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'no-nonsense, likeable locals': A visit to our North East members

Friday, 29 September 2017 11:09

By Lesley Prescott, Head of Operations

FRADE Shop'Against its dramatic backdrop of Victorian elegance and industrial grit, this fiercely independent city harbours a spirited mix of heritage and urban sophistication, with excellent art galleries and a magnificent concert hall, along with boutique hotels, some exceptional restaurants and, of course, interesting bars: Newcastle is renowned throughout Britain for its thumping nightlife, bolstered by an energetic, 42,000-strong student population. The city retains deep-rooted traditions, embodied by the no-nonsense, likeable locals', or so it says on the Lonely Planet website about Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

However on my fully packed two-day tour of members in the North East I was unlikely to gain the tourist experience but I have to say yes to the 'no-nonsense, likeable locals'. After picking up the car from the car hire office in the pouring rain, my tour began in earnest at St Oswald's Hospice in Newcastle. I met up with our trustee, Jill Fidler, who gave me the grand tour of a very modern and efficient hospice which frankly looked and felt like a five-star hotel to me. The staff and volunteers all had huge smiles and a friendly welcome and I have no doubt make life for the patients and their families a little more bearable. The fact that two lovely volunteers were running the volunteer department due to sickness amongst the staff, demonstrated to me their team spirit and unity (I just loved the irony of it!). With 26 shops stretching from Ashington to Whitley Bay and down to Gateshead, covering everything from books, shabby chic furniture & vintage wear, specialist bridal shops and furniture stores, St Oswald's Hospice are a well-known, beloved charity in the region raising not only much needed funds for their medical care but also supporting low-income families across these communities.

With sat nav stuck firmly to the window (bring your own rather than hire car prices....every little helps when you're a charity), I set off across a very busy city, narrowly missing my exit on what can only be described as a manic roundabout as the usually very nice lady talking to me was a bit late in her instructions. However, I did eventually get pointed in the right direction and arrived at FRADE Middlesborough to meet new CEO Christine Garcia and trustee Keith Shaw (a regular FRN conference attendee and network supporter). We went for a lovely lunch locally (there's a theme here with my trips...) where I met up with old friend. former FRADE CEO John Trevellion, a stalwart of the reuse sector and still, despite ill health, a wonderful supporter and commentator on the work of the network. From there we headed to Stockton and then onto Darlington so that I managed to get a really clear understanding of the different types of communities FRADE work in and how they adapt their shops to fit the customer base. What a great bunch of people who really do meet their charitable objectives of reducing poverty, reducing waste and creating jobs. I feel we are going to hear much more from this charity in the coming years, they have great plans and high aspirations.

Day 2 began in Sunderland meeting up with Tony Lawson and his team at CSS (Community Sustainability Services). I was really looking forward to this visit as I've known Tony for a very long time but have not had the opportunity to visit his project. Originally Sunderland Furniture Service (established some 26 years ago), Tony is one of the pioneer members of the Furniture Re-use Network and his continued success can be attributed to his commercial nouce and tenacity. Some would call him a 'canny' man, the fact that he has excellent staff (with a list of qualifications and experience that they keep 'under their hat' so that they can foil any competition) also counts for a great deal and a wonderful succession plan! He claims to be thinking about retiring but I don't believe a word of it. Like many of his fellow re-use operators in the region, his charity aim to relieve poverty by supplying and renovating household goods, but they also get involved in a number of schemes to support the elderly and disabled in particular.

CSS were one of the first FRN members to provide a 'Handyman Service' with many other organisations looking to Tony for his model which has proven so successful. However, they experience challenges with the supply of new or graded goods with few opportunities with the retailers in the area and furniture suppliers charging excessive amounts for delivery to the region making the option of this provision unsustainable. The key for me is still to get members in these types of regions to work together. White goods are still like 'fairy dust', impossible to find and when you do they disappear very quickly. So we need to use those members who are refurbishing white goods (and we have a number across the network) and then buy from them – keep it in the network! This is why the Regional Roadshows held annually each November, are so important. These meetings are free for members so that we can reduce the challenges of getting everyone together (we appreciate how difficult it is for some members to get to the annual conference in May). It's important that everyone has a voice and on 21st November, Jill Fidler from St Oswald's Hospice will be hosting the event and ensuring that the topics relevant to the North East are discussed with solutions for their specific issues being addressed by the organisations being impacted. The FRN will be there in force (that's me, Craig and Claire) to support in any way we can!

From Sunderland I travelled a short distance up the road to the newly opened Emmaus North East to meet John Harrison, one of his very supportive trustees, Jane Small, and also Mark Johnson from Emmaus UK. With a brand new building and four companions already moved in, they have two shops opened and doing well in Low Fell and more recently in Hebburn – and it was here I caught up with an old friend from Emmaus who has moved back to the area, Chris Graham.

Chris has lived and worked in a number of Emmaus communities from Leeds, to Dover to Bristol and now back to his roots of the North East. Having managed a number of FRNE audits it won't be long before this organisation are ready to develop their organisation to this certification level.

After two, very busy but extremely enjoyable, days, I said goodbye to Newcastle but I'll be back for the Regional Roadshow on 21st November and look forward to catching up with everyone then.

Chris Graham Emmaus North East Shop Front St Oswalds Hospice Volunteers FRNConfMay2017SocialMedia-13308

Left to right, top to bottom: Chris Graham, Companion at Emmaus North East; North East Shop Front; Volunteers from St Oswald's Hospice; John Trevillion, former CEO for FRADE

Read 591 times Last modified on Friday, 29 September 2017 12:02

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