Cowshed expands prom dress hire helping girls go to the ball

Under the rainbow: The Cowshed has a large stock of dresses in all colours Picture: Sally Russell

A WINNERSH charity wants to make sure every student can get dressed up to the nines this year.

The Cowshed is expanding its prom outfit scheme to all families in Wokingham and beyond, meaning people no longer need a referral to access the programme.

The charity, which launched in 2018, supports those in need with free clothes and essential items, to help people through times of crisis.

And in 2019, it created the Prom at The Cowshed initiative to make sure all Berkshire students could attend their leavers’ balls, even if they could not afford to buy an outfit.

Until recently, the charity only offered free prom dresses and suits to families who had been referred for support — but now, low-cost garments are available to everybody in need of help.

Sally Russell, CEO of The Cowshed, said the team was inspired to launch the programme after hearing about a family who lost their home when they were unable to pay for their child’s prom outfit.

“We decided to start collecting outfits for families that couldn’t afford them,” Ms Russell explained. “Every girl wants to feel like her friends, have the same prom experience and fit in.

“It’s really lovely to see girls’ faces when they come here and get the experience their peers get when trying on beautiful dresses.”

The Cowshed is currently offering a range of prom dresses and suits in all sizes, available to rent for a flat rate of £50.

Ms Russell said each item is either brand new or hardly worn.

“We were [initially] only offering them out to families in crisis, but there are also lots of people who aren’t in crisis but are struggling financially,” she said.

“People were contacting us [about the scheme] but they didn’t quite qualify for our service, but it seemed silly not to support these families too.”

The Cowshed also offers shoes and accessories, available only to those who are referred for support.

“It’s a great way to recycle,” Ms Russell added. “Prom dresses are beautiful, and so many people have them sat in their wardrobes.

“Why not let another girl make use of it? It stops the dress from ending up in landfill, too.”

All the money raised from the ‘Prom at The Cowshed’ initiative will be directed back into the charity to help it support people across Berkshire.

According to Ms Russell, the charity has seen a 400% increase in demand since the beginning of the pandemic.

“In the last financial year, we’ve helped more than 6,200 people,” she explained. “The need for our service has gone mad, which is sad, but I’m glad we can support those who need it.

“There’s also no sign of that need slowing, and when the furlough scheme ends I fear it will only get worse.”

Now, she is calling on local residents to donate any second hand prom outfits if they can.

“We’ve got a huge amount of interest already in the service,” Ms Russell said.

“We’ve got around 300 dresses at the moment, but we will need a lot more if demand is high.”

People can donate dresses and suits at The Cowshed’s donation centre in Winnersh, on King Street Lane.

To book an appointment for a fitting, contact info@thecowshed.org

For more information about the Cowshed, visit: www.thecowshed.org

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