Talking Early Years with June O’Sullivan: In Conversation with C.J. Bowry

Please Sir, Can I Have Some Shoes? Growing up in a working-class family, the outlay on school shoes was always a concern.  The annual purchase of a pair of plain brown Start-Rite shoes was a worry (I wouldn’t have cared as I never appreciated my mother’s efforts thinking they were the worse shoes possible!).

No one wanted to send their children to school in what was worryingly known as cheap shoes. This attitude still permeates us today.

There is something about shoes that is deeply psychological. Buying your child’s first shoes is a milestone so important that many of us have framed one in a box frame. I still display my son’s Jumping Jack’s – aha, do you remember them?

It was what to do with hardly worn first shoes that prompted CJ Bowry to set up the innovative charity, Sal’s Shoes helping impoverished children across the world.

Inspired by the good condition of her son’s outgrown (and over-priced) shoes, she thought it was very wasteful to simply throw them out. Doing her research, she discovered shoes are very hard to recycle because of their multiple parts – with thousands of pairs going to landfill each year. Meanwhile, 300 million children remain barefoot, risking foot injuries and disease.

Since setting up the charity, Surrey based Sal’s Shoes has distributed two million pairs of shoes in the UK and across the world. Her aim is simple; avoid waste by sending a pair of clean, good quality shoes to another child who will benefit and may be able to share them onwards – especially as small children grow out of their shoes at an alarming rate.

I discovered Sal’s Shoes on Twitter when a nursery manager rang me and said that many of the children returning to LEYF after lockdown were wearing inappropriate, badly-fitting or broken shoes. Parents were embarrassed and concerned in equal measure. These are parents who are members of the working poor. Social media can be helpful in creating useful connections and that is what happened. Sal’s Shoes delivered 25 pairs of new shoes to Angel Pre-School (LEYF) in South Westminster and the families were overjoyed. They have since kindly sent a second delivery to another LEYF nursery and a third one is due.

Like food poverty, shoe poverty is on the rise and is the kind of poverty that impacts children’s confidence and their self-esteem as they notice they are different to their peers. We know from the latest report by The Food Foundation that the UK’s poorest households struggle to afford to meet the Government’s recommended guidelines on a healthy diet, so you can imagine many families have very little money left over for other essentials such as new clothing and shoes. Considering the UK is one of the world’s richest countries – this is a very sad reality.

Listen here to CJ tell us more about shoe poverty, shoe waste and the good in people who want to help.