BY SARAH CANTY
IN 2004 the Ballydehob Community Hall was in trouble. The large purpose-built sports and entertainment facility was a much-used asset to the community; and a money pit. Like any big building it required constant maintenance and upgrades and the upkeep demanded more money than what could be raised through rental charges.
Committee members, including local residents Ina O’Neill and Mary Cotter, racked their brains to come up with the right solution. ‘We are all very devoted to the hall – it’s like our home,’ says O’Neill. Without knowing what it might really entail, she suggested that they open a charity shop. Cotter and a few others agreed to help – and that, as they say, was that.
They took over a small space upstairs that was storing unused jumble, shoved the rubbish aside and put up some shelves. It was clear from the beginning that the community would be supporting the venture. Items of clothing funnelled in immediately from friends who had heard through the grapevine what was happening. On their first day of business O’Neill was greeted upon her arrival by a dozen people or so waiting to get in.
‘We hadn’t a clue - we were just that green. I remember the first day we opened we forgot to bring a float!’ Making €70 that day, the shop just kept busy after that. They cleared more space and invested their takings into additional shelves and clothes rails. Before long it began to look like a proper shop.
Today the Ballydehob Community Hall Charity Shop is a large and thriving hub of activity and commerce, making enough of a profit to help sustain hall maintenance and new projects. Thanks in large part to the profits earned by the charity shop the Community Hall is well kitted out for the many activities that go on there. Last year a professional standard kitchen was installed to facilitate wedding parties and other catered events.
Through the community hall committee, the shop also supports other community projects: ‘Some couple of thousand (euro) goes every year to local charities and to support the community,’ says volunteer Janet Robertson. Indeed a long list of beneficiaries hangs proudly by the store till. Among the listed recipients are the Schull Inshore Rescue and West Cork Rapid Response as well as local schools, sporting clubs and the many annual Ballydehob festivals.
With O’Neill and Cotter at the helm, the shop runs like a well-oiled machine with up to 20 volunteers pitching in. ‘It is a lot of work, an awful lot of work, there’s no point in saying otherwise,’ says Cotter.
These core team members, including Robertson, work an average of three full days each week at cleaning and re-stocking. The shelves and clothes racks are frequently emptied and dusted and rearranged to keep stock fresh, and the shop homely.
People continue to be supportive through donations which need to be sorted through. Sometimes donated items are too soiled or worn to be resold. If in otherwise good nick the volunteers will take clothes home and launder them.
If not, clothes and shoes are bagged up to be taken away by a recycling company. There are regular trips to the dump as well. ‘Sometimes we get tired and frustrated,’ admits Cotter. ‘But then the next week comes and we come back all refreshed and forget all about that.’
The women are very grateful for the many volunteers who help look after the shop and its customers. ‘The helpers are the best – they’ve been with us from the start,’ says Cotter. ’They come in and work in partners. Our regulars who come in on Thursday and Friday are just great.’
Indeed, the Ballydehob Hall Charity Shop volunteers are known for being helpful and friendly, offering to search for items of clothing in the back and helping to sort through the rails to find sizes or colour coordinates. One customer recalls being asked if he needed help finding something. He replied that he was looking for work clothes – that he was starting a new job in Africa. Without skipping a beat the attendant asked, ‘Bush or desert darling?’ Clothes make up the bulk of their stock; but they do have a constant stream of housewares as well. Seemingly tourists with caravans or holiday homes find the charity shop a great way to stock their kitchen drawers. At least one customer swears by this charity shop in particular above others for its selection of books, saying that she recently found a notebook full of post-world-war poetry there.
And that is just one of the attractions charity shops have for people – the idea that one might find a lost treasure. While second hand, gently used (or sometime never-worn-with-tags-still-on) clothes are a great way for families to save money on basics like play clothes or school uniforms, individuals with a sense of adventure know they could discover a diamond in the rough.
The Ballydehob Community Hall Charity Shop has grown strength to strength from that first 70-euro day in 2004. Because O’Neill and Cotter didn’t let their inexperience scare them off this community-based charity shop that has met and exceeded all expectations.
It offers an eclectic range of clothes, housewares and books at cost-saving prices in a clean shop with welcoming staff. It acts as a recycling centre for people clearing out their presses and wardrobes. And mostly it has succeeded in what it has set out to do. It helps to fund the Ballydehob Community Hall – keeping the heart of the community beating.
•The Ballydehob Community Charity Shop is open Thursday to Saturday, 11am to 4pm.