Children will go hungry and without school uniforms if a charity closes, according to its boss.

Smile London and Essex, based on North Street in Romford, could have to shut in January, according to founder Maria Quaife.

The charity, founded in 2017, has been running a free school uniform swap shop in The Quadrant, Romford, which started on Monday (July 24) and ends on Saturday (July 29).

But Maria said funding for the charity was due to run out early next year.

“We’ve had our clients cry when we tell them that we might not be here next year, because there’s no one here to do what we’re doing,” she said.

“These families rely on our services, so there will be kids going hungry, there’ll be kids going to school without the right uniform, there’ll definitely be hundreds of girls not going to prom if we weren’t here.”

Romford Recorder: Queues of people to use The Swap Shop in The Quadrant.Queues of people to use The Swap Shop in The Quadrant. (Image: Smile London & Essex)

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On Tuesday (July 25), Smile announced 120 families attended their clothes swap and ITV News came to film.

Demand for Smile's services remains high due to mounting living costs, but Maria said even its employees were struggling.

“We work for charity because this is our life," she said. “We’ve been on minimum wage since we started because we want to make sure the money goes where it needs to be.”

David Tyler, who has worked at Smile since 2020, said he was delighted the charity could help but questioned why mandatory school uniforms were so expensive, since the school shop is often the sole provider.

“It just seems to be like a money maker in a way that it shouldn’t be,” he said.

“The kids are there to learn – obviously you don’t want kids to be picked on because they don’t have the right clothes.”

Romford Recorder: Free school uniforms provided to families and their children.Free school uniforms provided to families and their children. (Image: Smile London & Essex)

David added that grant funding previously came from the National Lottery and that individual donations had dwindled.

"We rely very heavily on donations and we lost a lot of funding over the last year," he said.

"Unfortunately, when you're speaking about the cost of living crisis, donations from individuals are always the first to go when people looking to save a few quid, as everyone is."

Maria added that greater support from local authorities and businesses was needed in the absence of grant funding.

David praised Romford Shopping Hall for helping organise Smile's clothes swap.

Smile, which started in Harold Wood, offers various services including food, clothing, a baby bank, and provides uniform and prom dresses.

The charity operates out of Romford and hosts events across town, but also supports all of the hostels in Havering and Barking and Dagenham, said Maria. 

It also offers a food pantry service where people can get a free weekly shopping basket.

Find The Clothes Swap at Unit 18-19, Quadrant Arcade, South Street entrance in Romford.

To donate, visit