Love Grace Bags - church and community in action

First published on: 23rd February 2022

By Diane Bayley, member of Holy Saviour’s Tynemouth

Many will be aware through media reports, of the murder of Grace Millane in New Zealand in December 2018 on the eve of her 22nd birthday.

Grace’s cousin, Elizabeth Lee, is a member of the congregation at Holy Saviours Church, Tynemouth, and Grace was one of her bridesmaids when she married in the church in August 2012.

Following the tragic event in New Zealand, Grace’s family have been raising money for the White Ribbon charities here in the UK and New Zealand. The charity educates at a grassroots level and raises awareness of male violence towards women - a cause also strongly supported by the Duchess of Cornwall.

Grace was a lover of nice handbags, and so her family took things one step further working alongside a local women’s refuge to fill handbags to give to women who are fleeing from domestic violence and seeking refuge. An initial target of 50 bags was the aim but this was surpassed because of the generosity and offers of help they received. Further appeals have run in New Zealand, Singapore, USA and Canada and have resulted in well over 11,000 women receiving a ‘Love Grace’ handbag

Domestic violence towards women, as we are aware, is a huge issue and we hear it being reported time and time again in the news and most recently with the Sarah Everard case. Cases of domestic violence during the lockdown increased massively and therefore so did the pressure on refuges.

At Holy Saviours we set a challenge at the beginning of December to collect good quality handbags and toiletries and then make up bags for local refuges. We felt that there were a lot of unused handbags and toiletries bought as gifts and never used, lurking in cupboards. It was also leading up to Christmas and offers were there in the shops – ‘buy one get one free’ – and unwanted gifts were about to be received. It seemed a good time to launch our appeal.

This was also a double challenge, to work alongside the community and ask people not only to donate but to support the appeal by giving their time and help to pack the bags. The appeal went out via Facebook groups, WhatsApp groups, social and friendship groups and two shops in Tynemouth Village - Fezziwigs and Artichoke - got on board and offered to be drop-off points for donations.

This was to be very much about Church and community coming together and strengthening local links, showing the church in action and most importantly supporting vulnerable people.

We set Sunday 6 February as the date to come together with our friends and neighbours to make up the bags and get them ready for distribution to women’s refuges. The parish hall was set up the night before to enable easy packing and members of the church volunteered to supply refreshments on the day.

What a response we have had. We had a hall full of bags, toiletries, scarves, perfume, make up and more! The generosity and kindness of others was overwhelming. The hall had a buzz as people excitedly chose things for the bags they were packing and interacted with those alongside them. Our church - community relationship was working well and so was the packing. In our first hour we had put together 50 bags.

Each bag was completed with a scarf tied to the handles and a gift tag which simply said ‘Love Grace’ – a copy of Grace’s own handwriting and her floral artwork.

When Elizabeth and I first planned the event, we were reluctant to put a figure on the number of bags we would make up but felt 70 was being optimistic. By 2pm on Sunday we had used all our supplies - and that included a trip to the supermarket for more essential items – we had made up a total of 157 bags!

We had a very busy full-on day - making new friends within our community and strengthening existing links - and we hope to build on this. We hope that we have been able to make a difference in the lives of others by living out our Christian faith. By Monday lunchtime we had already seen 90 bags go to local refuges – such is the demand locally! The making up of bags and collections will continue and a big appeal is being looked at as an annual event in Tynemouth and for Church and community to grow together.

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