On Wednesday 27th August a group of intrepid and slightly chilly volunteers assembled by the play park at the bottom of Orchard Way to take part in the first East Grinstead ‘Swap Shop’, organised as a joint venture between WSCC and East Grinstead Police, and bringing in East Grinstead Library, East Grinstead Foodbank, Children’s Services, MSDC, Affinity Sutton Housing, East Grinstead Street Pastors and our very own JCC Blaze. Several members of JCC were there over the course of the event, volunteering in one form or another.

The aim of the event was to get the people in the area talking to one another as it can be very isolating living in the flats and houses around there. We hoped to generate some community spirit, amongst other things. The idea behind the swap shop was that if you had a household object that you didn’t want anymore, that perhaps you couldn’t get to a charity shop or to the dump, then you could bring it to the swap shop and take away something else that you did need. The volunteers provided a few items to get the ball rolling.

The Police had set a target attendance of 12-15 people, since they had previous experience of similar events in the town- but they hadn’t counted on Julia from Foodbank offering baked beans and jam (surplus to normal requirements) and Lizzie from Blaze offering the local children the chance to ice biscuits and take part in a few simple games.

The ice cream van turned up, parked on double yellow lines, and gave everyone a free 99- I don’t think the police had the heart to book him!

The rainy day arrangements, which consisted of everyone sheltering under the new Street Pastors gazebo, did not need to be put in place so Lizzie carried on icing biscuits in the middle of the park. Callum had to be sent up into town for more supplies of icing sugar but when this second packet was exhausted, so was Lizzie, so a halt was called to that particular activity. ‘Can you come every week?’ Lizzie was asked. About 20 children had arrived to join in the fun, so the next amusement was created by watching burly members of the police force trying to find somewhere to hide the bright blue iced biscuit covered in lurid sprinkles that they felt obliged to accept with enthusiasm from an unknown child.

By the time everything on all the tables was packed away after 3 and a half hours it was estimated that 54 people had attended. The county councillor declared the event a resounding success and  is now looking to repeat it on another occasion- is there anyone from JCC who would like to volunteer to come and take part in a Christmas- themed swap shop? Biscuit icing skills optional.

Ann Rowsell

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