A charity providing free school uniform to children in need has said demand has increased this year.

More families than ever are struggling to afford clothes for the new school year, according to poverty prevention charity SMILE London and Essex.

Chief executive Maria Quaife explained much of the extra demand came from parents who had lost their jobs during the pandemic.

She explained: “They’re really struggling to make ends meet.

“The cost of uniform is ridiculous.”

This year, the charity is supporting 100 families from Havering and Barking and Dagenham, who have between one and seven children each.

Clients may be referred by professionals or they can self-refer, as long as they can prove they have low income.

One service user from Havering said SMILE had been “very, very helpful in my time of need and hardship.”

The single mother-of-three added: “The team is so professional and very polite, it was the most overwhelming experience I have been through, at my low point in my life where I have for the first time ever needed to get help from a charity.

“It was the most difficult time of my life but SMILE made me so comfortable with visiting them and getting help from them.”

Founder of The Baby Bank HQ, Kelly Smith, said the not-for-profit group has already helped 200 people this quarter.

The organisation, which bids to relieve poverty in Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Redbridge and Thurrock, was initially set up to provide baby clothes but has recently branched out to children’s casual clothing and school uniform.

Kelly explained: “We know that the pressure is on for families because of Covid.

“Uniform is expensive to buy, and we’ve had so many grateful people come through our doors who thank us and the community for their donations.”

The Baby Bank HQ is working with Recycle for Your Community, a waste prevention and recycling campaign in Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Newham and Redbridge, and has set up donation points at Tesco in Roneo Corner, and at Harold Hill and Rainham Libraries.

Families in need of school uniform can find out more information about referrals to The Baby Bank HQ here: https://www.thebabybankhq.org/pages/get-help.php

To contact SMILE, people can email the team with proof of income to info@smilelondonessex.com.