Published: 12:00, 16 August 2014
It started off as nothing more than a lunchtime chat but more than a year later Give Vintage is a thriving and fashionable shop breathing life into part of Maidstone which has for years been forgotten.
The tiny space, in Lower Stone Street, is more than just a clothes store though, and gives people who have been affected by mental health issues a chance to step back into everyday life.
As a social enterprise any profit made is ploughed back into charitable projects, such as providing arts and computer courses for people coming out of psychological treatment.
The shop is kept going thanks to the work of a small, dedicated team of volunteers, who all have links to emotional trauma themselves, led by Kerry-Ann Maxwell, a mental health nurse working at an NHS rehabilitation hospital in Tonbridge Road, and Charlie Whibley, a former nurse at the same unit.
The pair both invested £10,000 in the business, which opened last November, and are helped by Chris Mead and Kerry-Ann’s boyfriend Colin Cato.
The Aylesford resident, 41, who ran a stall in Camden Market from 1999 to 2005 before going to university to study psychology, said: “Charlie and I saw a need for ways of integrating people who have experienced psychological trauma back in to the community.
“There aren’t too many opportunities available and we thought we could help by combining two of our passions.”
Following a rocky first few months with flooding affecting business, Give Vintage has started to gain popularity thanks to word of mouth, and last month fashion icon Wayne Hemingway dropped by.
The 53-year-old Red or Dead co-founder had been out for a run in the area while his son played cricket when he came across the store.
Mr Hemingway, who bought a pair of shoes and jacket from the shop, said: “Social enterprises are a growing concept.
“It’s about helping and sharing and was somewhere where I was comfortable spending money.
“I saw a pair of shoes that fitted nicely, it was a lovely place and I’d check it out again if I came back to the town.”
It was a surreal experience for starstruck Kerry-Ann, but one which showed that her labour of love was finally getting some recognition.
Eventually she and Charlie hope to move to a bigger shop and provide furniture and fashion workshops alongside the existing opportunities to volunteer.
With collaborations with similar Maidstone shops on the horizon, this intriguingly tiny and cluttered space looks set to make a big impact on Maidstone's retail scene.
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