LAUNCHED for an initial period of only five weeks, The Giving Shop in Penzance has now been open for almost 14 months and become an important focus for the local community.
Sited on the ground floor of the Wharfside shopping centre, it was given a ringing endorsement by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, after his visit in November.
"It's amazing the amount of community work happening inside this shop," he said.
"It's an ideal model that could be replicated elsewhere in the country."
Launched by Churches Together in the Penzance Area (CTIPA) as somewhere people could hand over donations for its Breakfast Project and the Penzance Foodbank, as time has gone on the former sweet shop and grocery has become a hive for all sorts of activities, from computer courses for silver surfers to sewing and knitting groups, an outlet for the Kernow Credit Union and simply a place where you can be assured of a welcoming smile and a cup of tea.
The giving side of the shop has also expanded with Penzance's street pastors, West Cornwall Women's Aid, the Fishermen's Mission and Breadline all benefiting from donations.
A wall of shelving at one end enables people to come in and leave goods for the cause of their choice, and since November 2012 donations have totalled 10,794, with an estimated value of £6,450. In the same period, the Giving Shop has helped feed almost 4,500 people via the Penzance Foodbank.
The idea for the Giving Shop came from CTIPA administrator David Smith, who negotiated terms for the shop with Wharfside's then-manager Peter Wood.
"From the start we didn't want to open a charity shop, but we wanted to be a base for people to contribute to the foodbank and the Breakfast Project," Mr Smith said.
"The great thing is that no money changes hands; absolutely everything in the shop is given, and it works.
"Increasingly, people know we're here and they know that whatever's given goes to support needy local people, but we soon realised after opening that we had quite a big space and that we could do so many other things."
Now the place is abuzz with people dropping in for a variety of reasons.
Annette Costello, with the project since its launch, is the volunteer shop manager, organising around 30 volunteers who have ensured the shop has opened on every scheduled day since its launch.
"I originally came to help with the wall hangings but I'm still here and I love it," she said. "You meet so many people and it's great to know you're doing something of benefit to the local community.
"The people who come in with donations are incredibly generous – if we ever need something in particular, word goes out and usually within half an hour someone's come in with the required item – but you also get distressed people: people who've been bereaved or are elderly and isolated. It really is a community hub, if you want to take part in something like knitting or sewing classes, but it brings people in for all sorts of reasons."
David's wife Sue, Annette's volunteer colleague, recalls a local girl who had been given a flat but had no money for food, and moved in only to find there was no furniture.
"She came in really distressed after being directed to us by the Citizen's Advice Bureau," said Mrs Smith. "She really didn't know what to do, but we calmed her down and gave her a cup of coffee.
"The volunteers at the shop had a whip-round themselves and we were able to give her enough food to last two days.
"We were also able to help by giving her a bed, a kettle, a toaster and a microwave, so pretty quickly she was back on her feet."
The work of the Giving Shop has not gone unrecognised; its VSF (Cornwall) trophy for the Best Business Partnership takes pride of place next to the shelves for donations, and marks its successful partnership with Wharfside.
To become involved in any way with The Giving Shop – donating items, taking part in one of its many activities or just enjoying a cuppa with someone sympathetic – just pop in on any Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday.