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Everyday Changemakers: Tom Burns, Shax

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Our Story Weaver, Kaska Hempel, talks to Tom Burns, Marketing Officer from Shax, about the circular economy with a heart.

The story is the second in a five-part Dumfries series of Everyday Changemakers.


Interview, recording and sound production: Kaska Hempel


Kaska Hempel (Narration): Hello it’s Kaska, Your Story Weaver. Today I share a second Everyday Changemaker story from my visit in Dumfries last October. I speak to Tom from Shax at their warehouse and second hand shop located within the Crichton Estate in the south of the town. Sadly their new shop located in the centre of town fell victim to the recent severe flooding from river Nith so that they had to withdraw back to their original location.

Entering Crichton is like being transported to another age, large lawns, mature trees and gardens separating beautiful mid-19th century red sandstone buildings. There’s very little traffic on the roads and views open up across the Nith valley as the place sits on the top of a low ridge. ..

This out of town area was developed in mid-1800s at the bequest of Elizabeth Crichton as a world leading psychiatric hospital “not only in the treatment of patients but also in its architecture and environment.” The site very much still retains much of the original character – and I could see how this beautiful Calm and relaxing setting would be helpful for people dealing with mental health issues.

Since the mid-1990s it’s been under management of Crichton Trust and it hosts a multitude of businesses and organisations. This includes Shax where I was heading that morning. 

Before we sat down for a chat with our cups of tea in the quiet back room, Tom showed me around the building… 

Tom: We do a lot of stuff here. Stuff comes in, it gets revolved checked, so we’re checking for rips, tears, stains, fire labels, things like that, because we’re revolving credit aid. in this area we have all the electronics coming in, so this is where it gets pat tested, function tested.

And as you come in, you’ve got your dining tables, electronics on the left, and on the right, you’ve got usually the white goods here. They used to go quite quick. We have a lot of sofas, a lot of turnaround in the sofas and things.

Kaska: These shoes! Look at that! Sorry. Sorry, I get distracted. Look at the sequins on that.

Tom: There’s lots of new shoes.We tend to have a lot of stuff that comes in with still tags on that are brand new and clean. Kids love down here, everybody loves playing with the old scales. The building when it used to be the laundry.

Kaska: Oh, is this, is that big platform you just step on it?

Tom: So obviously the books, you can come up and read the books. Behind that door is the Oh,

Kaska: So that’s the upcycling place.

Tom: We have the desk here, we tanked this out, so.

Kaska: Is there anything that’s quite unusual that you have in stock right now?

Tom: I’ve kind of gotten numb to what’s unusual because we get some random things and people will buy like the most mundane, normal thing, but it’s not what they’re using it for.

They’re going to change it into something completely different. We’re trying to encourage them to send us some before and after bits of what they do, because we like that and we can pass that on. And here is the wee Aladdin’s cave of Brickabrack. So this is all wee knickknacks.

Tom: My name is Tom Burns. I work for Shax, which is a charity that provides starter packs to the homeless.

The donations that we get coming in, we then, uh, retail them, so we sell them. Donations are delivered, and we, we collect as well. That money is then raised to provide starter packs. So starter packs are for, things like bedding, um, towels, cleaning, sanitary, kids packs, so like bags with little stuff for school and things like that.

So there’s loads of different things that go into there, um, we provide them to the homeless. My role here is the marketing officer. We provide, all the information online, so social media, Facebook, Instagram, um, hopefully TikTok soon. And then we’ve got the website and everything as well.

So I do a lot of the photography, the video, as well as the SEO and all the media stuff and creating the content for that as well.

Kaska: Um, tell me about a favourite place, in Dumfries.

Tom: My favourite place in Dumfries, there’s loads of places in Dumfries, like Caerlaverock Castle, all these walks and all the places around about you. There’s a load of and countryside and gardens and walks and cycle routes and things like that.

But I’m a bit of a workaholic so, I’ve been here five years. So, I actually enjoy coming in here because it means I can come in, I can help people. I get to meet the volunteers, I get to meet the staff, I get to meet the customers. I get to find out about their stories and you learn a lot more from that.

And that’s more fulfilling than me Going out and playing sports or whatever, I’m no sporty fan.

Kaska: And, can you tell us a bit, about where you’re actually based, where we’re based here?

Tom: So we’re based in the Crichton Grounds in Dumfries, um, which used to be mental health in the hospital and the building we’re in used to be the old laundry for that. Um, now we’ve used that as our sort of base. So we have the warehouse, which is, and then our goods in, goods out area, and then we’ve got the office and things as well, you know, so.

It’s always, always nice because it’s always well manicured and everybody’s friendly and everybody sort of in here. And the summer when all the flowers and the trees are up and the gardens are on and the cyclists are out and people walk in and you get all the pets coming in and the dogs and it’s brilliant.

Kaska: So, how did you get involved in this work?

Tom: So, it was originally set up by, I think it was, uh, the River of Life Church in Scotland. Um, and then it progressed on to be the charity that is now, um, the aims of the charity have always been to, to try and support the homeless people and reduce waste and stuff going to landfill, which we do quite a lot and also, because we’re a Revolve accredited store, things that don’t meet the Revolve standard for sale. We then go to recycling centres and things, so there’s a lot, a lot of things that get recycled.

Kaska: What about your own personal journey? Can you share how you ended up in the position?

Tom: So, I actually suffered really badly from anxiety and depression, um, in 2016, 17 I think it was.

Um, the position came up as a funded post for working in the retail as a driver, so I’d no longer just passed my driving test as well. I love cars. And then it took me about two weeks to put the form in. That’s how bad my anxiety was when you leave the house and things, couldn’t sleep. I fumbled my way through the interview, managed to get in and

Ever since then, I’ve built up my confidence. Um, I moved on from driving a van to then being team leader to now being marketing officer. They also helped me and supported me setting up my own, uh, car detailing business as well. And it’s one of the main reasons that I still stay here because of the, the, the impact they’ve had on me.

The amount of volunteers and staff that we get through, if we can help them, all of them and help people in our local community supporting them out of being homeless which in turn helps their mental health. It’s a big thing for me. That’s why that’s that’s how it impacts me and that’s why I’m still here.

I love it.

Kaska: It sounds like an amazing place to be and yeah, what a transformation.

Tom: It’s a side that people don’t usually see, we do a lot stuff on the website and things like that, for what we , divert for landfill who we help and things like that, but we’re starting to release a wee bit more with the stories with the volunteers so they can see they’re getting their milestones, Saltire Awards and things like that.

Just showing that there’s a lot going on here.

Kaska: Yeah, yeah. It’s not just about things. about people. People and the community especially. We’re

Tom: Very community orientated.

Kaska: What’s your most cherished possesion

Tom: personally?

Kaska: Yes.

Tom: I don’t know. It’s more, I think.

I don’t think it’s a thing. It’s mere my ability to see the good in everybody. Like, I like seeing . I like seeing somebody that’s maybe not so confident and I like being the yin that can, can help them. ’cause it’s come through something that I’ve done, like I’ve been, and I’m like, if I can get hurt it or I can struggle with something, I can, I can make sure you can, you, you’re good.

And that’s what it’s, when, when I help people like that, that’s what, that’s what I like items. To me things are things you can always replace, things, people and feelings you can’t.

Kaska: So, when I say circular economy, or circular communities. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

Tom: So a circular economy to me is ensuring that everything that we use can be repurposed, reused. That we try and reducing waste and empowering people with knowledge to ensure that they can then repurpose and it can affect their ways and different lives as well.

We actually, we used to do upcycling classes as well, which we’re hoping to start again. So that’s another thing where the community could come in and just participate in these different classes. And obviously our warehouse supervisor, she is very crafty. taught us a lot.

We’ve done things like, um, upcycling, like lamps and different types of furniture. They’ve done, uh, book folding like Christmas trees and hedgehogs which I never thought I’d enjoy, but I got again, a book and then showed me and because I’m me, I had to finish it. So, I’m like, so I learned how to make a hedgehog outta a book.

Kaska: What’s the biggest challenge Shax has faced and had to overcome?

And what’s the lessons that you learned from that?

Tom: So I think the biggest thing is the amount of people, with the cost of living, with Covid happening, all the other things that are happening, especially community wise we’re not a big city, so everybody sort of pitches in and helps.

Because they’ve never had a marketing role before, so it’s making sure that everybody’s aware what we are doing, how we’re trying to help, and we’re just being resilient and making sure that we’re pushing through and showing that there is support available. If, if people get in contact with us for homeless support or there’s some other form of that, because there’s usually something else that goes with it that we don’t provide, but we will all signpost.

We work with, I think it’s well over 30 different, um, organizations that get referrals in and, um, we, we do a lot of work with different communities. And it’s making sure that you’re using all the resources and everybody’s helping each other.

And I think that’s how we’ve managed to keep going. We’re doing quite well.

And we can still help as many folk

Where in the world are you happiest?

Tom: Anywhere. Absolutely anywhere. I’m always happy, I’m always positive. So it’s, uh, I’m happy whether I’m at home or I’m in the garden or I’m at work.

I love work. I just, I love work too much. Or when I’m driving in the car or I’m listening to music. I love it all.

Kaska: What’s the most useful resource you can point people to who might be interested in running similar organization or working in a similar area you know, as a community group?

Tom: Obviously we, we have a lot of resources, we can point people in directions, there’s citizen advising, you’ve got circular communities as well.

We had a volunteer friendly award and this year we have got for the next three years is investing in volunteers. So that means that we meet a certain criteria of being, um, friendly for volunteers. It doesn’t matter what your background is, we have people with all different abilities.

So we’re very, very inclusive in Shax and we try and support and teach skills that we can maybe move on to different things.

Kaska: do you think that volunteers are happier to, to come and work with you?

Tom: Definitely. We have volunteers, volunteers that we have had for like eight years, longer than I’ve been here, that come in all the time and they get to do a range of different tasks and we get volunteers that come in and I get a hug from them when every day that they’re in and like it’s very, family, friendly, kind of like, everybody gets on, everybody makes sure everybody’s alright.

If somebody’s having a sort of bad day, we kind of make sure they’re all, if they want to talk about it, they can talk about it, if they don’t, they don’t, and it’s just, it’s such a nice environment.

Kaska: I’ll ask everybody this, and it’s sort of trying to. travel in time into the future, 10 years from now, and trying to imagine, uh, what this place would be like, if everybody did everything possible to address all the crisis that we’re facing, at the moment.

And then I would like you to share one memory from that future with us.

Tom: I think I already know it. So we have got awarded land on here to, to build on if we can get funding and things like that for a new build.

Which in 10 years time it’ll be a nice warm heat building. It’ll have a nice place where all the clothes are, it’s all merchandised and everything’s all really nice, so when you come in, when you walk through them doors, you see it, and you see that the reuse and used items arenae what people think it is.

You come in and you see the quality, that it’s nice and clean, that when you come in it smells fresh. It’s like a store, it’s just like anything else when you come in, and then we have somewhere where they’re maybe doing something with the, upcycling, so you’ll maybe get that sense of papier mâché or things like that, just glue and the paint and the everything that goes with that, and I think being in that moment after, from where they started to, to, to that would be amazing where it’s just they’ve kind of got that really nice building and somewhere that’s community driven where they can come in and they can actually sit and if there’s a cafe could come in, they could speak to us, have a conversation, find out the support in a in a friendly way.

Kaska: If you think about the space, what would it sound like?

Tom: You know when you walk into a cafe and you hear indistinct chatter, you hear the people that are happy, they’re talking, it’s not too loud, you can hear the coffee machine on.

You can hear people talking about the books and things and having conversations and passing information. We have people coming in and they’re telling us about their day, how they’re getting on. when you’re clapping the pets, so you’ll hear the pets giving a wee bark as well, and like, things getting moved about, trolleys and pallet trucks, and just a busy, nice working environment where it’s like, it just, it’d be amazing.

Kaska: Cool. I’m visiting in 10 years time.

Tom: I hope so, I hope so.

Kaska: The final thing is, anything you would like to add that we haven’t spoken. About, yeah.

Tom: I’ve got is just, just, for example of what we do, like, just, some of the stats is, um, recently, we’ve had a 42 percent increase in the homeless referrals for the starter pack since between April and August compared to last year roughly. Usually every year is 115 tons of waste we divert through landfill. We were invested in volunteers, we’ve had 213 work experience placements, and 2, 638 homeless people helped as well. So we, we help a lot of people and that just grows and grows as the demand goes on, and depending on what crisis and stuff we’re in.

We’ve always kind of met that demand. Everybody pitches in for the people that we get donations from, the people that come in and buy, the volunteers that help, the staff that help put it out, the volunteers.

And it’s just, it’s amazing that that whole, like, economy, the whole circle of family, people that just help and it’s, it’s crazy. It’s brilliant.

Kaska: Great. Well, thank you so much for chatting.

Tom: Well, thank you very much for having me.

Kaska Hempel (Narration): I truly hope Shax’ll soon be able to move from the old laundry building into a purpose built space at Crichton to help them bring even more heart and care into the local circular economy. In the show notes I’ve linked their website as well as that of the Circular Communities Scotland network which they are a member of. Plus the other resources we talked about.

I did not have to travel far for my next interview – I crossed the road and a couple of lawns to get to one of the big red sandstone buildings next door. I was meeting Rachel from the Crichton Trust itself. Tune in next week for that story.



Circular Communities Scotland

Investing in Volunteers Award

Volunteer Friendly Award

The Crichton Trust