The Dispensary health shop came into life at 6 Hunter Street, Whitby, in a tiny ground floor room, with a community library on the first floor. Our major impulses were to help people take back responsibility for their own health and to build community.
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 integral to planning and putting on the first 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.
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. We are part of Threes Company, an initiative which seeks to balance the social, economic and cultural elements of organisations, to rebalance their health.
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. 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 were headed.
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 at the time, we had some valuable and very much appreciated help 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. 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. 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,
In 2019 we opened the Breaking Bread Community Bakery, a joint initiative with Esk Valley Camphill Community, providing good hand baked bread to our community. 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 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-winning 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 eased, we hoped that the realisations we first witnessed would not be lost in the rush to get “back to normal”, that we would perceive the harm we do to animals and nature and take greater care.
In the Autumn of 2021, with the financial support of local natural health business, Nature’s Laboratory, we welcomed Zoe to our team as shop manager and more recently we also welcomed Alice and a new volunteer, Andy to our team.
Nature’s Laboratory, as part of their ethos to help support local community based health, also provides some IT and marketing support to The Dispensary.
And now, 10 years on from that small beginning in Hunter Street, we have much to celebrate. In addition to our shop, community library and bakery, we are looking forward to planning events and developing more initiatives such as access to alternative therapies, workshops in crafts, singing, gardening etc. and would love to hear your views on these, you can fill in a questionnaire on our website from 10th December. We are relaunching our website and online shop and would love your feedback. Whether a new or familiar face, everyone is welcome to come and help us to celebrate our 10th birthday on Saturday 10th December 10-5 at 25 Skinner Street, where there will be free healthy goody bags courtesy of Nature’s Laboratory, a free raffle for a lovely healthy hamper and a very warm welcome.
Our lasting hope is 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.
Common Cause Community Interest Company, which is not for profit, runs The Dispensary. The Dispensary is a community health initiative based at 25 Skinner Street , Whitby, which includes a health shop, community library and Breaking Bread Bakery , a jointly run community bakery with Esk Valley Camphill Community.