The Coniston Institute reopens with an Honest Shop

The Coniston Institute There is new life now in the old Coniston Institute

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One hundred and sixty years ago the Lake District saw the opening of the Coniston Institute to "curb drinking, idle minds and a general hanging about".

It was established to also offer "an education in the arts, science and humanities that would lead to productive employment and social reform".

On Saturday, the renovated Coniston Institute will open its doors with a whole new lease of life.

It will be a living, working celebration of the community and the arts and crafts fraternity which began when the artist, writer and social reformer John Ruskin moved to the area in 1852.

The Coniston community is only about 600 strong and is aiming for an openness and honesty that is being reflected in the institute and its new arts provisions.

In its hey-day, it provided for "an ideal education with reading room, bathhouse, assembly hall, library, theatre, billiard room, kitchen, art and craft studios and a collection of books, artefacts and art".

Honesty - the best policy

Today, through the collective efforts of Coniston residents and Grizedale Arts, the institute houses a new public library, new kitchens, indoor markets and the restoration of the reading room.

It also has a community-run village "honest shop".

Honest shop counter You simply write in the book what you buy and leave the money

"We had been running honest stalls in the village for some time," said Alistair Hudson, deputy director of Grizedale Arts, "and this seemed like a natural extension.

"We have had a soft launch for a couple of months and we've already taken around £3,000.

"This is a shop to which a wide range of local suppliers bring almost anything from frozen farm meat, vegetables, paintings, and the like and they are all sold in an honest manner," he added.

This community shop opens at 09:00 and is closed at 17:30 each day.

The suppliers deliver their goods, sign in the book what they have brought with their own product code - customers do much the same, but leave the money too.

The suppliers receive their aggregated percentage of 80% of the takings with the remaining 20% going to the Coniston Institute's upkeep.

Although there are a few general stores in the village, there seems to be no real competition.

The Coniston Institute

  • One of the best preserved examples of a 19th Century Mechanics Institute
  • First established in 1852 as a Mechanics Institute for the mining and quarrying community of Coniston
  • Became the foundation stone of Ruskin's arts and crafts movement

Mr Hudson said the sales in the institute's Honest Shop were complimentary to those of the village shops.

"We set out the rules before we started to ensure that everything is home made and we are within the law on food safety," he said.

"Even the institute's new Coniston Youth Group have created a series of temperance drinks based on seasonal produce - including the rather unusual rhubarb and mint cordial."

By working together and without the aid of large-scale grants, the village has drawn on the extraordinary history of the institute to revisit many of the values and ambitions of its 19th Century initiators.

"With this 'honest' approach in not only what we are doing in the institute, but the honest shop," said Mr Hudson, "we are continuing a slowly growing trend to a new community way of life."

The revived Grizedale Institute will be opened by writer and broadcaster Paul Farley on Saturday 15:30 BST.

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