A brand new retail outlet in Swanage in Dorset is showcasing the artistic talents of Allsort’d, a group of local young adults with learning disabilities and associated difficulties.
Old Harry Is A Rock shop in Station Road is not only staffed by members of Allsort’d but also stocks a range of crafts, clothing, artwork and soft furnishings inspired and created by them, around the theme of Old Harry, the iconic chalk rocks near Swanage.
Making Old Harry into a modern brand on a range of clothing and gifts
A chance to work with the public
Until now, the products have been selling from a stall at the Swanage Friday Market and online, with money made from the sales going back into running the not for profit community interest company which provides bespoke learning support for the young adults of Allsort’d.
The company says that having an established retail shop in the town centre will not only allow for more sales to be made, but also give Allsort’d an opportunity to work with the public and learn new skills.
Four of the young adults are staffing the gift shop every weekday to raise money which will help the group to do its vital support work in Purbeck.
The shop, which has a five year lease, was opened by Swanage town mayor Tina Foster during a ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday 26th October 2023 and has been winning over a lot of new fans since.
Swanage town mayor Tina Foster cuts the ribbon to open the new shop
A range of crafts, homewares and clothing is making the shop a firm favourite
“The shop will be a great teaching tool”
Allsort’d director Eddie Gillespie said:
“We have been looking for a safe space for our clients to work in and sell from – this shop has been empty for quite a while and we have been trying to get it since March.
“The shop will be a great teaching tool, a place for our clients to learn and be productive. It is not about making a profit really, but if it does make money so much the better, as we can employ them rather than them being reliant on social care money.
“We are grateful to the mayor for cutting the ribbon, though we were rather outdone by the railway when a steam engine arrived just as she was cutting the ribbon and everyone left!
“Fortunately, they did come back later and reaction has been very positive so far. People like the shop and the ethos behind it, we are not a money making scheme, this is about helping people in our community and giving them opportunities to live a normal life.”
Some of Swanage’s resident seagulls keep a watchful eye over Old Harry
Allsort’d director Eddie Gillespie in the new shop
Unique to Swanage and Purbeck
The Old Harry Is A Rock company, which is setting out to make a brand name from one of Purbeck’s most famous landmarks, takes its name from a long running confusion over the chalk stack by one of Allsort’d’s young people.
Eddie Gillespie explained:
“During lockdown, a young autistic resident wanted to walk to Old Harry almost every day and whenever he got down there he wanted to know why a man could be a rock or a rock could be a man.
“I tried to explain it to him, but after six months he was still asking me. I used to be a graphic designer, so I put a face on Old Harry and we made up a poem about the legend behind it, and once he saw the face he never asked me the question again.
“I had a T-shirt made with the design on and lots of locals saw it and liked it, so we took the opportunity and had a range of clothing made in conjunction with Helen Hardy at the local printing and embroidery firm I Can Be.
“Now it has really taken off and we hope we can make the Old Harry brand, which is unique to Swanage and the Isle of Purbeck, recognisable a lot further afield!”
Unique walking sticks have been made with the help of Durlston country park rangers
Great Christmas present ideas
Other items available for sale at the Old Harry shop include one of a kind bird boxes, which are put together by an Allsort’d team from flatpacks and then decorated with their own doodles.
Equally unique walking sticks are made with help from the rangers of Durlston Country Park, where Allsort’d has its main base.
Wood collected from the country park is taken to The Shed, Durlston’s community workshop, where it is stripped of bark, dried and oiled before being carved and decorated by Allsort’d
Soft furnishings, lampshades, framed pictures of Old Harry and other gifts bearing his face, including mouse mats, coasters and mugs, are also available and the crew hope they will be seen as great Christmas present ideas.
The shop can only accept card payments with the point of sale system being based on visuals and pictorials, as many of the clients struggle with numeracy and taking cash or working out change could be very stressful for them.
Opening hours are from 10 am until 2.30 pm on Mondays to Fridays, to fit in with the social care hours of the Allsort’d team, and although Eddie would like to be able to open on Saturdays, it would be reliant on volunteer staff, so cannot be guaranteed at the moment.
Old Harry is about to become a pin-up poster model in Swanage
One of the Allsort’d Doodle bird boxes is about to find a new home
- Stay in touch with the work of Allsort’d on its website