There are stacks of toys, and helpers sorting and wrapping gifts. It’s not Santa’s workshop – but for hundreds if not thousands of Berkshire families it might as well be.

It’s The Cowshed – the charity that helps people in crisis get the things they need. And volunteers in Winnersh have been working right up to the last moment to wrap and deliver personalised packages of children’s Christmas presents.

“I think we must be up to 1,500 at least,” fundraising manager Rebecca Mole says, still two weeks before Christmas. “We’re supposed to be finished on December 20, but we won’t – it will be nearer to Christmas because we’ve got so much.”

“There are so many families that are absolutely struggling and Christmas is just one of those times which is generally very expensive anyway. So if you're already on the bread line, trying to find money for gifts is just really difficult.”

But the Cowshed isn’t just for Christmas. Volunteers in Wokingham work year-round in an operation that’s impressive for its scale, complexity and efficiency.

“We’re taking about three tonnes a week at the moment, and then we sort through it,” says charity founder Sally Russell, standing in front of cart loads of clothes.

“Everything we can keep then all gets washed and ironed, and then everything we don’t keep we recycle.”

Bracknell News: Clothes waiting to be given to those who need them at The CowshedClothes waiting to be given to those who need them at The Cowshed (Image: LDRS)

The whole thing is supported mostly by an army of some 220 volunteers. Some of them are stationed around a table sorting through the big refuse sacks of donated clothes. Another team irons everything that’s met the sorters’ approval.

Others are picking their way through the toys and baby equipment that have filled up the shelves and much of the floor, making sure everything is safe, clean and in working order.

Then it’s all sent upstairs to the referral centre, where it’s picked out to suit each individual’s needs, and packaged in bags made by the talented sewing machinists who volunteer three days a week.

READ MORE: Bracknell cost of living charities see increase in people seeking help

The people who receive them are all referred to The Cowshed by social services, schools or health professionals. The charity can only help people as a one-off however. But they still handle some 150 referrals a week, Sally estimates.

The pandemic, the arrival of refugees fleeing wars and the cost of living crisis has meant that thousands of people need The Cowshed’s help.

 “We’re sort of hoping that we don’t have another crisis next year and that we might be able to stabilise because we couldn’t continue with this growth in demand,” Sally says.

For now, the focus is on getting people the help they need at Christmas. But the support, donations and time given by the people of Berkshire can help them be ready for next Christmas too.