Hanging on the gates outside Freida Mo’s shop are little bags which say everything about owner Sally Ayres’ love for her Lark Lane home.
In each one are home-baked cakes and pastries, remains of the day’s coffee shop trade, tied outside for anyone who is hungry to help themselves.
The community gates, as they’ve now become, began as Sally’s solo gesture of kindness but they’ve sparked something much bigger.
“People have just noticed what I’m trying to do and they’ve started joining in,” says Sally. “Now I come downstairs every morning and there’s a gate full of bags of food and clothes and it makes me so proud.
“It isn’t just homeless people who take what’s left, there are quite a lot of older people who live around here and some of them are struggling too, so it’s something that can help anyone who needs it.
“We’re all neighbours, and the gates are just a little way of bringing everyone together to feel part of something.”
Sally has been helping to bring back a sense of close-knit community to Lark Lane since she moved in to the former art gallery, living upstairs and transforming downstairs into Freida Mo’s vintage boutique, gift and coffee shop.
After running her own not-for-profit dance and theatre school near Brighton from the age of 16, Sally found a new home in Liverpool back in 2007.
“I did a road trip in 2005 with my best friend and we drove the whole of the UK but the one place that really struck a chord with me was Liverpool,” she remembers. “I just kept coming back. Two years later I sold everything I owned and just turned up here at a youth hostel and asked for a job.
“I had a really supportive family but no idea of what I was going to do, so I lived in the hostel on Falkner Square for three months and worked night shifts so I could live there for free, then I started teaching myself about the city so I could do walking tours to earn some money.”
After applying for every course at LIPA, Sally studied entertainment management, but although she finished her degree she never actually graduated. “I wrote my dissertation on punk and failed … how punk is that!” she laughs.
What she did gain – apart from a meeting with LIPA patron Sir Paul McCartney – was a love of vintage fashion which led to another career, buying up unwanted clothes from Oxfam before they were shredded and selling them at vintage fairs and festivals across the country.
Four years ago, looking to buy somewhere to live, she came across the gallery which was up for sale.
“I was looking at houses around Aigburth at first, but this was on the market and I’d always walk past and think about it. I was already a trader so it just seemed like an exciting opportunity to buy somewhere to live and work, all in one.
“Developers were trying to buy it so everyone who was interested had to write to the owner, who was an artist, to say what they wanted to do with it. They liked my idea so that was it, I just went for it.”
Sally opened Freida Mo’s – named after her two inspirational grandmothers – on St Patrick’s Day last year. “It was a full moon so I was trying to bring in all the luck!” she jokes.
In there she put not just vintage clothes, but a whole array of things from independent businesses, from vinyl to cacti, teas and coffees to handmade cards.
Each day Sally bakes cakes upstairs to sell – “because I love baking and cake makes people so happy, which I also love.”
Cake, and the tea and toast she serves daily, are another great way of starting up conversations, she adds.
“When anyone comes into the shop the most important thing is that we talk to them – I’m really aware that it’s very easy to be lonely in this city and that, for some people, it could be the only conversation they have all day. Making people feel like they’re part of a family is the most important part of this shop to me.
“I didn’t just want to be one of these people who comes to Lark Lane because they think it’s trendy, like Brick Lane in London where everyone’s jumped on the bandwagon.”
Over the past year, Sally has not only used her shop gates as a focal point, she organised and hosted a wedding for a homeless couple living on the Lane, amassing a huge amount of donations from the community, and she’s started running Solo Souls afternoons for people who feel lonely or isolated.
She also has a ‘pay-it-forward’ coffee scheme so customers can buy one for themselves and one for someone else.
“I think most people want a chance to be kind, they just don’t always know how,” she says. “In a city people often walk past and never know anything about each other. It can feel so empty. When I came here and opened the shop I really wanted to start bringing those people together and I feel like it still is.
“So I’m going to keep doing my little bit and I’m hoping that slowly but surely there might be a shop in Allerton or the city centre that might start doing it too.”
By Dawn Collinson, Copy Media
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