A charity aiming to provide 500 beds to the most impoverished children by Christmas has reached the halfway point in its appeal backed by The Independent.
In just three days since our appeal with Zarach launched, generous readers have helped raise more than £47,000, which means 262 children will get a bed this Christmas.
Our appeal comes as a recent report by children’s charity Barnardo’s revealed that an estimated 894,000 children, or 11 per cent, are without a proper bed in the UK.
After years of austerity cuts compounded by the cost-of-living crisis, more children are being forced to sleep on the floor, on sofas or share a bed with family members, causing a knock-on effect on their educational performance and mental well-being.
Founded in 2017 by Bex Wilson, a deputy headteacher at a Leeds primary school, Zarach hopes to eradicate bed poverty for good and has delivered 7,109 beds to children in need over the last six years.
By partnering with more than 500 primary and secondary schools in the north-west of England, they operate by receiving referrals from teachers, who have noticed a child’s lack of focus in class or are aware of financial difficulties within the family.
The children helped by our Christmas appeal will be given bed frames, duvets, pillows, a mattress, pyjamas and toiletries, as well as chocolate treats and a reading book.
As part of their research this autumn, Barnardo’s surveyed 1,049 parents and 1,013 children aged between eight and 17. They found that 20 per cent of children without a bed felt tired at school, while one in 12 parents said their children were “tired all the time” due to lack of sleep from having no bed.
Meanwhile, 336,000 families had been unable to afford to replace or repair broken beds, while more than 187,000 families had been unable to wash their children’s bedding in the last 12 months due to the cost of washing and drying.
More than 281,000 have also had to choose between paying for heating or food and getting a new bed or bedding for their child. These statistics come as the number of children living in relative poverty increased by more than 350,000 between 2021 and 2022, a staggering total of one in four.
For Zarach and its team of dedicated volunteers, the charity has witnessed a dramatic increase in bed poverty over the last 12 months and has delivered nearly 3,500 beds in that time.
With a team of more than 100 volunteers, it provides support to families in Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and Liverpool, and is hoping to expand further across the UK.
“We look at child poverty levels and then child population levels and because of the work other amazing organisations have done, we can then make an estimation on how many children we think might be in bed poverty,” Zarach CEO Andy Peers told The Independent.
“That vision for the next three years is doing 1,000 a week across areas of greatest need but also wanting to provide a wrap-around support. A bed alone doesn’t end bed poverty,” Mr Peers said.
Once receiving a referral from a school, family liaison workers at Zarach organise a phone call and a visit, to assess the family’s right needs and take measurements for a single or bunk bed.
They can also help steer families towards other services and require feedback from the schools on the child’s progress, with 76 per cent reporting a performance improvement.
One mother-of-five said that receiving beds had changed the lives of her children, who are now healthier and performing well at school. After fleeing her abusive ex, Susie* had been left homeless and without money or furniture until she was referred to Zarach for support.
“When you see children who don’t have a good night’s sleep, you can see that they really, really struggle throughout the day,” she told The Independent. “It gives them a disadvantage being unable to focus on things compared to other children.
“It’s a major thing for families that are living in poverty. Education is the only way out of that for some children so getting those beds, it’s not just that immediate impact, it’s a lifelong impact.”
Due to the support of local sponsors, each of Zarach’s bed bundles costs £180, which also includes a £30 supermarket voucher for a family Christmas meal.
Mr Peers added: “Our mission is to end child bed poverty in England but there’s a reason we want to end child bed poverty; it’s to give children the opportunity to engage at school. Everybody recognises that education is a really clear way to break that future cycle of poverty.”
Geordie Greig, editor-in-chief of The Independent, said: “The Independent is proud to support Zarach’s campaign. It’s shocking that so many children do not have a bed to call their own, and it’s important to come together to help put that right."
* Name has been changed
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