Family and Health: Charity begins at home as community shops go from strength to strength

SIXTEEN years ago, a new type of charity shop sprang up in Huddersfield, the first of many.

SIXTEEN years ago, a new type of charity shop sprang up in Huddersfield, the first of many.

They are run by and for members of local communities, raising money to be spent in the area where they operate.

For the founders of such shops it was a case of charity beginning at home.

Today these same enterprises continue to flourish and, in a period of austerity, may prove to be increasingly important to the communities they serve.

"What we do is quite sensitive to what’s going on generally," says Judi Thorpe, one of the founders of The Cuckoo’s Nest community charity shop in Marsden.

"Our income is slightly down on last year and our donations too," she explained. "I think it’s a really strong indication that people are hanging on to their old clothes longer and that more people will need us."

The Cuckoo’s Nest opened a decade ago and since then has raised an astonishing total of more than £500,000.

There can be few local institutions and organisations that have not benefited – 43 in total – from local scouts and young musicians to theatre groups and the Marsden Mechanics Institute.

The shop, which can draw on 50 volunteers, aged from 17 to 93, pays for the maintenance of the parish graveyard and weekly visits from the Citizens Advice Bureau.

The first community charity shop in the area was The Crossroads Shop in Meltham, founded in 1996 by Meltham Churches Together – a group of seven churches from all denominations.

It came into being almost accidentally. Members of the church community staged a meeting to discuss how they could help the town’s elderly people following the threat of water shortages.

"We met in November one night and it poured down and the drought ended. But someone suggested that an empty shop in the village be turned into a charity shop," said Jean Burhouse, one of the founders.

"People seemed to like the idea and it snowballed from there."

The shop has gone from taking £600 a week to taking £1,200 a week – more than £50,000 a year – and has 65 volunteers. It pays for the village’s Citizens Advice Bureau and hands out cash grants to everyone from students wanting to travel abroad to Meltham Mills Band and teams at the local sports and community centre.

"It has three functions really," says Jean. "It brings people together. Many of our volunteers are retired with time on their hands and it gives them a social life; it puts money back into the community and it serves the community.

"Our prices are very low because we are recycling goods and don’t have huge overheads."

Other communities followed Meltham’s lead, profiting from the fact that there are plenty of willing helpers for such ventures.

"We never struggle to find volunteers," said Jean, "and I think one of the reasons why we are so successful is that we have no paid staff and we are all equal."

Howard Robinson, one of the joint managers of the Newsome Together shop, run by the local ecumenical partnership of three churches in the district, agrees that recruiting volunteers is never a problem. They have 60.

Over the 10 years since the shop opened it has raised around £200,000, to support the work of the churches – Newsome Parish, St Paul’s in Armitage Bridge and Newsome South Methodist Church – as well as local groups.

The shop was launched because the churches were finding it increasingly difficult to fund the post of a paid community worker.

"We applied for grants but found that the funding often came with strings attached that we couldn’t comply with," said Howard.

"Somebody came up with the idea of a shop. We support various charities and at least two thirds of what we make goes back into the community."

He believes that as the recession bites charity shops will become increasingly valuable resources for low income families.

Howard said: "When we first started we wondered how worthwhile it was. Then we had a lady who came into the shop and said she had a large family of six and since the shop had opened she’d had twins.

"She bought all their clothes from our shop and never paid more than £1 an item. It was, she said, a life-saver.

"A lot of people fall into that category, now even more so."

 
comments powered by Disqus

Journalists

Doug Thomson
Huddersfield Town correspondent
Chris Roberts
Huddersfield Giants correspondent
Louise Cooper
Crime correspondent
Nick Lavigueur
Health Correspondent
Joanne Douglas
Local Government Correspondent
Linda Whitwam
Education Correspondent
Henryk Zientek
Business Correspondent
Val Javin
Features Editor
Martin Shaw
Mirfield Correspondent