very popular item, for example a mesh stairgate or a double pram, there might be a wait for us to locate it.
Sadly, there is huge demand for our help and a lot that needs to happen behind the scenes before an order can be dispatched. To give you some context, in the six months between February and July this year we have distributed 2,424 items, which is about 100 items each week. This is no mean feat when we employ one part-time person, who is supported by a small team of about 20 volunteers to help in the warehouse around childcare, work and home commitments.
Once items have been donated, they need sorting, possibly cleaning or washing, and some items such as cots and highchairs need safety testing. Electrical items also need PAT testing by a specially trained volunteer. We rely heavily on our amazing volunteers and are hugely grateful for all their help.
A look inside the warehouse
The Baby Bank warehouse is an impressive place – and it needs to be! Housing a wide range of baby items from nappies to clothes to moses baskets, it has to be easy for volunteers to quickly find what they’re looking for without having to spend time sifting through boxes.
When items are donated they are carefully stored in the relevant area of the warehouse. Many items are then pre-bundled – for example into a baby toiletries bundle or a 12-18m boy’s clothes bundle – so they’re ready for referrals when they come in.
When we receive an order, a volunteer will make their way around the warehouse collecting the items, much like a home shopping picker for your online supermarket order. Sometimes one volunteer packs the whole order, other times a specialist might sort out all the cots for a few orders and leave the rest of the order to someone else. The process of packing up an order can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the order and whether the relevant items have been pre-bundled.
When the order is complete, we send a confirmation to the referral partner advising them that their order is ready! If they have chosen to have the items delivered, we give them a delivery date, otherwise they can choose when to collect.
One order ticked off the list, time for the next one!
Could you be part of the Baby Bank team? We are always looking for new faces to join our fantastic group of volunteers. There are lots of different roles, either in the warehouse, or helping with fundraising or marketing. We would love to hear from you, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.