‘We are like the fourth emergency service!’

So says Mary Laxton, the woman with a real passion to help people who find themselves in very difficult circumstances

In the past year, the Kids Count Project she runs supported over 700 families with around a quarter of them living in Eastbourne and the surrounding area.

Mary is based in Hailsham and she has been running the project for the last five years, and in that time the project has supported over 6.000 families

She said: “We work across East Sussex and we only work with statutory agencies. So every family we support is via a referral from either social services, key workers, schools, health visitors midwives community nursery nurses probation service women’s refuge and other agencies.

“The requests are mixed but they are often urgent and we can turn requests around within 24 hours or less.

Very often, we must because the situation may be an emergency

“It could be a new born baby needing a range of items a prom crib or bottles steriliser in fact every item a new mum will need .

it could be a premature birth or twins or it could be a family whose circumstances have rapidly changed overnight eg eviction temporary accommodation or they can’t provide birthday gifts for their child due to debt

We also support several disability and special needs request from ESCC

“Once the request comes in via email from the key worker I go to work to prepare the bundle .

I work through a Facebook group with over 1100 members.

If I don’t have the items in stock I can post an urgent request on my page and the response is immediate. Someone will offer to buy the item on Amazon or donate a preloved one

I hold a very extensive stock from birth to 16 years of all the items we provide .

People can donate cash but I request that they put the money on a store Gift Card which we gratefully accept.

“Everything we send out is in absolutely immaculate condition.

We have 5* standards and make the bundle up in recycled bags with a homemade recycled gift tags.

Covid has had an impact and made life more difficult for many families across the county

Mary says: “Sadly the demand for our services rises yearly mainly due to the increase in poverty.

Due to this increase I have been named as “Magic Mary” due to continually meeting the demand of needs in our community.

“I always say that your life can change with the flick of a light switch. for example A family may end up in terrible debt , one of the partners loses their job a parent may die suddenly or domestic violence may have taken place .

“It costs around £3,000 to run the service each year as some items I have to purchase new .

I get great support from our members and the community organisations like Lions Club and Rotary Club and Eastbourne Hygiene Bank .

I personally put on 3 fundraiser a year usually but Covid has impacted on the ability to carry this out.

“Cots, single beds for toddlers, bedding, mattresses, proms books and toys and toiletries are very common requests

“For example, a young girl had suffered terrible abuse and part of her therapy was to take up sewing. We fundraised money to purchase a sewing machine from Hobbycraft and Amber Buttons a local business put together a comprehensive accessory kit and the girl couldn’t believe the generosity of strangers #loveandhope

Mary works 24/7 50 weeks of the year (with two weeks off at Christmas). easter and the festive season are key times where we provide additional gifts to families within the normal bundle provision

She said: “For Easter currently , we are creating gift bags to include an Easter egg new book and a selection of outdoor activity , such as a football skipping rope arts and crafts bubble bats and balls all of which members have provided

“At Christmas, ours may well be the only gift some kids receive .

Every year we undertake a Santa Special with a themed item

2 yrs ago we gifted PJs and 471 pairs were purchased and key workers collected and gave to families a huge organisational task

“Children have always played a large part in my life and being a hands on grandma helps .

“I like to do at least one act of kindness every day in my personal life

kids count achieves this aspiration every day

East Sussex Fire Brigade awarded us in 2019 A “special community award” in recognition of an inspirational project that’s has a significant impact on communities across the county

Without generous and caring members and local businesses like Waitrose and Morrison’s we could not operate our service

Mary is a Hailsham town councillor.

She is also a director of the newly formed Hailsham Community Land Trust and has a campaigner background throughout her career as a trade union official

To contact Mary, go to (20+) Kids Count Project Hailsham | Facebook

Or you can email marylaxton70@gmaIL.com