Month: March 2013

Local charity shops are helping to build stronger communities

by Stuart Taylor

We see them everywhere.  Every high street across Britain has charity shops.  Mostly the big names, like Heart Foundation, Cancer UK, Help the Aged, Scope, and Oxfam. Raising money for great causes.  Each addressing a specific problem, often tackled at the national or international level.  Increasingly, however, we are seeing locally-grown charity shops, raising money to fund a whole range of locally-based needs, galvanising and enabling more people to bolster the health of their locality.  Often it is just an individual – or two – in each locality that is needed to get the whole process moving. This is the tale of one such shop, The Cuckoo’s Nest in Marsden – a village in West Yorkshire

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Some twelve years ago, three women of Marsden came together around a vision.  Judi Thorpe had just retired from a job at Oxfam, where she had seen at first hand the public willingness to give to charity.  Diane Green first noticed the scope for a charity shop in the village.  And Pam Etheridge was able to handle money in the early stages.  The three knew the strength of local community and neighbourly spirit.  And they knew the real grit and determination of Yorkshire folk.  Thepeopley wanted to bring these and other virtues together to forge something greater than the sum of the parts.  As Judi, said: “My vision is for the Cuckoo’s Nest to be in partnership with the village, the customers and the givers.  I always hoped that the partnership would achieve a truly concerted village effort: each group with different roles; but all focused on promoting the health and well-being of Marsden.  And I think that is what we are achieving.”

The partnership bore fruit long before the shop opened.  A local carpenter installed all the shop fittings at no charge.  A local decorator donated paint.  The European Union’s Social Fund paid for shop fittings.  The local charity shop in nearby Slaithwaite – the church-backed “Community Spirit” – provided an interest-free loan to cash-flow the Cuckoo’s Nest through its first rent payments.  Kirklees Council allowed young offenders to spend some of their period of community service painting the shop.  “They were great, the ‘naughty boys’.  They even came back to Marsden for the official opening of the shop.  Everyone else was marvellous, too.  A truly community effort to get us up and running.”

Over the twelve years, all people’s interests have benefitted.  “There’s a huge diversity in the projects we support.  Culture, sport, the elderly, schools, scouts, playgroups, and much more.  As just one example, we paid for the football club’s railings, to stop the club having to sweep away sheep droppings!  We try not to fund operating costs.  But for several years we have supported a CAB adviser to enable residents to gain advice locally during two afternoons a month – a service that is very much appreciated.”  Grants totalling more than £300,000 have been made since the shop opened in June 2001.


Judi expanded on the range of benefits being achieved.  “We have supported the Mechanics’ Institute quite a lot over the years – most recently with a new kitchen.  By doing so, our benefits spread far and wide.  Local groups – from the brass band to local orchestras, theatre groups and modern musicians – perform in the Victorian auditorium.  Many local groups meet in the smaller rooms.  By supporting the Institute, we simultaneously contribute to the Marsden Community Association – another key part of the big society found within this small community.  Together with other groups and businesses we also support the village’s wonderful Christmas street lights and the annual Marsden Jazz Festival.”

The commitment and hard work of the shop’s fifty volunteers makes a great difference.  They have ranged in age from 17 to 94 years old.  All are local residents.  All have a great desire to serve others.

I personally discovered the delights of the Cuckoo’s Nest and the Marsden community long before the phrase “big society” came to be used by national politicians.  Now, however, I see threats.  Council cuts forced the Information Point to squeeze in with the library, vacating its self-contained shop and reducing its scope.  Marsden’s annual Festival of Fire has just been cancelled, due in part to the council removing its grant.  The need for funding from the Cuckoo’s Nest becomes more vital to the survival of local groups.  Yet charity shops are struggling as the recession has led to the giving of less valuable goods.

Hopefully the shop’s partnership with the village, the consumers and the givers can be sustained and enhanced.  To continue to foster the health and well-being of the village.  As government cuts bite deeper, the role of people like Judi Thorpe and shops like Marsden’s Cuckoo’s Nest can only become ever more important to civilisation as we know it.

If you would like to find out more, email


Breaking the Cycle

by Eva Nyandoro

Set in the headquarters of Amnesty International ‘A Place at the Table’ tells a gripping story of the strained relationship between the Hutus and Tutsis from ancient myths through colonialism to the 1993 assassination of Burundi’s President Ndadayc. The play looks at the conflicts in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and the genocide in Rwanda.

The experimental theatrical production takes you on an artistic journey using transcripts from the UN Security Report, refugees, campaigners and eye-witness accounts to produce a visual and verbatim play that invites the audience to take a place at a large table alongside the performers to eat, drink and reflect on what is fact, truth and fiction.

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The all-female cast of four use visual images throughout the play like the soldier chopping a fish with a machete on the table or the beautifully haunting voice of Grace Nyandoro accompanying the picture of a child soldier projected on to a screen. The performers use mime sequence and movement through dance to provide an intense performance that explores the disturbing relationship between two tribes that has resulted in the massacre of around 250,000 people in Burundi from 1972-1993, and the killing of over half a million people in Rwanda during the period August 1993 to July 1994. The play leaves you feeling a great sadness for what has past and what may happen again if people remain casual observers.

Director Paul Burgess tragically lost school-friend Charlotte Wilson after Charlotte and her Burundian born fiancée were killed on the way to meet his in-laws at the hands of the Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People National Forces of Liberation (PALIPEHUTU-FNL) in Burundi. The tragic circumstances inspired the project as a way of raising awareness on the on-going troubles in Burundi, Rwanda and the African Great Lakes Region and to show that this is not something happening far away it can affect all of us.

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The Daedalus Theatre company project was a moving piece of work that explored the disturbing material in an original way. The play was performed throughout January and if you would like any further information on the play or any future work, checks out their website on:

Last year the country celebrated 50 years of independence.  Today peace in the region is fragile with fears of a civil war breaking out at any moment. Sadly the cycle of ethnic violence continues in Burundi as a new generation of youngsters are repeating the crimes of their fathers. There is no easy solution or quick fix to the problems the Burundian people face but violence, intimidation and mistrust in your neighbour, your colleague and your best friend can never result in a sustainable future for anyone. If I ever asked a Hutu teenager or Tutsi Grandfather why there is such tension and even hatred, I would probably get thousands of reasons why the blame lies with the other side.

The Hutu population is 85 per cent and the Tutsi population is 15 per cent. Many people have argued that the former colonial territories of Belgium where ethnicity was marked with identity cards and where the Tutsi community were favoured as elite caused a longstanding ethnic competition and heightened tension. However some people believe that the ethnic tension has been around pre-colonialism.  Distinction and competition has always been a part of the culture in Burundi; it was just made official through colonialism. The roots of the animosity and built-up tension cannot be pin-pointed to one moment in history; just like a failing marriage searching for reasons under the air of disappointment and anger. What is clear is the past is creeping into the present in a disturbing way.

Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world; with extreme poverty, lack of law and order and human rights violations remain constant barriers to development and stability in the region.

The conflict in Northern Ireland, which has killed thousands, came to a ceasefire after the IRA and Loyalists negotiated and signed the ‘Good Friday’ agreement in 1998. The Irish people were living in a conflict area but through power sharing were able to find peace.  The cynical side of me however believes that civil-war in Burundi benefits politicians and an elite minority in the country. Unless this small elite are given real incentive to change the tide, lasting peace supported by strong government may allude another generation of children.

As Nelson Mandela once, said: “It must be possible for the people of Burundi to materially distinguish between the destructiveness of conflict and the benefits of peace.”