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Living Out Your Faith – Alison Phillipson

The Reverend Alison Phillipson is vicar of Coatham and Dormanstown parish in Redcar. Six months after joining the parish Alison set up The Church Shop, which serves both as a source of income for the parish and a mission outreach into the community. Alison features as part of the book ‘John Sentamu’s Faith Stories’ published by Darton Longman and Todd (Feb 2013). (ISBN: 978-0-232-52978-4). Watch a short video of Alison’s faith story here:



‘The Church Shop’

Alison Phillipson has been the Vicar of the Parish of Coatham and Dormanstown for two years. Just over a year ago, along with volunteers, she set up ‘The Church Shop’ in the Farndale Square area of Dormanstown. 

The charity shop, filled to the brim with a range of donated goods, offers the community a place to shop economically but more importantly a place to seek support and advice over a cuppa with the staff.

The shop, which has just celebrated its first anniversary, has proved to be a vital part of the community as well as a much needed asset to help the Church financially. Other local businesses have welcomed the Church Shop. Vic Thomas has been the local butcher in the square for over 20 years.  He said that it is helping to bring people back to the square, and encouraging new people to visit and therefore helping businesses like his remain in the area.

Establishing the Project

The cost of setting up the Church Shop in 2010 was covered by a grant of £2,500 from the Archbishop of York’s Mission Fund.  Without a grant, Alison says that they would have strived to do it anyway, but it would have been difficult.

“This is not just a mission opportunity; it also gives us an income.

This parish is in a desperate financial situation and this does help keep us afloat.  There are two sides to this coin but the mission is the one that we are most proud of.”  She feels that through the shop, the Church has improved its profile in the area.

The shop is managed by Carole Prest and together with a dedicated team of 27 volunteers, not all of whom are church goers, they open the shop 6 days a week from 10 am-4 pm.  Although Farndale Square is situated in the heart of a significantly deprived area, Alison Phillipson, the vicar describes it as “a community where families stay, a lovely area where people support one another and a community at ease with itself.”

Serving the Community

“I think a lot of Christian people don’t quite know how to serve and how to live out their faith, the opportunities aren’t always there for them to do high profile projects and this (the Church Shop) has given lay people an opportunity to live out their faith, to show people that they are normal people who are living out their discipleship and it is valued by the community.”

Alison expects people to talk to her about God because of the role she plays in the community but knows that it is often very difficult for lay people to talk about God with others.

“This is so explicit here, what we are about, that the permission is there to talk about what your faith means to you.”  One volunteer said “I find it easier to talk to people in the shop than I would if I was anywhere else.”

Over the short time that the Church Shop has been open, many people have come in to discuss the problems that they face and the staff feel that their Christian faith helps at these times.  Those who come into the shop, for advice and support, do so because they know that they will be treated with kindness and will not be judged. The volunteers who run the shop don’t all attend church but one of the newer volunteers, Lynne McHugh has found that her faith has blossomed.  Her story is inspiring. Having retired early from work due to ill health, she applied to be a volunteer.

Now, not only does she help out in the Church Shop, she attends church regularly and has recently bought a guitar (from the shop) and is learning to play so that she can help out with the church music.  She is also helping Alison to set up a Youth Club.  She has grown in confidence through working in the church shop and says “I’m a much better person for it.”

The Church Shop has just celebrated its first anniversary.  In this first year, it has shown that there is a need for a place where people can stop and be listened to, and not be judged, and it has allowed the laity a real opportunity to live out their faith in the way Jesus did.