20th Anniversary Somerset Stories: BearCat Collective

The Honesty Jar in Henstridge started in 2019 by local non-profit group BearCat Collective, who have been running SwapShops on a pop-up basis as part of many other community activities at various village halls, fetes and shows around South Somerset for ten years. The swap-shop recycling station is a place where anyone can either donate or exchange items, make a donation for items, or take things for free.

Sam Flounders, Project Co-ordinator and Chair, told us how a £2,277 grant from The Somerset Fund in 2021 supported the project during the Covid lockdowns.

“The donations we get are quite often items that have a sentimental and emotional attachment for the people who are donating them. They know that we’ll honour the items and it gives them a great sense of comfort to know that their donated goods being used by local people in need. Lots of the people who come here are referred – either by their GP, church groups or other agencies.

5 women/volunteers in swapshop

The team at BearCat Collective’s swap shop, The Honesty Jar.

Everyone is equally welcome, regardless of who they are and how much they may or may not have, and we always remind people that if they know someone in need, to send them our way. People come here for help with things for schooling and education, board games, homeware, or for clothes and shoes. They can bring along items to swap, or make a donation of any size, if they’d like to. It’s all rehomed to local families or given to other local organisations that help people too. What we do is a very circular process.

We have lots of regulars who come in with a bag full and leave with a bag full. It takes the pressure off the landfill, too. We started weighing our donations in January and so far in 2022 we’ve received and processed 55.5 tonnes of unwanted items – and we expect that to have reached 70 tonnes by the end of this year.

People who have brought things in quite often end up chatting to the person interested in one of their items; we see it all the time. People tell stories about the items they’re bringing in and local connections are made. We tend to help people who are struggling financially, but we also find that people come to us for the social contact; we have 30-40 regular volunteers and a lot of them are experiencing loneliness, have been through a bereavement or are home carers. We fund health and social care training and coaching for volunteers and people in the community, where they get support for things like autism, non-verbal communication, dementia, suicide and self-harm. There is a great sense of camaraderie here.

Without the grant from The Somerset Fund we would not have been able to continue once the pandemic hit – and we’re relied upon by a huge number of local people. We used our grant to pay for our regular outgoings – it helped us to remain solvent. During lockdown we carried on, but with adaptations. We built an outside shelter to quarantine new items – and we set up a click and collect service from the gate. People contacted us for material and sewing supplies and made masks, scrubs for those working in health care settings, and donated items to help families with home schooling. We received constant requests for items throughout lockdown.

We provide items to people in need. Charity shops are there to raise money to support their cause and some people just can’t afford to pay the prices. We want to be able to provide things free of charge to those people. We make the very best of our resources both to help and protect those most in need in our society, and also to help and protect our planet.”

17/11/2022


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