Vulnerable and pregnant: Supporting new mums in London’s most hard-to-reach communities 

Being pregnant and isolated is a reality that many women around the world are facing as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, but in London’s most disadvantaged communities, where many mothers-to-be live on less than £40 a week, a looming due date brings a sense of panic, rather than joy. 

One organisation working to ease stress for such women is PramDepot. What started as an arts-led recycling project to repurpose second-hand baby clothing has become a lifeline for London’s most vulnerable mothers and their babies. Working with partnered organisations to identify those most in need, the charity supports the most hard-to-reach women in society, such as those no access to public funds or services and those in domestic violence units, who can’t afford even basic essentials for their new-borns. 

During the Covid-19 crisis, PramDepot’s work has become even more vital. With pregnant women, new mothers and the charity’s usual army of volunteers forced into lockdown, founder Karen Whiteread has been forced to adapt to continue to provide support. 

In April, with the help of a £5,000 grant from Haringey Giving, Karen launched the Emergency Covid-19 Baby Box Campaign, funded by the generosity of our Haringey Heroes. So far, hundreds of baby boxes have been delivered to those most in need, enabling mothers to keep their babies clothed, feed and clean during the crucial first weeks of life.

“The grant has enabled us to buy more essentials for our baby boxes at wholesale costs,” says Karen. “But it's not just the things in the boxes that the grant is going towards, it's also helping us deliver the project safely.” 

We caught up with Karen, founder of PramDepot and a former artist, to find out more 

Hi Karen! What gave you the idea to start PramDepot?

It started off as an art project funded by the arts council. It was inspired by an exhibition I went to in Paris called Museum of Childhood by Christian Boltanski. It had shelves full of children's clothes. It really moved me because I'd just become a birth companion and was volunteering to be with women that didn't have anyone to be with them in labour. There were about 30 volunteers all over London and everyone had stuff in their houses to give to the mums, which was really hard to coordinate, so I said, "let's use my studio as ever-changing art installation of baby stuff." I set it up as a similar installation to Boltanski's Museum of Childhood, but for babies, and it just took off from there!

Knitted teddies art with women and pushchair

How has the way the charity works changed during the Covid-19 crisis?

Normally we do a bespoke service. We have about 25 organisations that we work with. Most come to us to pick the stuff up and we talk through all of the health and safety with the volunteer, rather than the mom. They then take it to the mum's house, sit down and explain everything. But all of the volunteers have stopped working – a lot of them have children so they couldn't come once the lockdown happened.  

But we know full well that the women that we support would be in dire straits without help. They’re not able to order stuff online like pregnant women are generally doing now, and because none of the shops are open, it's really hard to get nappies. For our Covid-19 response, I decided to put together generic boxes packed with all the essentials new mums might need.

What’s inside each box?

There are bundles of second-hand baby clothes, a cloth sling so they don't need a buggy, nappies, wet wipes, breast pumps, steriliser, bottles, milk storage bags, and more. There’s also a hospital bag with things for mums, such as toothpaste, shower gel and hand wash soap. My daughter had a baby six months ago, so I worked with her to formulate a list of stuff that was essential.

Pram Depot Baby Box showing contents

What’s been your biggest challenge?

Getting the boxes to the women has been a logistical nightmare. I can't come into contact with anyone because I'm working with my daughter, who has a baby, and we're both socially isolating. Also, normally we have a lot of face-to-face contact with the women we're supporting, so as we can’t do that, I wrote a health and safety booklet to go in the box. 

How has demand changed since the crisis began?

We specialise in helping the really hard-to-reach women, so women with no recourse to public funds, women in domestic violence units, and people that aren't being supported by social services or healthcare professionals. But during the crisis, we've been getting a lot of requests from people that we wouldn't normally support. Sadly, we can only work with referrals from our partnered organisations. 

How was your experience applying for a grant from Haringey Giving?

It was amazing! I couldn't believe how quickly they turned it around – in two or three days. It was the fastest turnaround for a grant application I've ever had. What the grant meant is we could start doing wholesale buying. We were previously ordering separate things online and, for instance, paying £20 for sterilisers. Now we’re able to pay £13 and buy 50 at a time. 

But it's not just the things in the box that the grant is going towards, it's also helping us deliver the project safely. We'd been working to keep these boxes completely Covid free. When they’re made, they're dated and once they’ve been stored for a week, we use gloves and masks and put them in the van, or into someone else's car who’s also wearing gloves and masks. The person delivering the boxes is also protected, so mums can open the boxes straight away and feel safe.

Man with bicycle dropping off a donation of recycled baby supplies

How could people reading this help you? 

As well as monetary donations, we always need new-born baby clothes. If they have any that are stain-free and in almost new condition, the best thing that they can do is wash them, fold them nicely, button them up, put them in a bag and drop them in the box outside my house – if they message me, I can give out the address. 

The shelf life of baby clothing is a big problem. The average wear of a baby-grow is just two or three times, but it takes almost the same amount of energy and resources to make a baby-grow as it does to make an adult's T-shirt which is worn 150 times. Sustainability is important to me – I'm very interested in Extinction Rebellion – so we're really trying to work on ways of extending the life of baby stuff.

Inspired by this story?

Click here to donate now

Get in touch to fundraise or volunteer

Click here for more on PramDepot