Inside Yorkshire Teddy Rescue which has 12,500 bears and surged in popularity since lockdown

As ragged and threadbare as any old bear may be, there is life left in it yet which can still be revived.

At the Yorkshire Teddy Rescue they are restored and re-homed, with careful stitching and new seams. Each bear wears a story of how it came to arrive.

Tina Rush, known as Tink, now has 12,500 bears in a collection at her old Pickering forge, which she ran as an antiques and curiosity shop for 14 years.

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As interest surged online, she took early retirement to care for them full time.

Tink Rush with some of the teddies

“Bears have always been popular, but this year many people have needed a little comfort,” said Mrs Rush. “We are absolutely driven by nostalgia. It’s a phenomenal thing.”

The Teddy Rescue, which now has more than 1,000 members on its Facebook page, is at the moment trading entirely online.

Having lost her 25-year-old daughter, Jofi, to a rare form of severe asthma in 2016, funds raised through any sales go towards Asthma UK.

A great number of requests come for memory bears, or bereavement bears. There are responsibility bears, for children, or people with additional needs.

She now has 12,500 bears in a collection at her old Pickering forge

Many customers are elderly, and have struggled this isolation this past year, said Mrs Rush.

Donations come from all over - from charity shops or car boots, or even left on the doorstep of the 1760s forge, which now serves as a bear orphanage as well as family home.

“Sometimes they are pushed in under the porch,” said Mrs Rush, “All our bears are rescued, some have no limbs or eyes, or need stitches or restuffing.

“Some of the older bears, made from mohair of sheepskin, need new paws and pads which are much more difficult to work on, or amber-glass eyes.

As interest surged online, she took early retirement to care for the teddies full time.

“Every bear gets the same treatment. I sit and hand stitch them, and they all come with a little card telling their story. I just do it because I want to really. Not everybody can go to a shop and buy an expensive bear.”

Mrs Rush’s first bear was Button Rush, gifted to her by a neighbour for a hospital visit as a child. Now aged 77, the bear is well-worn, but still very well dressed, she said with a laugh.

“I have bears that are worth 50p and others that are worth thousands,” she added. “I keep saying ‘no more’ to my long-suffering husband Scott, but then I get more. We live with bears. It’s a full time job, you’ve got to care for them properly.”

There are 400 bears in Mrs Rush’s living room alone. Some are 7ft tall, others an inch high. There are artist bears, retro bears, bears that stand up and sit down.

One was left in the doorway of a designer store in Leeds, and rescued by a shop worker who had watched anxiously all day to see if it would be reclaimed.

Another was a sweetheart’s gift from a soldier killed in war in the Second World War. A final mohair, Big Ted, complete with flat cap and neckerchief, was donated by an elderly gentleman who wanted to ensure his beloved childhood toy went on to a deserving home.

“We know so many people are lonely, especially now,” said Mrs Rush. “It’s nice to pass them on, and even more so in these difficult times. It’s just a wonderful thing to do. You have to live your life with a little glimmer of hope.

“The teddy bear is one of the most traditional toys in the world,” she added. “Across nations, from all walks of life, everybody recognises it. You never forget your bears.

“Just because something is second-hand doesn’t mean it’s second best. Life isn’t perfect and shiny. Sometimes it’s more endearing.”