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Great Big Green Week vicar’s clothes swap appeal

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This week is Great Big Green Week – and a Norwich vicar is calling on young people to choose pre-loved over fast fashion and to support a unique clothes-swap shop in the city.

New-U has proved popular since it opened in the Castle Quarter six years ago – but trustee The Revd Heather Cracknell, a keen wearer of pre-loved clothes, would love to see more young people coming through the doors.

The Revd Cracknell, 47, former vicar of St Francis, Heartsease, was invited to join the New-U trustees two years ago because she is passionate about slow fashion and has also worked with young people – the shop offers work placements and free interview clothes to equip young people for the world of work.

She has brought up her own two now-grown-up children to love pre-loved clothes. But she says many young people tend to throw clothes away rather than passing them on or buying second hand.

 “A lot of young people don’t really feel they can do anything about climate change,” she says. “Trying to bring young people on to the idea of pre-loved is really important for me. We do get some 16-19 year-olds through the door here but the majority of our customers are more mature.”

The store was the brainchild of Sue Buffin, who is founder and CEO of the New-U registered charity. It grew from a project she ran with young people at the Prince’s Trust and it became an independent venture in 2018.

Customers bring in items of clothing to swap for points which they then use to pay half the ticket price of an item. All the clothes are high quality and good-as-new and prices are far lower than in high street stores, with trousers and dresses typically selling for around £10, or £5 with swap points.

“We have clothes donated that are fast fashion, and they go into a £1 monthly sale,” Sue says. “The big difference between us and a traditional charity shop is that anyone donating to New-U will receive something of value in return. We make sure nothing is wasted – if an item doesn’t sell it goes into storage and comes out again, and if it’s no longer suitable to wear, it will be re-purposed in our upcycle hub. Our smart clothes scheme offers free clothes for interview; if someone wants smart clothes for a job interview they can just take them, no questions asked.”

In addition to supporting sustainable fashion, the charity’s key aims also include helping unemployed young people find work or training, and the store offers work placements to young people. The boutique is the only swap shop of its kind in the country.

Organisations across our region were taking part in Great Big Green Week activities from June 8-16 to celebrate work in communities to protect nature and tackle climate change – these include swapping skills in repair cafes to fix household items or upcycle furniture, swapping gardening skills to make compost or grow vegetables, businesses swapping fossil fuels for solar panels and friends swapping fast fashion for second-hand treasures.

Helen Meech, Executive Director of The Climate Coalition, says: “Great Big Green Week is an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people to show how important nature and the climate is to them, and to swap ideas on what we can all do to lead greener lives. It is also a reminder to politicians campaigning in the lead up to the General Election that public support for action is both massive and mainstream, and that the next Government will be held to account to do more for climate and generations to come.”

This coincides with Churches Count on Nature week which many of our parishes took part in; look out for more news from this soon. Remember to let us know if you’re involved with any campaigns such as Great Big Green Week, or similar:

With thanks to Fran Abrams of the Local Storytelling Exchange for this story.

Further information:

A survey by environmental charity Hubbub found two fifths of 16-24 year-olds buy fast fashion online weekly compared to 13 per cent of other age groups. And Oxfam has estimated that the industry creates more carbon every minute than driving a car six times round the globe.

Reverend Cracknell became Vicar and Pioneer Minister of St Francis, Heartsease in 2017 and is now taking a sabbatical after working on national Church of England projects in London.

The Great Big Green Week first took place in September 2021 and was the largest event for climate and nature ever seen in the UK, with over 5,000 events taking place. More than a quarter of a million people got involved last year, with this year’s event expected to be the biggest ever.

The Climate Coalition is a network of over 130 organisations in the UK – including the Church of England Environment Programme, National Trust, Oxfam and RSPB – with a combined supporter base of 20 million people.