ON the corner of Westgate and Doncaster Gate in Rotherham is a shop unlike any other, where you can top up on authentic broomsticks, goblin mucus and other unusual supplies.
But the magical apothecary of Grimm and Co at the corner of Westgate and Doncaster Gate doesn’t just sell a heady mix of the surreal and the splendid, it also provides the retail front for a literacy charity which has captivated youngsters and their accompanying grown-ups since it first “appeared” in 2016.
And with a weighing machine allowing shoppers to find out what kind of mythical creature they might be (are you a unicorn, a witch or a fairy?) and a beanstalk-cum-slide as an exit, it’s the perfect place for young minds to take flight.
Children and teachers attending the charity’s popular creative mornings — they’ re fully booked for 2019 — reach the first-floor story-writing centre by stepping through the secret doorway, passing the Wall of Words, a spectacularly-scribed take on interior design, and climbing the story stairs, each fashioned like the spine of a classic book.
Wood-panelled and spacious, the premises appearance has changed little since the time it was the Town Gate pub, known even earlier as Disraeli’s.
But believe it or not, it could have been turned into a mini-supermarket had Grimms trustees not managed to get there in time!
Founding director Deborah Bullivant (above) says: “It took a lot of action to get it like it is, including work by Fortem (maintenance contractors), who were really good.
“The beanstalk slide was designed specially by someone called Adam Green, whose wife worked at the council.
“He asked if we would like a slide — I thought it was just going to be a small slide but he made us this wonderful big one.”
Slide apart, Grimm and Co is not unique — there are a handful of other literacy hubs inspired by American visionary Dave Eggers — but its historic setting and the inclusion of the money-spinning apothecary downstairs set it apart.
Deborah says: “When he came to visit, Dave said it was the best of its kind in the world but he shouldn’t be saying that — and then he put it on Instagram.”
Louise Treloar (below), who started out as a shop volunteer but now spearheads fundraising and marketing, says high standards have been set and maintained.
“It can be manic at times as were a small team and we’re always trying to do things bigger and better,” she says.
“Everything is done at such a high quality — it needs to be amazing, and we want people to think Rotherham is so lucky to have it.”
Louise was working as a civil servant when she attended a convention at Magna and visited Grimm and Cos stall.
“I knew I had to find out more,” she recalls.
“I came to the shop in Rotherham and thought: ‘I really want to work here its amazing and Ive never looked back.’”
Children have been won over by the simplicity and fun of the writing workshops.
“You come in with an idea and go home with a book you have helped to write,” explains Louise.
“It can be a chance for kids to see themselves as something different. It can be life-changing for them.
“The older ones can sometimes be a bit harder to reach but a few of them are known as our Black Lanyard Brigade and they will advise us on what they would like to see and do next.”
Rejection of the mundane and everyday is reflected in Grimm’s clientele’s vision.
Some of its younger customers were involved in the Embassy for Reimagining Rotherham, which involved drawing up a manifesto of what they wanted to see in the town centre.
“There was a lot of talk among adults about how town has changed since M&S was here,” recalls Louise.
“But the kids didnt care about M&S — they were saying a town centre should be about more besides shopping and suggesting much more interesting things like flying cars.”
There’s a more formal end product to Grimm and Co’s work too — aside from the school workshops three times a week in term time, members of two after-school clubs and two Saturday clubs are working towards their bronze and silver Arts Awards.
Daily creative clubs for kids may be its daily bread, but the charity likes to splurge annually on a big do.
After kicking off with a Grand Gala in Barnsley, which saw children’s stories turned into plays and performed, and a film festival, this year’s focal point is the first Grimm and Co music festival — complete with an anti-plastic theme.
Stately Wentworth Woodhouse will provide the backdrop.
“Last year, the children wrote some songs and they have been sent to professional musicians and set to music,” explains Louise.
“We can’t name any performers yet but (award-winning folk multi-instrumentalist) Greg Russell is heavily involved.
“We’re working with Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar to put it on as a ticketed event on July 7. That’s about all I can say for now.”
The Grimm name also gets out and about thanks to open events such as the recent Harry Potter night at town centre cafe Fitzwilliam and Hughes, and Louise admits they would love to welcome JK Rowling, perhaps the most famous name in magical circles.
“She knows about us and of course it would be great to have her visit but I know she’s very busy,” says Louise.
“Of course, Harry is a very good customer of ours,” she adds with a smile.
“We do have free broomstick parking, after all!”
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