For 11-year-old Karl*, going to bed has been a torturous experience for much of this year.
The youngster and his six-year-old brother have been sleeping on second-hand mattresses on the floor of their shared room at the family home in Leeds.
So pronounced had the springs of those old mattresses become that both boys had begun waking up with marks on their bodies.
“They were telling me every morning the springs dig into them and wake them up every time they turn over in their sleep,” their mum told The Independent.
“They were saying they couldn’t sleep properly, and I could see they were waking up almost as tired as they went to bed. But I’m a single mum – I have no way of affording two new beds. It made me feel desperate, absolutely desperate.”
This Christmas morning, however, things will be different.
The two boys will wake up in their very own brand new beds – complete with brand new mattresses and wearing brand new pyjamas.
That’s because they are among the 850 families who have received new beds as part of this year’s Independent-backed Christmas charity appeal. Senior politicians, religious leaders and business chiefs have all added their support to the cause.
Writing in The Independent today, former prime minister Gordon Brown said the appeal highlighted the reality of poverty in the UK in 2023, adding: “It is a state of affairs I never thought I would see again in my lifetime. And the blunt truth is that 2024 is likely to be worse, not better.”
Generous readers of this publication have raised some £145,000 to purchase new sleeping spaces for some of the UK’s most disadvantaged children.
And, by working with Leeds-based charity Zarach, the vast majority of those beds have now been delivered in time for today’s festivities.
Karl said: “It’s great to have my own bed. It’s so comfy. I love my new Marvel pyjamas.”
“It’s just made this the best Christmas ever,” said Karl’s mother. “And it’s such a weight off my mind. I was dreading going into new year with those springs getting worse, so this just really feels Santa has visited.”
In particular, she liked the draws underneath both beds (“because it gives us a space for their toys”), while the boys themselves were especially pleased with their Marvel pyjamas.
“They both absolutely love their comic books and games, so Marvel was perfect,” said the boys’ mother.
Did it mean they were both keen to get to bed early last night? A moment’s consideration. “They’re children,” she said. “They’re never keen to get to bed.”
Of course, this being Christmas morning, it seems unlikely a lie-in would have been enjoyed either.
Yet their mother is convinced that this new furniture will be transformative.
“You can’t function when you’re tired – we all know that,” the 40-year-old mother of five said. “And they never exactly complained of being tired but how could they not have been? These beds won’t just help them sleep – it will improve their whole lives.”
That, of course, was the entire aim of the charity appeal.
Research published earlier this year showed that almost 900,000 children in the UK do not have a proper bed and are forced to sleep on the floor or sofa, or share with family members.
The Barnardo’s study found an estimated 894,000 children – or 11 per cent of all under-18s in the UK – are without such a space.
This, the charity concluded, was having a devastating impact on health, education and mental wellbeing. It would ultimately, they said, entrench generational deprivation.
Which is why The Independent felt compelled to act.
Zarach – the charity The Independent teamed up with – was itself founded in 2017 by Bex Wilson, a deputy headteacher at Shakespeare Primary School in Leeds.
She was inspired to launch the set-up after becoming aware that an 11-year-old she taught was struggling to concentrate because he was sleeping each night on a couple of sofa cushions shared with two siblings.
“Bex was really just doing some research so she could signpost the family to a charity that could help,” says Mark Cohen, her dad and the logistics manager at the charity. “But what she found was that there wasn’t anywhere that could help – so she decided to do it herself.”
From that one family and one moment was sparked the idea for Zarach.
Now, in the intervening six years, the charity has delivered almost 8,000 beds to children in need and has partnered with more than 500 primary and secondary schools that provide them with family referrals.
They have set up a major logistics hub in Leeds – the place is a grotto of beds, pillows, pyjamas, duvets, toothbrushes and one or two chocolate treats – and smaller warehouses in Liverpool, Huddersfield, Halifax and Stockport.
More than 100 volunteers help out the 14-strong staff. They are constantly surprised by both the poverty people in 21st-century Britain are enduring – and the resilience of those very same people.
“We went in one home where the only piece of furniture was a white plastic garden chair,” says 62-year-old Mark, whose professional background is in logistics. “You wonder how that can be happening in a wealthy country like Britain.
“But then the gratitude and the spirit of people you help – that’s why you keep doing it. Because a good night’s sleep helps with education, and education is the key to changing things.”
In 2024, the charity is hoping to expand its operations further still and is currently looking at options for a second major hub – potentially in Birmingham, Hull or Stockton-on-Tees. The ultimate ambition is to be delivering 1,000 beds every week across the country.
For now, however, The Independent’s Christmas campaign has certainly helped boost both their delivery numbers and their profile.
“We’re absolutely thrilled to have partnered with The Independent and even more delighted to have achieved our Christmas appeal aim,” says Bex, 37.
“We’re incredibly proud to be able to make such a difference to the lives of children, giving them the best opportunity to engage at school. Thank you to everyone who has supported our appeal.”
It is a thanks, indeed, echoed by Karl’s mum at her three-bedroom home in the Calverley area of Leeds.
“I cannot explain how much it means to me,” she said. “It is the exact present I had wished for.”
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