Charity fundraising for Ukraine in desperate search for new Shropshire premises
Volunteers who ran a charity shop in Bridgnorth to help people in war-torn Ukraine are desperately hunting for new premises.
Help Ukraine Telford was set up in Bridgnorth’s High Street in September, opening every Friday and Saturday to sell stock and collect donations for people in Ukraine.
The volunteers have also driven donations over to the Ukrainian border and hope to carry on doing so over the next few months, but they urgently need to find a new base where they can raise funds and collect donations.
Volunteer Ali Cosh, also known as Ali Penswick, is “gutted” that the store can no longer run in Bridgnorth, having opened for the final time on Christmas Eve.
The 50-year-old, from Wellington, said: “I can’t imagine it ending just because we’ve lost the shop. I can’t allow it to end. I refuse.
“We opened on the second week of September and we’ve done a lot better than I thought we would. We have to give a big shout-out to the people of Bridgnorth because they’ve been so supportive. They still ask where they can keep bringing donations. They still want somewhere where they can do that.”
The group is now on the hunt for premises in Wellington where they can set up a similar shop, as Ali is the only member of the committee who does not work full-time and she also cannot drive.
Wellington Cricket Club has given the group the use of its changing rooms to store their stock until the end of February, but after that, the fundraising group will have nowhere to collect donations and sell stock.
Ali said: “The shop is a big loss. We’ve tried places in Wellington and they want between £600 and £800 a month in rent, which just isn’t possible. We’d be working for nothing, really.
“It’s quite annoying because there are so many empty premises that have been empty for years and they’re all paying business rates on them.”
The group is always on the lookout for new volunteers, as everyone but Ali works full-time. Her fiance, 61-year-old Alan De La Hay, gave up every single Saturday to help run the shop, as well as taking 10 Fridays of annual leave to do so.
Ali said: “All the money we make from the shop goes towards funding the trip over to Ukraine. I went over on December 11 and it cost £2,500 in fuel and ferry tickets.
“We were making about £1,200 a month here so that covered the trip. We know we’re definitely going over again in February and we have enough money for that, but after that we’re hard pushed again.
“After going there for myself and seeing everything, it just made me want to triple our efforts. They really are desperate.”
The haunting reality of the situation in Ukraine is laid bare by the items that are desperately needed by people on the ground.
Ali said: "A journalist over there told me that what they are desperate for is camera batteries, because they're documenting all of the war crimes, which is so important.
"Obviously, they don't have the power when they're downloading the footage, so they do it all by battery. We're hoping to get the exact specifications so we can try and organise something.
"The other thing they're desperate for is generators. In particular, small compact ones, as they've had a lot of help with big ones going to hospitals and things like that."
Ali added: "What really got to me is a few days before we went I was watching the news, and they were going on about the cost of living over here.
"Obviously there are people here who need ventilators and they're struggling with their energy bills. So of course, when we got there, they told us the exact same thing.
"They've got people living in their own houses or in basements who need medical supplies to run on electricity to keep them alive - and they don't have electricity.
"So they're after little mobile generators that people can plug in and they will literally save their lives. So I've emailed a fair few companies and ask them if they'd kindly like to donate one or two."
Ali has seen first-hand the important work that is going on to support people in Ukraine, including sanctuaries which not only house women and children, but teach Ukrainians how to look after themselves.
Five-day workshops are held where Ukrainian citizens can receive support and guidance from bereavement councillors, social workers, and psychologists, who then teach other Ukrainians how to give this support.
"They said, 'We can give them loads of fish but that's pointless, what we need to do is give them the fishing rod so they can help themselves'. It's not just about feeding them," Ali said.
"It's about helping them get back on their feet. It's absolutely amazing."
Despite all of the work Ali and her fellow volunteers have done, she still believes they can do more.
"I just feel like we're not doing enough," she said.
"It's barely on the telly now. I watch the foreign channels and the Ukrainian channels so we see what's going on, but it seems to have died down a bit on our news coverage and that's the last thing we need.
"It seems to be the children and the elderly are the ones that are really behind us. That's why we're hoping to get a couple of donation boxes in any school that can take it."
She added: "If everyone put one extra tin in when they go shopping, we'd be laughing. We managed to buy £1,100 of food from Aldi with the cash which had been donated to us and that just made a hell of a difference."
Local schools have got behind the fundraising appeal with great gusto, especially for the group's Christmas shoebox appeal.
The Bridgnorth Endowed School and The Corbet School in Baschurch made 180 shoe boxes between them, which were taken to an orphanage in Ukraine so the children would have presents for Christmas.
"We want to give a big shout out to those schools because they were absolutely amazing," Ali said. "We've been sent photos of the children accepting and opening their presents, and there were tears in our eyes."
Before the invasion of Ukraine, the orphanage reportedly homed around 120 children. Now, it homes more than 400.
To donate towards the group's next trip to Ukraine, visit justgiving.com/crowdfunding/alison-penswick
To buy items which will be given to people in Ukraine, go to the group's Amazon wishlist at amazon.co.uk/hz/wishlist/ls/9EB09T5JYGWV