Duchess of Cambridge bursts into tears after hearing about young family struggles during lockdown

Victoria Ward
·4 min read
The Duchess helps unloads a pallet of supplies at Baby Basic UK - Chris Jackson/Getty
The Duchess helps unloads a pallet of supplies at Baby Basic UK - Chris Jackson/Getty

The Duchess of Cambridge is the epitome of decorum on royal jobs, giving little away as she smiles and shakes hands with the great and the good.

But the mother-of-three has revealed she was reduced to tears after meeting vulnerable families who had struggled during the coronavirus pandemic, weeping when she had returned to the privacy of her own home.

The Duchess, 38, had made a private visit to a baby bank - providing supplies to parents in need - in West Norfolk at the beginning of lockdown.

The experience so moved her that she was prompted to spearhead a drive to persuade high street brands to donate goods such as nappies, bedding and clothing to baby banks across the UK.

The initiative, which supports her focus on the Early Years, has been so successful that already, 19 major UK retailers and brands have donated in excess of 10,000 new items to more than 40 baby banks. 

The Duchess recalled her initial experience as she visited Baby Basics UK in Sheffield on Tuesday, admitting: "It can get very emotional. I remember a couple of the families I met from King’s Lynn and I went home and literally burst into tears, their stories were so moving. 

The Duchess was pictured in a face mask for the first time - Chris Jackson/Getty
The Duchess was pictured in a face mask for the first time - Chris Jackson/Getty

“The struggles they have gone through, the bravery they have shown in extraordinary circumstances. Helping their families through extraordinary times."

She added: “One of the mums I met was a nurse. These are families who do fantastic jobs and even they are struggling.”

The Duchess, sporting a face mask for the first time on an official job, helped staff unpack the first donations, including clothes and toys, at a temporary distribution centre which, with the help of couriers DHL, is transferring items as far afield as Aberdeen and Hastings.

Unhindered by her mock snake skin heels, she pulled boxes from a pallet with ease and helped staff carry them inside.

Baby Basics, which was launched ten years ago, has teamed up with two other baby bank services, Little Village and Aberdeenshire-based AberNecessities, to work on the project.

The Duchess, who has continued to speak to vulnerable families and the organisations that support them throughout lockdown, said she was pleased to see so many people moved to help others during the pandemic.

“It is those small volunteering acts that everyone can contribute to that make such a difference,” she added. 

“That inter generational support system has been amazing. Knowing that you can make such a big difference to another family is wonderful."

The Duchess helps unloads a pallet of supplies at Baby Basic UK - Chris Jackson/Getty
The Duchess helps unloads a pallet of supplies at Baby Basic UK - Chris Jackson/Getty

The Duchess met some of the families who had sought help from the charity. Ali Wartty and Sahara Hamawandy, both 47, who have one-year-old triplets San, Shan and Laveen, came to the UK from Iraq and were given leave to remain but with no access to public funds. 

The family lives in a one-bedroom, 12th floor flat and have struggled with three young children, which the Duchess acknowledged must be stressful.

She also spoke via Zoom to Amy Cotton, who fled a violent home with only her baby son Ricky, now three, and the clothes on her back, and who now volunteers with Little Village.

The Duchess told her: “It is brave and not often the easiest thing to do but it is really fantastic that you’ve reached out, that you are so open about your own struggles but also the fact that you are in such a fanatic place now. 

“I suppose it is real credit to you, the journey that you've undertaken and the courage and strength you’ve shown to get there. So well done. And I love the fact that you are volunteering too.”

Cat Ross, CEO of Baby Basics, said: “Often, in a world where there is a lot of judgement and stereotyping about being poor, that additional stress can be even more difficult for parents who are doing amazing things to keep their families going with such strength, such determination.

“There is a lot of fear about worry about when furlough ends and what it means for families. But one of the positives to come out of it is the strength of communities across the UK and people wanting to help, volunteering and wanting to provide for each other. Organisations like us want to harvest that and keep it going as much as possible.”

Sophia Parker, chief executive and founder of Little Village, agreed, saying: “We say the currency in this is kindness, this is what this is all about.

“It’s really special being able to facilitate people to support others. They are often just looking for that opportunity to do something.”

The Duchess added: “It’s about finding new ways of still providing people with the support they so desperately need.”

A 2018 survey estimated that one in 100 families in England with children under five have visited a baby bank, while different research has confirmed that such services are desperate for donations and struggling to support families during the pandemic, many unable to accept second hand items.