FEATURE: Curses and charms and spells, oh my...

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The old wooden shelves are full of magical potions, curses, charms and spell books.

Sorcerors hats are on display alongside jars of invisibility, dragon talon clippers and giants’ bellybutton cleaners - welcome to Grimm & Co’s ‘Apothecary to the Magical.’

The opening of Grimm's Apothecary

The opening of Grimm's Apothecary

For those of you who’ve ever watched Harry Potter wander down Diagon Alley and thought ‘that looks like a fun place,’ this new shop in the centre of Rotherham shop will be heaven.

“We’re the only place left in the world that stocks real rocking horse poo,” my guide Deborah informs me.

“It doesn’t matter to us if you’re a witch, an elf or a leprachaun, we don’t discriminate. Even humans are allowed in to our shop - as long as they’re buying a gift for a magical being.”

We pause for a moment at a display of magical artefacts and Deborah indicates a few she thinks I may be familiar with.

The opening of Grimm's Apothecary

The opening of Grimm's Apothecary

“We’ve been lucky enough to get our hands on Cinderella’s original glass slipper, the Princess’s actual pea, and Hansel’s poking stick.

“Ooh and don’t mind Malcolm, he’s been here waiting for his prescription for a while,” Deborah adds, indicating a skeleton in a top hat sat on a nearby couch.

This place is amazing, but incredibly the shop is merely a - highly entertaining - front, hiding a far more exciting purpose.

As we come to a bookcase, Deborah reveals the reason we’re really here. She bends to straighten up an item on the bottom shelf and the whole bookcase creaks open. As we step through into the hidden room, I see the walls are filled with writing and, on a nearby table, is a plunger labelled ‘thought unblocker’ and a fishing net marked ‘creativity catcher.’

The opening of Grimm's Apothecary

The opening of Grimm's Apothecary

“An an adult, we’ll need to use these on you before we can carry on up the stairs,” Deborah instructs. Minutes later we’re climbing the staircase - made of giant book spines - to the top floor. Finally, we’ve arrived.

The huge floor houses The Story Lounge, Grimm & Co’s brand new writing and mentoring centre for children and young people - and it’s incredible. Rails of costumes, shelves of books and tables of equipment surround a creative area with projectors and twinkly lights. When it’s time to go home, kids can ride Jack’s beanstalk slide all the way down to the shop.

And Deborah is no ordinary guide. She is in fact Deborah Bullivant, the founder of Yorkshire charity Grimm & Co, which has been working in the region for two years hosting writing workshops and programmes in schools. Finally, after raising hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations, funding and sponsorshop, and two years spent building, Grimm & Co has a home - and some big plans to go along with it.

“We’re expecting to host 1,300 young people at the centre in our first year, for various writing classes and after school clubs - all completely free of charge,” says Deborah.

The opening of Grimm's Apothecary

The opening of Grimm's Apothecary

“This is where the kids imaginations can really run wild; a place dedicated to building aspirations and creativity. We’re here to be a writing and mentoring space, helping young people to think in new ways, acquire skills and realise their potential through the joyful discovery of stories and the development of their imagination. The message we want to share is that writing is all around us and it’s something that can be enjoyed by everyone.”

And Deborah, a former head teacher who has worked in education for years, is thrilled to report the centre has already seen an influx of children signing up to take part in its after school clubs.

“Kids are quick to take part in sports and dance clubs, but getting them excited about reading and writing has always proven a little more difficult,” she says.

“That’s what makes this place truly magical. In the first two weeks, we had 92 kids sign up. The children who’ve been here already have absolutely adored it, I’ve seen kids go through the secret door and actually gasp.”
And Deborah is quick to pay tribute to the people who helped make the dream of the centre a reality.

“We must thank all the funding bodies, as well as local businesses that gave materials and their time,” she says.

“We’ve also had incredible support from writers such as Joanne Harris, Ian McMillan, Paul Clayton and our patron Sir Bob Geldof.

“The centre may be based in Rotherham but there’s no doubt it a Yorkshire centre,” says Deborah.

“We hope children from all across the region will come to experience the wonders it holds.”