Picture the scene on Northgate street, one grey January morning over six years ago. A queue gathered outside the new “Share shop” complete with Chester the Cat, 2 MPs, 1 Town crier and X Factor Stars “The Lovelies”. More than just “another charity shop”, Share has grown into a valuable community asset through its support of the local homeless population. The shop was even immortalised ( in both its locations) in the Chester in Lego display in the market. Co founder Adam Dandy reflects…
When Share opened Adam says he felt “a feeling of slight terror and not knowing how the hell we were gonna get it off the ground and run it to be honest, and then everything just fell into place. People started to knock on the door and take the strain a bit and run with it. It was exciting.
“The main purpose was to help people who were homeless and refugees but the overriding theme was that we wanted to be a different type of charity shop, we wanted people to see where their donation was going. Rather than paying £2 a month to sponsor a penguin in Antarctica , and you never really know where your £2 goes. We wanted people to come in, buy a coffee and we put it on a blackboard, and the guy behind you comes in, he’s been sleeping on the streets and he can see that there’s a coffee there to be claimed. The people donating can get a feel to where the donation was going and feel like they were actually making a difference. The kindness wall as well. I want to bring that back, its just finding a location for it. ”
Share have kept their costs down via a deal with their landlord. Explains Adam: “We give them the right to kick us out if they want us to go, but we save them the rates on the building because we’re a registered charity. The reason we had to move was because the landlord wanted to do it up because of Storyhouse opening. He was a good guy he let us stay there rent free for quite a while. ”
In Feb 2017 Share went viral when David Simons, at that time a member of the homeless community, claimed a suspended coffee and went on to turn his life around with the support of the volunteers. The Facebook post was liked over 14,000 times and made the national news. “It went mad didn’t it! I think he got an invite down to This Morning but he didn’t go because he was told it was Eamonn and Ruth instead of Holly and Phil! He would have gone if it was Holly!” smiles Adam. “Dave gave us motivation as a charity, because it proved to us it could be done, to take someone who was at deaths door with serious addiction issues. As long as they were on board, it proved we could get somebody from sleeping rough into a house, into employment and their own place. That is what happened with Dave and he is still doing really well. Last I heard he hadn’t touched a drop for nearly 4 years. All that started with a sandwich and a cup of coffee that someone had donated. ”
Share’s relationship with other agencies including the Police, council and other charities evolved over time. “If I’m honest when we started, I don’t think I’m divulging any secrets, we shamed the council at the time. It needed to be done unfortunately, it did make front page news of the Chronicle. We acted as a voice for people who were sleeping rough on the streets. To be fair, the council took that in a positive way. Councillor Richard Beacham is very good, and he helped us, going into the winter of 2016, to try and come up with a plan. The Police Inspector at the time, he helped us instigate the first meeting of all the homeless agencies in Chester, we got everybody round a table at Richmond Court at the time. When he did that, we sat down and everybody started introducing themselves to each other. I couldn’t believe it. I was like “surely you guys know each other and you’re working together?” They weren’t , they were all pulling in opposition directions. The new Dean at the Cathedral came into the share shop and asked what he could do to help us. We said we needed a soup kitchen for the winter, and they opened up the Lady Chapel every Wednesday. They gave out a free roast dinner to anyone that wanted it, that was amazing. ” Following this Adam and Richard Beacham worked together to get all the agencies together at regular meetings, leading to the formation of “Outside In” a body which continues to the present day.
Perhaps Shares biggest success to date has been the successful project to buy a house to provide additional accommodation for the homeless. ” I met with Rob Whittall from Chester Aid to the Homeless (CATH) and I asked him what the city needed to help people who were homeless. There’s no point us , campaigning and raising money for something if it’s the wrong thing. He said to me that we needed more roofs allocated to people who were homeless. It seemed like an impossible task, but if we break it down into individual bricks for a pound each, it makes it easier, even if it takes us a few years to do it. We raised about £70 thousand with individual donations” The remainder of the target was made up via an anonymous sponsor who donated over £60 thousand. “I nearly passed out! The volunteers were crying their eyes out” The house has been open and in use for 2 years. A campaign to fund a second house has been launched recently.
In the early years Share experimented with outreach work .” we did it on the street from a van, we kitted it out with big industrial flasks. We went round two nights a week, and gave everybody that was out on the streets a picnic of hot food. In the early days we gave out tents, warm clothes, boots, anything they needed really. The Police’s opinion of it was, we were making it easier for people to sleep rough and to beg. Some of the local businesses didn’t like it because people were congregating around the van. After we’d gone there would be complaints of anti-social behaviour. In the end we realised that feeding people on the streets was probably not the right way to do it, the better way was to open a day centre and to have a permanent location where people could go. ” Eventually the Share Hub on City road was opened.
” It’s a little magic gem, the volunteers are angels. I’m worried they might burn out so I have to keep going in and telling them to go home and take a breather. They are so passionate about the cause and helping people, every time I go there, they are sat down having one to one meetings with people who are sleeping rough. They are helping them with addiction issues or to get accommodation or setting up meetings. In some instances, they have liaised with landlords if a person is about to get evicted. They are helping people to keep a roof over their head. ” The hub provides hot meals daily, alongside practical support , and free clothing and sanitary products. “Other agencies use it for meeting with people, the probation service uses it to meet people who have just come out of prison. It’s more than it looks, but it is doing a really good job”
I asked Adam if homelessness had got worse in the last 6 years. “Rough sleeping and homelessness almost two separate issues, two sides of the same issue” he says. “When we first started there was roughly 30-40 people sleeping rough around Chester. The official figure was 115 homeless- most of those people who were sleeping on couches or people’s spare rooms. That slowly got better as Outside In got their teeth into it, and everybody started working together to get the numbers down. When Richmond court closed and Forfutures took over, the problems significantly got better. We got down to 15 people sleeping rough and they were people with severe behavioural issues, they’d been rejected from most places of they had issues with drugs and alcohol.
” When the pandemic came, the problem disappeared overnight. the Government opened up hotels and moved everybody in. That proved to us that homelessness , or at least rough sleeping could be eradicated instantly if there was the will to do so. Since the policy of taking people into hotels has ended, Cheshire West and Chester went one step further than they needed to and carried on an “everybody in” policy, giving people a bed, even people from outside the area. Recently I think this is coming to an end, SWEP (severe weather emergency protocol) is back on , and people are only given a bed in a storm or severe weather. I get the feeling the everybody in policy is coming to an end but I think that’s related to budgets. ”
So what does the future hold for Share? ” We would really like to get some security on the tenure of the shop or the hub, going forward. At the moment we always have one eye on another place. I’d like to bring back the kindness wall, and we want to get a second house to take people off the streets. We are about to get funding for a Share app. Most people would think that people who are homeless don’t have a mobile phone, but they do. If they don’t, we try and give them one, so that they can stay connected. We can send notification son the app of what’s on that day, where the day centres are, what facilities are open, what time CATH and Soul Kitchen are open, contact numbers…”
Away from Share Shop, Adam is known for his passion about Chester matters in general. In closing I asked him how he felt about the city’s future. “I’m excited about the new market, I’m slightly worried for the people who didn’t come across. I did put an idea to the council for Browns or BHS to be broken up into an indie market for people whose business models couldn’t afford a move to the new market. I am hoping that something is going on in the background there, but I’m not sure. I am excited for potentially somebody taking one of those retail units because I think that would start a bit of a snowball effect for the city. ” He remains optimistic despite recent challenges to the high street, but says more could still be done.
“The city does have a strong future, you’ve got this new hotel on the Cross pumping in hundreds of thousands into the city. Commercially people with money can see the potential for the city. It’s got something that other cities haven’t got, and that is the history. We don’t make enough of it. I know I keep banging on about the Romans but its an easy win we aren’t taking advantage of. We do have the likes of BIG heritage and everything they’re doing so that should be really applauded.
“There are things that I’m disappointed about .There was plans to have Civil war soldiers near the Eastgate clock to bring that part of history to life. If you got off a coach and walked round the city, you might not be aware that King Charles stood on the tower and watched the battle of Rowton, and that he escaped over the old Dee bridge. That changed the course of world history, potentially, because it started democracy and we’re the oldest democracy in the world. There’s things and stories that aren’t being told, and if they were told it would encourage more tourists .
“So much hard work has taken place at SHARE since we began back in 2015, by so many people, the whole charity has been a massive team effort and whilst it would be impossible to name everyone, and without wanting to offend anyone by not mentioning them specifically, we would like to pay a special tribute to Debra Webb for the time she spent as our Chairperson at SHARE, her hard work and determination to help people, especially working with people who were homeless and often with complex needs, was outstanding.”
Thank you to Adam and all the volunteers at Share Shop, past and present.