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The Vacuum - Issue 18 - Waste spacer The Vacuum - Issue 18 - Waste
What's he Building in There?
by Jo Fursman
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On the usual haunt around the Charity Shops and thrift Emporiums of the east of Belfast, the Woodstock and Cregagh Roads have some of the city's finest outlets. When times are hard or not so, rummaging through other people's (and I have to admit sometimes dead people's) cast-offs and unwanted novelty kitchen items is a fine way to spend a Saturday afternoon. These two particular roads share about 8 different Charity Shops, a reflection perhaps of East Belfast property prices and the benevolence of the nearby community.
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Charity Shops have the twin allure of you conveniently being able to get rid of your junk, unwanted books and clothing and while you're at it being able to buy someone else's junk, unwanted books and clothing. The only problem with trawling charity shops is that you might be overcome by a general mustiness in the air, but this aspect can be overlooked by coming across a real bargain find.
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It was with these ideas in mind that I set off across town to investigate Quaker Care. There are two charity shops in Belfast run by the Northern Ireland Quaker Service, they are unique in that they are the only two Quaker Charity Shops certainly in Europe and probably the world.
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The director of the Quaker Service in Northern Ireland, Mr Vincent Bent explained that because the charity was beginning to experience a significant shortfall in expenses compared to received donations they simply had to find a way to raise extra funds to make ends meet The Quaker Society have certain restrictions on the way they can fund-raise; no gambling or events with alcohol makes a simple raffle impossible. So, with not being able to rely solely on Coffee Morning proceeds the Quaker Service investigated alternative funding possibilities and opened the first Quaker Care Charity Shop on the Lisburn Road in July 1998 and another premises on the Woodstock Road in November 2001.
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The Quakers have historically worked with communities and those coming from a background of disadvantage and poverty. Some well known Quakers have been Joseph Rowntree and George Cadbury both known for their chocolate manufacturing, their contribution to social reform, and general care and consideration for their workforce. Vincent regards Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) whose portrait features on the current Bank of England £5, a pioneer of prison reform for female inmates and their children at Newgate prison, as an influential figure for work the Quaker Service does in Northern Ireland.
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As well as an ongoing women's mentoring and counselling programme at Quaker Cottage Belfast, The Quaker Service was the first charity to establish a Visitor Centre at a prison in the UK; at The Maze and more recently The Monica Barritt Centre at Maghaberry Prison. The Quaker Service also liaise with prison staff and have influenced prison reform and criminal justice policy in Northern Ireland.
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Vincent outlined the importance of the Visitor Centre; 'the relatives and friends of inmates can get a cup of tea, relax and collect their thoughts before starting their meeting session. A typical visit often begins by travelling quite long distances by bus, going through complicated security checks and being loaded on and off minibuses, so the centre helps take a bit of the pressure off a prison visit'. The Quaker service also provide childcare for visitors which especially helps mothers and reduces negative associations children can attach to visiting their fathers in prison.
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Before opening Quaker Care, Vincent consulted the Charity Shops Handbook, a sort of Bible for people who want to start a shop, written by Hilary Bloom. One piece of useful advice she provides is that shop managers should remember that people usually give to a shop that is handy, somewhere close by but also a place where they feel their donation will be valued.
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All sorts of people donate to Quaker Care and a lot of people too; their office corridors stacked up with books, bric-a-brac and clothing. Sometimes Vincent will sell items deemed to be more valuable on Ebay, things he knows will not sell in the shop if they are too high in price.
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Both shops carry leaflets and pamphlets detailing the work of the Quaker Service and having volunteers who live locally to work in their shops has meant that Quaker Care has quite an informal, relaxed atmosphere, where people usually call in for a chat as well as to buy. What is striking about the Quaker Service is their non partisan approach, and because of this they're able to work with people and communities often in incredibly stressful situations and are perceived only as carers and helpers. They exist in Northern Ireland without being branded one religion or another, they just are simply The Quakers.
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So the next time you're unwrapping your Dairy Milk, why not think about popping along to Quaker Care, you might just find something you've always been looking for.
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