“There’s a brand new coat here”” said a visitor from the West Cheshire Foodbank as he dropped off some donations including a large quilt. The atmosphere inside the bustling Share Shop was friendly, with generous customers making donations, one gentleman handing over a five pound note. “It’s the sort of place that makes Chester buzz” commented tour guide Liz Roberts, who was making her first visit to the pioneering charity/coffee shop hybrid. A huge crowd attended the opening of the shop in January and it appears to have gone from strength to strength since then, with 3 floors packed with donations.
Regular volunteer Paola told me ” Volunteering its great. It may sound a bit cheesy, but you leave here, full of love. Its really nice. Our special customers are incredibly nice, that’s one of the biggest surprises, You have lots of pre conceived ideas, when you see them on the streets… I’m Trying to be here as much as I can. Its an addiction. You really feel attached emotionally to the place. ”
One of the latest volunteers is Sallie Ehlen of the Chester Chronicle. “I just got involved because I knew what (co founder) Adam was doing. I had done a few stories and promoted his ideas. I thought it was time I put my money where my mouth is, and I came along to help. I did it for one day and absolutely loved it, and decided to make it a regular thing because I only work three days at the Chronicle. My Tuesdays will be spent at the share shop! Its going really well, loads of people coming in donating, buying suspended coffees. My first day was lovely, a lady came in and didn’t know how it worked. She paid for a coffee and a suspended coffee, Next thing, a guy came off the street, freezing and cold and asked if there were any hot drinks. We were able to give him the drink the lady had just paid for. ”
The latest innovation is the “Kindness wall” which has attracted a lot of media interest, with Chester leading the way nationally. Sallie explained ..”people donate coats, scarves, gloves, a pack of biscuits in the pocket, a note. The idea is that every night when the shop is closed, we hang the coats and if somebody is out on the streets that needs it to keep warm they can come and take it. Adam is trying to get more kindness walls set up across the country. The idea is that every major city in the country will have a kindness wall. ”
We spoke to one of the customers who has made good use of the Kindness wall. David, who said that he found out about the scheme a week ago . “I walked past and one of the lads called in and said come and get a cup of tea. They have looked after me great. I am homeless. This rucksack they gave me, two jackets. I come in, have a cup of tea, a cup a soup, they are really good people, especially Jill the manager, she was with me on the radio last night with Gavin. She didn’t speak but she gave me moral support. All of the volunteers do great. Without all these people, the homeless wouldn’t have anywhere to go. ”
David told me that he dealt with being homeless by drinking: “I have been an alcoholic for a long time, that’s how I cope with the streets, by drinking to take my mind off it. To help me personally… I’m waiting for a detox place. A lot of people in Chester don’t want to change, they like the lifestyle… A lot take drugs and they want to drink and take drugs all the time. I don’t want to. ”
As well as suspended coffees and clothing, Share are attempting to raise £94,000 to buy a derelict house to refurbish, and then house and support 4 homeless people. Bricks can be purchased in the shop or at http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/buy-a-brick-house-4-homeless
As well as clothing , Share welcome donations of hangers, carrier bags and toiletries.
Whilst the ShareShop uses 50% of the money raised in the shop to help people who are homeless in Chester itself, the charity uses the other 50% to send locally sourced aid from the people of Chester and North Wales, directly to refugees in places such as Leros and Syria. Two weeks over 100 Share volunteers helped to load a 40ft shipping container with medical supplies, food and warm clothes for the people of Syria.’
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