A single mum is helping people on low incomes to get outdoors by gifting them the technical gear they need to make the most of the countryside

Words by Abi Butcher

Fran Pearson, a mum of two teenagers, founded Kitsquad two years ago with the aim of providing all sorts of equipment and clothing to people on low-income support. From her small home in rural Shropshire, Fran single-handedly collects donations of outdoor kit from hiking boots to tents and waterproofs to water bottles. She then cleans and stores it, ready to send out to wannabee-adventurers unable to afford their own, gifting them the items that have been donated by people who no longer need it and companies donating factory seconds.

For the first two years, Fran relied on the news of her enterprise to spread via word-of-mouth but at the start of 2022, she took the plunge to build a website (kitsquad.co.uk) and a Facebook page, going nationwide with her dream to help more people access the outdoors.

“To actually hike up Snowdon is free, but you can’t — or at least shouldn’t — do it unless you have the right gear, so while getting outdoors might be ‘free’, it is still inaccessible to some because of financial restrictions,” she explains. “And Kitsquad aims to bridge that gap. Lockdown has taught us all that our own country is beautiful, but we need to wear and use the correct and comfortable gear to access it.”

“Access to the countryside can be unachievable because of lack of gear. I’ve always taken the children wild camping and hiking, so I had all the right gear for their Scout camp and Duke of Edinburgh’s award, but otherwise, as a single mum, I’d have been unable to afford it”

Fran Pearson

Founder of Kitsquad

The idea for Kitsquad came to Fran when her son Dominic, 13, came home from Scouts with a kit list for an adventure, and her daughter Penny, 14, started out on her Duke of Edinburgh’s Bronze Award.

“I’ve always taken the children wild camping and hiking, so I had all the right gear, but otherwise I’d have been unable to afford it because I am on benefits as a carer for my daughter and a single mum. It made me think that this kit list would be completely unattainable for so many families in my position — and how many children would miss out because of that?” she said. “It’s not only children, either. I want to help everyone. While a walk in the countryside with all its experiences and smells doesn’t appeal to everyone, there are more than a million people on Universal Credit, so many could get out and enjoy the countryside if they had the right gear.”

Fran relies entirely on donations to provide kit to families and individual people on low-income support. She runs the entire enterprise from home, washing and cleaning used or “pre-loved” items and, where needed, re-proofs them and carries out minor repairs, before cataloguing, storing and sending out them when she has a request.

“I had one business come forward and offer to back me, they are an outdoor distributor of brands like Stanley flasks, Firepot food and Jetboil, and they send me their returns, factory seconds and things like dented water bottles that aren’t in a saleable condition but their purpose isn’t compromised so they’re still useable,” says Fran. “That’s made a big difference. Then, people donate kit they don’t want — unwanted presents, things their child has outgrown or items they’ve replaced with something newer and better. I just say to people that as long as I’d wear and use it myself — and my day back for hiking is 30 years old — I’ll send it out.”

Before she launched the website and Facebook page, Fran was getting three or four requests a week from folk on income support who had heard about Kitsquad, and receiving the same number of donations. Now, that figure has quadrupled, possibly more, and the mum of two is running out of space.

“I’ve moved out of my bedroom to store the growing amount of stock, now sleeping in Penny’s room, while my hallway dining room and lounge are stacked with kit and another downstairs room has been entirely taken over. It’s getting unsustainable,” says Fran, who is seeking charitable status so she can apply for grants and other funding to be able to move the business into storage unit.

“There is scope for so much more — this is just the start. I need help with admin and repairs, eventually I’d like to link up with the Scouts and Duke of Edinburgh’s Award,” she says. “There are so many people to help.”

Fran adds: “But on top of this, I’m keeping hard-wearing kit out of landfill, providing a service to companies who morally and ethically can’t put seconds in landfill, so massively benefitting the environment at the same time. I believe it’s a win-win all round.”

EcoSki is in the process of linking up with Kitsquad, to offer customers the chance to donate unwanted items directly to Fran. Until we’ve got that organised, and to read more about this inspirational enterprise, and how to donate any of your kit, visit kitsquad.co.uk