Charity shop that aims to be so much more

Craft workshop at Birdcage, Skipton
Craft workshop at Birdcage, Skipton
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As the Government considers capping the number of charity shops in our town centres, Nicky Solloway visits a community project with a difference

Walking through the doors of the Birdcage in Skipton it is clear this is no ordinary charity shop.

There are antique cupboards stacked with handmade jewellery, shelves of old porcelain tea sets and rails of vintage evening dresses.

And as you walk through to the back of the recently opened shop on the High Street the plot thickens.

There are trays of knitting wool, a wicker basket packed with hand-knitted newborn baby cardigans, and several large jars of colourful buttons and ribbons.

A table is laid out with sewing machines, alongside a dress-maker’s dummy and a drawer full of vintage patterns.

Birdcage feels more like a vintage boutique-cum-craft centre than a charity shop, which, say the organisers, is exactly the idea.

It is all thanks to Leeds charity, Behind Closed Doors.

Birdcage is the charity’s first community enterprise project to raise funds for their work with people who have suffered from domestic violence.

Customers will not only be able to buy vintage clothes from the shop, they will also be shown how to make their own.

The project threads together the charity’s vision to encourage more people to recycle, up-cycle, make-do and mend, along with the need to raise funds for their outreach work on domestic violence.

And in these hard times the project seems to be ticking a lot of boxes.

Louise Tyne, the manager of Behind Closed Doors explains: “We don’t want to be just any other charity shop on the high street.

“It’s about harnessing the creative skills in the local community and giving people an opportunity to express themselves creatively; and also to share their skills and their experiences.

“As an organisation we recognise the need to be sustainable and to generate income but we wanted to do it in such a way that the actual enterprise itself had a purpose so it’s not a typical charity shop.”

And at a time when the Government is considering Mary Portas’s suggestions that they cap the number of charity shops on the country’s high streets the more shops like Birdcage have to offer the more likely they are to survive.

Birdcage will be offering dress-making workshops every Friday morning and is planning to start embroidery, knitting and possibly a fascinator and hat-making workshop in the future.

There will also be evening courses in seamstress skills, including how to cut cloth, how to fit a waistband and how to follow a pattern.

The focus will be on how to alter the clothes donated to the shop to create new outfits.

“As time goes on we’re looking at people who can alter, mend and adjust so the idea would be that people would be able to come in and if they see something that isn’t their size it could be worked on,” explains Louise.

“It’s almost like having a personal shopper and down the line we would like to develop life-laundry so we actually help people to sort their wardrobes out.”

Birdcage will be working with students from Leeds Metropolitan University and Craven College to create new clothing lines for the shop. They will also be calling on a bank of volunteers to help run the shop, to sort out the donations and to help customers create their bespoke clothes designs.

Local artists are also being recruited to display their home-made jewellery, brooches, bags and other accessories.

Shop manager Marianne Dickens adds: “It should be quite diverse. We’re running a workshop on how to make your own vintage style purse, as well as crochet lessons. We will also be looking at how to make stockings and offering knitting classes for children.

“A lot of the materials will be used from the goods handed to the shop so we’re recycling and re-using. It will be vintage, retro, quirky and giving something a new lease of life.”

Adds Louise: “It’s a creative, interactive space. It is a charity shop in that it is raising funds to support a charity, but it is doing much more than that because it is actually serving its immediate community.

“We are also protecting the environment as well because everything is about up-cycle, re-use and make-do.”

Among the volunteers will be some of the survivors of domestic violence helped by the charity.

So far this year, Behind Closed Doors has helped about a thousand women and nearly 50 men who have sought support from domestic violence.

The charity was set up in 1997 by a group of women in the Aireborough area who felt there was not enough support for women suffering from domestic abuse in more remote rural communities.

Support was initially offered in the form of a helpline for a few hours a week. This then developed into an outreach service which now covers the whole of Leeds.

The outreach programme, provides one-to-one outreach to women whose lives are affected by domestic abuse.

It also offers a recovery programme for women who need support moving forward with their lives and a volunteer programme for women from the local community to provide support to the organisation.

BCD is the only domestic abuse support organisation in Leeds offering a volunteer programme.

One survivor of domestic abuse, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “Behind Closed Doors was there to listen and understand what was going on.

“There were things I did for the sake of it but when I spoke to my worker I realised I didn’t have to put up with all that. I was advised brilliantly.”

Some of the proceeds from the shop will be used to develop the charity’s support services.

Two years ago the charity feared it may have to close as it looked for long-term funding. A petition in support of it, signed by more than 2,000 people, was handed to Leeds City Council.

And in August this year BCD was one of 14 organisations given financial support under the Leeds Transition Fund Scheme.

The initiative, launched in May, offers financial support to groups which have seen reductions in their funding due to the wider financial situation.

Organisations were able to apply for grants of up to £10,000, from the £140,000 fund pot.

But with charities vying for a smaller and smaller pot of central and local Government funding, they are having to look at new way of ensuring funding for the future.

“Charities are having to look at becoming more sustainable in income-generation,” says Louise.

“And from our point of view we’ve gone through difficult times with funding and it was becoming increasingly important that we started focusing on income generation and business development and so we set up the community enterprise in 2010.”

Birdcage has benefited from a £20,000 loan and a £5,000 grant from the Key Fund to help with setting-up costs.

At the heart of the project is a revived interest in home-made crafts, made more popular by television programmes such as Kirstie Allsopp’s Handmade Britain, which is now running on Channel 4.

“I think there’s a lot of scope to develop really,” says Louise. “It’s about rekindling some of the simple pleasures derived from making something yourself.

“There is a lot of craft experience out there, but it is a dying skill. If we bring it into the modern day and make it relevant we’re hoping we can leave a legacy to others in the future.”

Birdcage can be found at 12 High Street, Skipton. For information about upcoming workshops, call the shop on 01756 228357.

City’s White Ribon campaign status

White ribbons will be wrapped around trees across Leeds later this month as part of a national campaign to end violence against women. The White Ribbon is a global campaign to encourage men to take more responsibility for reducing violence against women. The event takes place on November 25. Each year, men and boys are asked to wear a ribbon as a personal pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women. Leeds was the first city in England to be given White Ribbon City status last year. It is hope that at least a thousand trees will be wrapped in white ribbon.