WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO

The Herald Magazine - - NEWS - REV­EREND JOHN RICHES Visit gavins­mill.org

WE signed the lease on Gavin’s Mill, the old wa­ter­mill that gave Mil­ngavie its name, on Jan­uary 27, 2017. The build­ing was struc­turally sound but dank and dark af­ter ly­ing empty. With only four months rent-free, the pres­sure was on to open for busi­ness.

Cre­ative chaos en­sued. A reg­i­ment of gar­den­ers cleared the un­der­growth. Vol­un­teers cleaned and white­washed and a troop of trades­men were gen­er­ous with their work and time. One man turned up in the still shelf­less shop say­ing: “I’m re­tired and en­joy car­pen­try. Can I help?” One of our man­age­ment team, Sue Milne, worked into the night to put stock on the com­puter. And 32 days later, on March 1, broad­caster Sally Mag­nus­son de­clared Gavin’s Mill Fair Trade Shop and Cafe open. It felt like a mir­a­cle.

It wasn’t the first. In 1980 a group from Balder­nock Church had turned the coach house in our gar­den into what was later iden­ti­fied as the first suc­cess­ful fair trade shop in Bri­tain. Bal­more Coach House be­gan as a Bi­ble study group ask­ing how rel­a­tively rich Chris­tians should be­have in a poor world.

From day one two-thirds of the Coach House prof­its went over­seas and one-third to UK char­i­ties. In 37 years around £1.2m was dis­trib­uted, while thou­sands of farm­ers, artists and crafts­peo­ple found an out­let for their goods.

I re­tired from teach­ing New Tes­ta­ment at Glas­gow Univer­sity in 2003. By co­in­ci­dence, I’d started im­port­ing jam from a chut­ney and pre­serves project in Swazi­land to sell to other fair trade out­lets. We got back from ski­ing one day to find 1500 pots of jam in the din­ing room. We’re still im­port­ing and sell­ing it, along with other prod­ucts like kilo­mbero rice from Malawi.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple went out of their way to visit the Coach House to buy fairly traded goods, es­pe­cially around Christ­mas. It was of­ten de­scribed as “an Aladdin’s cave” and there was a great af­fec­tion for the old place but we knew it couldn’t last for ever. I’m 78 and one day Nena and I will be gone and our chil­dren will want to sell the house, in­clud­ing the coach house. Sue Bond, our man­ager for nearly 30 years, was re­tir­ing and the time was right to move.

Gavin’s Mill once again brings new life to an old build­ing and it gives us far more space and foot­fall. At Bal­more most of our vol­un­teers were re­tired. Now we have more

than 70 helpers, rang­ing in age from 16 to oc­to­ge­nar­i­ans and the change of venue has brought in many new cus­tomers. Sta­ples such as fair trade tea and cof­fee are still good sell­ers but we’ve been able to ex­pand our range of food as well as stock­ing more home­ware, cards and crafts. There are colour­ful bowls made in In­dia, toys from a project in Sri Lanka and chil­dren’s cardi­gans from Peru. Now Scot­land is a fair trade na­tion, more peo­ple are get­ting the mes­sage that shop­ping in places like Gavin’s Mill can change lives for good.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: MARTIN SHIELDS

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