“Encourage people outdoors and provide affordable access to outdoor kit”.
This is one element of the Re-Action manifesto. Our member organisations typically do this by rescuing, reselling, repairing and renting kit that bought new, would cost in the hundreds of pounds. Whilst many of our members also make donations, no organisation has been founded with the sole purpose of providing outdoor gear, free of charge, to families living on benefits, until Kitsquad joined.
Kitsquad is run by Fran Pearson. Growing up on a farm in the Shropshire countryside, surrounded by stunning landscapes, she had a connection with the outdoors from childhood. Along the way, work and life took over and she had two children, one of whom has significant physical, medical and cognitive issues. Realising that she had to give up work to become a registered carer for her daughter, Fran’s own mental health deteriorated significantly.
Becoming a full time carer and giving up her career wasn’t part of her life plan but she found solace and energy from putting on her boots and heading out of her front door into the hills and rolling landscapes of Shropshire. Looking back, she recognises how much it helped her through this period of loss and adjustment and that all she needed was a pair of walking boots and a place to walk.
Outdoor kit comes with a price tag
One day, a while later, her son came home from cubs with his camp kit list, throwing the price tag of accessing the outdoors into sharp focus. Thankfully Fran’s son already had the kit he needed because they spend their weekends and family time enjoying the outdoors. But this got Fran thinking – what about families that didn’t spend their leisure time hiking and camping? It could cost them a fortune that they might not have to hand or mean that children will miss out on opportunities to grow, learn and enjoy the physical and mental benefits of being in the outdoors.
This thought spurred Fran into action and she began collecting donations of used outdoor gear with the aim of passing it on to people who could use it but couldn’t afford to buy it new. Kitsquad was born and quickly became extremely busy. In the summer months Fran was distributing 10 parcels of kit per week to families living on benefits. All the donations and requests for kit have come through word of mouth and social media. She’s even had posts shared by National Geographic Mountaineer of the Year Alistair Humphries and famous bushman Ray Mears.
An overnight success
When donations of gear took over her house, she had to lease a storage unit and has managed to secure a few donations and apply for grants to help manage the cost, but still has to put her hand in her own pocket each month to cover costs.
Fran ensures that the kit goes to people in real need. To benefit from the kit, families must prove that they are recipients of means tested benefits such as tax credits, universal credits, employment-related benefits. Recipients are treated with confidentiality and there is no cost to them whatsoever.
She has forged a link with Burton McCall, a distributor of outdoor brands including Jet Boil and Stanley flasks, who generously donate dented or scratched items they are unable to sell.
Fran knows only too well the barriers preventing people on low incomes from accessing the outdoors. She recently contacted the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, whose extensive kit list, peppered with recommendations for specific brands, can run into the hundreds of pounds for unsuspecting parents.
Fran’s mission is clear. Her aim is to remove the financial and logistical barriers for people so they can access the outdoors and benefit from the mental and physical therapy that being active in nature can bring. In so doing, she is also giving the kit she donates a second life, saving it from landfill or incineration. There is another virtuous circle at play too. People who experience and get something from the outdoor environment are more likely to want to preserve and protect it.
Re-Action is thrilled to be working with Kitsquad and is already finding ways to divert clothing and equipment Fran’s way. If you’re able to help Fran and Kitsquad in their mission, financially or with kit donations, then head over to their website and get in touch.