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
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. They 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.
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