Parents 'queuing for five hours' outside uniform shops in last-minute panic
Stressed out parents have described back to school shopping as ‘one of the circles of hell’ with coronavirus restrictions forcing some to wait in five-hour queues.
The typical back to school rush has been made worse this year due to limits on the number of people who can enter a shop at any one time. Images on social media show queues of hundreds of people forming outside a uniform shop in south London, with one mum complaining that the store closed by the time she got to the front.
The parent, who asked not to be named, waited three hours for three days in a row outside Hewitts of Croydon, costing her £40 in parking.
A sign outside the store says entrance can not be guaranteed if you are in the queue after 3pm due to the store closing at 5pm, but the mum claimed the queue was so long on the fourth day that people were being advised to leave if they were not in it by 12pm.
She told Metro.co.uk: ‘I went to the shop four times. Some people had been waiting in queues for four or five hours, there was a woman who started queuing at 10 and got in 3.
‘People say you should not have left it so last minute. Everyone expects a queue but four or five hours is ridiculous.’
Owner of the store Martin Hewitt said that his team of 35 staff were working flat out to meet demand, but due to social distancing only 10 people were allowed in the store at any one time, as opposed to the usual 40.
In normal times parents have the option to buy uniforms at the 80 schools it provides for, but this hasn’t been possible due to coronavirus school closures.
He said a local security company is now controlling the queue, admitting that people near the end are looking at a four-hour wait.
‘We’re warning some people at the end that once they’re in the queue it is unlikely they will get in the shop,’ he told the MyLondon news site.
‘There is no short cut, if I could think of any way to serve all these customers I would.
‘Some are saying we should open 24 hours but the staff are exhausted, we shut at 5pm and by the time all the customers are gone it’s 6.30pm.’
Another Croydon parent said that she had been to Hewitt’s twice but gave up as both times there were 300 people in the queue. She fears her son won’t have his full uniform by the time school starts next week, as the click and collect service takes 10-14 days, while deliveries are 21-28 days behind, according to the shop’s website.
‘Hewitt’s is always busy, but this year, it has defied belief’, Danie Ware told Metro.co.uk.
‘They’re the only official stockists for the area, and I think that many kids will not be able to secure their uniform for the start of term – mine included. And it is likely that the schools will hand out detentions for improper uniform, which seems rather unfair.’
Coronavirus rules means pupils aren’t allowed to try on their uniform, with many shops quarantining returns for 48 hours, causing supply shortages. Parents who need to buy new school shoes for their children also need to book appointments for fittings if they want to avoid lengthy waits.
Images on social media show huge queues outside school uniform shops in Essex, Bournemouth, Eastleigh and other parts of the country.
Tweeting about her ordeal one Mum said: ‘Sensible-school-shoe shopping is now officially one of the circles of hell. If you don’t want to take a packed lunch and a camping chair with you, MAKE AN APPOINTMENT’.
Another said: ‘Just had to travel 30 miles to school uniform shop, queue of masked people outside a mile long. Not allowed to use changing rooms, 10 people in shop at a time & they didn’t even have any of the uniform we need. Expecting a delivery but no idea when. To order online £30 delivery’.
For some parents the last-minute rush for uniforms has not been an issue this summer. Thousands are vowing to keep their children at home in September, with the government facing a legal challenge to stop them from enforcing fines.
Mum-of-two Charlotte Williams, whose severe asthma makes her more at risk of catching coronavirus, does not agree with ministers who argue pupils’ mental health will suffer if they don’t go back to school.
She says her four and seven-year-old will be far worse off if they bring the virus home and she falls ill or dies.
‘I am not sending my children back and I have not bought one single piece of uniform,’ said Charlotte, from Nottingham
‘I have the money to do so, and I will buy it when the time is right.
‘I am classed as vulnerable as I have asthma and I am on steroids. I have not been to the park or the shops [since the pandemic happened], and my children have not seen their grandparents since December.
‘We are a single income family. I am not in a position to afford the fines but I am prepared to fight them in court.’
Other parents are on the fence about what to do and are reluctant to spend hundreds of pounds on new uniform that might not be worn, with some opting to use school uniform exchange services.
Gemma Sewell, from Essex, has still not decided if she will send her daughter back next week and is lucky she still fits into her old uniform.
The mum-of-two, who has been campaigning for the partial reopening of schools, said parents across the country still feel anxious about the threat of a coronavirus outbreak in the classroom.
‘There’s lots of people who haven’t even had a letter from their schools saying what measures will be in place,’ she said. ‘I genuinely don’t know what to do.’
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