Like all good stories, the story of The Dispensary and Futurehealth Store has seen some highs, some lows and major challenges but the thread running through our story has been one of perseverance, the warmth of humanity when it’s at its best and some wonderful moments that have delighted us and reinforced our belief in what we’re doing.
Common Cause Community Interest Company, which is not for profit, runs The Dispensary. The Dispensary is a community health initiative in Whitby North Yorkshire, which includes a health shop, community library, jointly run community bakery and hub for supporting local and national initiatives as well as hosting local events. The Futurehealth Store is our online shop linked to the physical shop and runs with the same ethics. The Dispensary was the impulse of James Fearnley, who believes that we cannot be truly healthy unless we are healthy in all realms of our lives, in the realms of the social, cultural, physical and economical. James is an anthroposophist. Anthroposophy is a way of researching and inquiring rather than a fixed set of ideas. Integral to understanding anthroposophy are the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, who explained that there is a fundamental social law and that any arrangement in a community that is contrary to this law will inevitably produce distress and want:
“The well-being of a community of people working together will be the greater, the less the individual claims for himself the proceeds of his work; that is, the more of these proceeds he makes over to his fellow-workers, and the more his own needs are satisfied, not as the result of his own work but as the result of the work done by others”Rudolf Steiner
I am Lucy, James‘s partner and together we began The Dispensary shop back in 2012 in a very small premises on a side street in Whitby called Hunter Street.
For us, the impulse propelling the idea forward was very important, that is, to try to balance out the way we live and look after ourselves, each other, our environment and other sentient beings. We were not setting out to put economic viability at the forefront of what we did. We set out to try and help people to take back responsibility for their own health and to see that although at present money is a significant factor in most of our lives, it has become the most important and weighty issue for many, to the detriment of relationships, spiritual happiness and for many, physical health.
I must admit, there was some scepticism amongst the circles of people we know as to the viability of such a project. Many could not understand it, as it sat outside the parameters of a usual “business” where we would spend inordinate amounts of time on community projects and relationship building rather than focusing on things that would help us to be sustainable financially. We were lucky initially to be awarded some grant funding which allowed us to offer some paid positions for a period of time, however, after this we put our own money in many times to keep the project going.
We both believe that if you are truly doing the right thing, from your heart, then it doesn’t matter whether you see success in conventional terms. We believe that if an impulse is truly meant to be, then to start it is the important thing and its fruition may come next week, next year, or not even in our own lifetimes, but the important thing is to begin.
As Goethe said:
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
And so, we started The Dispensary shop at 6 Hunter Street, Whitby, in a tiny ground floor room, with a community library on the first floor and an office on the top floor. At first we stocked a very small range of products, such as essential and carrier oils, natural supplements and medicines from the beehive such as propolis and pollen products, in addition to honey. One of our major impulses was to try and help people take back responsibility for their own health. We developed information sheets on various natural products and remedies and encouraged visitors to the shop to consult our extensive range of books in the community library in addition to searching for information online if they wished.
In our time it is a challenge to listen to our own bodies and intuition, we have become separated from the deep instinctive knowledge that we have and very often look to others for the answers. Of course, there is a time and place to seek further help, but many times we have the resolution to our ailments within ourselves if we can recognise this and act accordingly.
We offered people a chance to join our community for free, to receive a 5% dividend on anything they bought and receive mail outs from us about events and activities we were organising or initiatives we felt they may be interested in. We were instrumental in developing the community organisation We Are Whitby and were integral to planning and putting on Whitby Winterfest, a celebration of community at Christmas, with stalls, activities, performances and much more. We also facilitated regular health related initiatives such as meditation sessions, movement therapy and Biomusica sessions.
On 8th December 2012 David Bellamy, now sadly passed away, launched The Dispensary at a community event in The Coliseum venue in Whitby. We arranged for local practitioners to give ten-minute talks in different realms of promoting whole health, such as counselling, reflexology, bee medicines, medical herbalism in addition to poetry, crafts, movement therapy and many more. These talks can be found on The Dispensary website under the sections physical, social, economic and cultural. We sold good food and health products and let people know about our Dispensary initiative. The day was a great success, where we met many local and not so local people and chatted about our and their ideas concerning health, what it means and where we are headed.
Through James’s link with Botton Village, a local Camphill community, we gradually branched out into providing products from this community. Camphill communities are based on anthroposophical ideas where disabled and non-disabled people live, work and celebrate life together. Botton Village produced bread, cheese, jams and crafts, all hand -made by the community and we offered these as part of our range of products in the shop. It also gave us the opportunity to tell customers about the Camphill Community and a different way of living together.
We soon became involved in a struggle to support Botton Village and James was integral to a group “Action for Botton” which sought to help the village defend its way of life where disabled and non disabled community members lived and worked together. The battle was high profile and went to the High Court. There is not sufficient space in this article to explain the David and Goliath struggle which took place. The cost was high, not only financially but also physically and emotionally for many people. If you’re interested in finding out more please visit Action For Botton.
The result was that the Botton Village community split in two and a new Camphill Community, The Esk Valley Camphill Community emerged who live and work, disabled and non-disabled people together under the auspices of a Shared Lives Scheme, whilst the other half live supported by care workers.
We focused on our links with the new Esk Valley Camphill Community, whose ethos we shared and began to wonder if it would be possible to open a community bakery as a joint project between ourselves and the Esk Valley Camphill Community. In 2016 a larger shop on Skinner Street, a busier street nearby, became available and we were fortunate to be able to move there. It was quite a leap of faith, as we had and continue to have some valuable and very much appreciated help at times, but no permanent addition to our team of two.
The move made our shop and community library much more accessible, as it was in a larger space on ground level. The premises at number 25 Skinner Street had been the photographic studio of the famous Victorian photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe and we felt it was a special space imbued with a great deal of history. In our larger space we were able to offer a more varied range and branched out into chilled and frozen products, some children’s clothing and expanded our wholefood, natural skincare, supplement and remedy range. LOVE became our byword – Local Organic Vegan or Vegetarian and Ethical wherever possible.
We settled into our new place and welcomed members of the community in, people helped in different ways and became part of our community, one person came every day and registered all our community library books online so that anyone can look on our Dispensary website and search to see if we have a book available and if they are a member they can borrow it free of charge (this has been put on hold temporarily during the pandemic but we will get back to lending books again soon). We very much appreciated the community of people that grew up and shared in our initiative. We made soup every lunchtime and invited anyone who was around and wanted to, to join us for soup and bread, We had some very nice and warm times around a big table during those lunch breaks at the shop.
The flat at the back of the shop became available to rent and we took on the tenancy, with a view that our idea of a community bakery with the Esk Valley Camphill Community could come to fruition. After much planning, meetings, fundraising and alteration work, we were ready, and opened late 2018. Breaking Bread Bakery was born. I remember the first days of the bakery, when the bakers brought out the first loaves, still warm from the oven and the customers picked up the loaves and in holding them, were really transported by such a simple but pure delight of handmade, warm bread. It brought home to me the true meaning of bread as the staff of life and for me it was a moving and spiritual experience.
We arranged the shop space so that we could move everything to the sides very easily and put chairs out for evening events and in this way we hosted events which included meditation courses, musical celebrations, talks by Lama Lhakpa Yeshe who is a Tibetan Buddhist monk, talks on nutritional health, courses on raw food and fermentation, vegan food tasting days and more. We’ve also supported local causes such as raising awareness and funds for a local child desperately in need of a stem cell donor.
We were also able to focus on our passion for animal welfare and founded the local Whitby support group for Compassion in World Farming, Whitby Compassionate Food. We hosted information days and petitions and took information and fund-raising stalls to local events raising awareness of the vital work that Compassion in World Farming does to end live export of animals and end the factory farming of animals. We use our prominent place on a busy street to get the message out there and mail out on these issues to our members. We have also recently become involved in working with Crustacean Compassion, an award wining organisation which campaigns for the humane treatment of decapod crustaceans, which include animals such as crabs and lobsters, and have been raising awareness of the suffering of these creatures and campaigning for their inclusion in animal welfare legislation which would offer them the protection they deserve.
When the pandemic struck, we were one of the few shops in Whitby classed as essential, as we sold food and health products and so with the help of wonderful volunteers, we stayed open throughout the entire pandemic, through every lock-down. It was through these times that we truly saw the benefit of what had grown through The Dispensary – a community initiative, there in times of need. People could come in and see a friendly human face in a world that had become frightening and isolating. Many had tears and felt reassured of our shop as a sign of stability and contact in a world that had turned on its head. Our bakers kept on baking, our volunteers kept on delivering to those who couldn’t get to the shop, and we witnessed at first hand a realisation of what matters, real community, kindness, not just to each other, but to our environment and every sentient being. As restrictions gradually ease, we hope that the realisations we first witnessed will not be lost in the rush to get “back to normal”, that we will perceive the harm we do to animals and nature and take greater care. We also hope that we will remember now, more than ever, that we have an innate wisdom regarding our own health, that we will ask questions, and once we know the answers, we will take back responsibility for our own health.