They’ve won eight awards since conception; can be found in the heart of the East End of Bognor Regis High Street, they’re a Community Interest Company, a ‘junk shop’, and see themselves as the ‘glue’ of their community. They are Grandads Front Room. You may have heard of them!
But if you haven’t, this is their story.
We spoke with Danny from Grandads Front Room, who, descending from Sheffield (an undisclosed number of years ago), oozes a larger-than-life ‘northern’ mentality, and, since 2014 has become a go-to person for those in need in the Bognor Regis community.
‘Grandads Front Room started because me and my family were struggling. We didn’t have a lot, so we were going on eBay buying stuff, and nine-times-out-of-ten we would win an item for 99p, or £2. We’d then polish them, paint them, and maybe put them back up on eBay, so we would try and make a few pounds here and there. After a while, people were saying to us that they needed similar help in finding items, and often in times of crisis such as homelessness, addiction issues, or escaping domestic abuse. People needed cheap items … and quickly. So, at this point we realised that as much as we were struggling, there were other people who may be struggling more than us.’
‘We started giving items away, because the smile on their face and the tear in their eye when you gave it to them for free was payment enough, and we appreciated that their needs were greater than ours. Then we decided, in 2014 that we needed somewhere to start storing items, as we couldn’t keep filling up our three-bed terraced house.’
‘We operated from a barn for about a year before moving to West Street, because we needed a proper shop if we were going to start doing it ‘properly’. We soon got noticed by the Partnership Officer at West Sussex County Council who came to us, in awe of what we were doing. They offered guidance on the kind of help and assistance that we could use, and as a result of this support, we came to the attention of the Town Council and District Council. Then the need got greater because more people were aware of what we were doing.’
‘We tried to keep going from West Street for as long as we could, but eventually we moved into a commercial premise with more storage space. We continued to give essential household items to those who were coming out of homelessness, because most of the time these people have nothing, so you can’t ask them to pay for anything.’
Grandads Front Room is a hive of activity. The phone constantly rings, people leave donations by car or on foot, people request items, or ask for help and advice. They do not operate by appointment, and is an open-door policy which does not stop! Every other person that walks by says ‘hello’, whether it’s a neighbouring business or a member of the community.
As Danny affirms they will always give things away for free to those in need, he recognises the fact that bills need to be paid, and there is always the need to seek funding to operate. ‘We decided that we wanted to be as self-funded as possible, so we started selling some of the vintage, antique and retro items donated to us which enabled us to give away the modern stuff. In 2016 we became a registered Community Interest Company (CIC). (A CIC is a special type of limited company which exists to benefit the community rather than private shareholders.)
‘We don’t take money out for admin costs, or wages, or superfluous stuff, and we have a van that frequently breaks down! The people who we serve don’t have posh stuff, so why should we?’
It seems that helping the community is a gene that runs strong in the family. As well as being the inspiration for the CIC’s name, Danny’s grandfather is also his inspiration for helping his community.
‘My grandad helped everybody. In Sheffield, he would go and visit two local markets that would have all sorts of fruit and veg, fish, and tonnes of butchers! At the end of every day, he would go and buy whatever he could and make his way home to the estate that he lived, laden with bags and give it all away to people that were struggling in his community.’
A core team at Grandads Front Room supports and drives the business forward. As well as family and volunteers from the community, Danny works alongside Stevie and Sarah who assist in the running of it all. ‘I’m delighted that Stevie has become a Director’ said Danny. ‘Stevie has helped us get more organised, and he has also helped identify other areas where we need to be more organised. We don’t need loads of volunteers, what we need is volunteers in the right place. What we really need right now is drivers, we are really desperate for a driver, albeit for a van that we are just managing to keep on the road! We also need help with some of the behind the scenes work such as funding bids or the reporting that goes into funding applications.’
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure …
Danny emphasises the importance of Grandads Front Room being the ‘link’ between those in need and those that can help. He says he often sees people throwing away beautiful items of furniture because it may seem ‘old’ to them, but knows it would be of great value to someone else.
A fantastic event led by Grandads Front Room was a community session at the Alexandra Theatre which involved businesses or members of the community having one minute to stand up and say what they have to offer, and what they need. It was an initiative that gained great interest and sign-up. One of the many successes of this event was a local business who was able to donate refurbished IT products to a local school, and another business owner who was able to source office tables from someone who was going to throw some away. ‘It was a huge success, and when we can, we will start these sessions up again in Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. It’s events like this that made me realise we are a kind of ‘glue’ for the community,’ says Danny.
For anyone thinking of starting a business in Bognor Regis Danny advises people to do their homework first. ‘Dip your toe in first. Facebook is a good place to do this, especially Facebook Market Place in your local area. Do your research and see what people are interested in or need or want. Talk to people that are maybe doing the same thing as you to see if there is a need in the town for what your offering. We are starting to see an oversaturation of certain businesses, so my advice is to be unique!’ Danny continues to talk about what he’d like to see for the high street of Bognor Regis, ‘I believe independent businesses make up the personalities of a town, and over the past few decades, we have seen carbon copies made of towns, with the same chain shops. This isn’t what brings people to a town, or what makes them remember their visit.’
Whatever you call it – ‘junk shop’, ‘emporium’, ‘community shop’, ‘Aladdin’s cave’, or a friendly place to find support in times of need, Grandads Front Room is hard to ‘categorise’. But that’s what makes a visit a different experience, encouraging you to step through the door and find out for yourself. And if you’re lucky, Danny will be there to tell more stories about how Grandads Front Room came to be, and where it’s going next!