Keeping social enterprise going gives a warm glow
By Stuart Laundy - Senior Reporter
A GROUP of volunteer knitters say ensuring the continued success of a social enterprise committed to keeping people warm is the best possible tribute to the project’s late founder.
Dave Watson launched The Warm Age Wood Company, in Barnard Castle, five years ago. Sadly, he died in late 2017 of pancreatic cancer.
The enterprise provides wood briquettes for those in fuel poverty.
It does this through the general sale of briquettes – with one bag provided free to those in need for every ten sold – and money raised through the sale of woollen items knitted by volunteers.
Figures for 2017/18 show the company sold 1,305 bags of briquettes and since last September another 774.
This means more than 200 free bags of briquettes have been provided to those in fuel poverty during that period.
In addition, last year 496 items knitted by the team of more than 20 volunteers were sold. This included 249 hats, 48 pairs of mittens and gloves and 25 dog coats, while woolly vests, cardigans and jumpers, tea cosies, socks and a host of other pieces of knitwear helped raise funds to buy more briquettes.
Volunteer Margaret Forsyth said: “It’s a good tribute to Dave. He would be really pleased that we have been able to keep it going.”
Fellow volunteer Mary O’Connor said that after five years, the group was keen to remind people that the Warm Age Wood Company outlet was “more than just a wool shop”. She said that while many in the town are aware of the enterprise, others who are new to the area or just visiting may not know how it operates. The group of volunteer knitters come from near and far, with one member based in Kendal and another in London. Ms O'Connor also visits knitters who live in the vicinity but are unable to get into the shop, delivering wool and fetching the finished items.
Ms Forsyth was keen to point out that only pure wool is used to make the items sold at the shop.
“We knit small stuff – children’s jumpers, hats, scarves, gloves, etc. We have also invented a Barney beanie,” she said. “We want to thank GSK, The Bowes Museum and Teesdale U3A for their generous donations and also our regular customers who support us and buy our products. When you buy from us, you keep other warm and the more we sell, the more briquettes we can give away.”
Ms Forsyth added: “So far this season, we have supported eight people in three homes. One of those expressed his thanks saying the delivery came just at the right time and that it lifted his spirits and kept him warm.”
Those in need of help from the Warm Age Wood Company are identified through community organisations, day clubs, food banks, advice centres and other groups and are referred to the enterprise.
The company began life by taking a stall at Barnard Castle Market before moving into the shop in October 2016.
The shop is open from 10am to 4pm Wednesday to Saturday. It also opens “unofficially” on a Tuesday morning when the volunteers get together for a knit and natter session over a cuppa.
“We have a link with No 15 cafe. Quite often when people come, we will go through and order and they will come with a tray of coffee,” said Ms Forsyth.