The number 37 Spalding to Peterborough bus may have lost a few regular passengers from Crowland since the opening of a fundraising “boutique” in town.
Togs ‘n’ Cloggs, in South Street, has been described by one happy customer as “the best thing that’s ever happened to Crowland”, saving people a 22-mile round trip to Spalding or 19 miles to and from Peterborough.
What may have started out as “just another charity shop” has become a real trendsetter for Crowland, as well as a vital life support machine for the town’s Community Hub/library.
Julie Smith, a trustee for Crowland Community Hub, said: “We’re so grateful to people who come along and bring in beautiful clothes like prom and wedding dresses, outfits that have only been worn once and clothes that still have the labels on them.
“We get so much clothing that we can choose the best, including outfits worn for a garden party at Buckingham Palace.
“One lady who came in said to me ‘this is the best thing that has ever happened to Crowland’.
We’re so grateful to people who come along and bring in beautiful clothes, outfits that have only been worn once and some that still have the labels on themJulie Smith, Trustee for Crowland Community Hub
“When I asked her ‘why’s that then?’ she said ‘I don’t have to go into Peterborough every week any more – something I used to hate doing’.”
Togs ‘n’ Cloggs, which opened in October 2015, might never have happened without Lincolnshire County Council’s decision in 2013 to close 32 of the county’s 47 libraries in order to save up to £2 million.
Once the closure plan was announced, volunteers in Crowland mounted a bid to take over the library which took two years to prove successful.
At the official opening of Crowland Community Hub in October 2015, trustee Paul Bywater said: “We are very happy that after two years of concerted effort by a steering group, trustees and our tireless volunteers, we are at last able to secure the future of the Crowland Community Hub.
“Now we have a new facility, and a new charity shop, that will be the driving forces for building a new era of community-based services.”
Julie said: “We started looking for premises two years prior to the opening of Crowland Community Hub.
“It was quite obvious to us that if we were to take on the running of the library and keep it open, we needed to find a sustainable way of having some income.
“I was involved with the Crowland Cancer Fund shop when it opened in June 2000 and people were bringing in clothes when it was supposed to be just a bric-a-brac and bookshop.
“We also felt that if we were going to get an income stream in, without having to think of events at which to fundraise, we needed to register as a charity.
“Initially, we thought the premises in South Street were a bit small and a bit tucked out of the way.
“I wrote to Hills Department Store in Spalding and John Lewis, Peterborough, when we were setting up the shop and they both came up trumps.
“Hills provided the service desk and till, while John Lewis allowed us to have some of their units that were surplus to requirements.
“Then a business owner and someone from Deeping St James gave us some fittings and we had our shop ready.”
“But it’s turned out to be an ideal spot for us and, so as not to compete with the Crowland Cancer Fund shop, we’d be able to sell anything that’s wearable.”
Togs ‘n’ Cloggs is a team effort, led by manager Heather Roberts alongside Julie and a band of 30 volunteers.
Heather said: “I do the volunteers’ rota every week and then once people bring their donations in, we sort out the best ones from those that aren’t suitable for the shop.
“We have really good stuff in here and everything that comes in is checked over to see that there are no stains, buttons missing, no tobacco smell and the zips are working properly.
“Every week, we have a cut-off point for clothes to be on display which means that we have a changeover every four to five weeks.”
Volunteers at Togs ‘n’ Cloggs have sailed through a wave of skepticism from some in Crowland who thought the concept of a new and nearly new clothing and accessory shop would fail.
Julie said: “Before we opened the shop, people said ‘I can’t see you getting enough donations in to keep the shop open’.
“But we have a tsunami (flood) of clothes every week and what’s in the shop is 20 per cent of what is donated to us.
“Last December, we had to post a message on Facebook saying that we were inundated with clothes and people should stop donating for a few weeks.
“Also, we’ve never had to close the shop through being short of staff in the 73 weeks we’ve been open and the good band of volunteers we have are all committed people who come in and do their shift.
“Togs ‘n’ Cloggs doesn’t feel like a charity shop and, with its ethos, I prefer to think of it as a small boutique.”