The latest stories, straight to your inbox

The latest stories, straight to your inbox

Be inspired every day with Living North

Subscribe today and get every issue delivered direct to your door
Subscribe Now
Be inspired every day with Living North

Meet the Husband and Wife Team Behind Gateshead-Based Social Enterprise, Green Heart Collective

Meet the Husband and Wife Team Andy and Helen Redfern, outside their shop Green Heart Collective
May 2024
Reading time 5 Minutes

Founders Andy and Helen Redfern aim to reduce waste to landfill by encouraging everyone to buy secondhand

They give us a sneak peek inside their secondhand shop as they celebrate winning Best Emerging Second Hand Enterprise 2023 - North East as part of the Northern Enterprise Awards 2023.

Andy has years of experience as an IT expert in online ethical retail whilst Helen has experience in retail and community work. The couple met at the University of Warwick and moved to the North East with their children in 1996. Andy founded Ethical Superstore in 2005 with business partner Vic Morgan, and after three years at Asda Living Gateshead as the Community Life Champion, Helen took on the role of in-house writer at Yogamatters, where Andy joined as Operations Director.

‘I’ve always been interested in green issues and caring for people and planet in terms of Fair Trade and ethical shopping,’ says Helen. ‘During the pandemic particularly I was thinking a lot about waste going to landfill and fast fashion because I love clothes and I realised that I wanted to stop buying new. I started buying secondhand but had some friends who really didn’t want to buy secondhand at all so I wondered what it would be like to try and set up something that would encourage others not to buy new, because I think that’s the way forward. Andy’s got the tech background and I’ve got the customer service vision so between us we knew we could make this work.’

It struck a chord with Andy too, and Green Heart Collective has been working with local organisations and individuals since December 2019 to save clothes, yoga equipment, books and other items from landfill. ‘I guess there was a soft launch during lockdown when I was working from a room in our house and friends were bringing donations and dropping them in a box at the front of the house and I was selling on platforms like Depop and eBay,’ Helen says. ‘Then we got a warehouse at Team Valley [in 2021] so we developed the online business and opened a showroom.’

clothes and homewares inside Green Heart store

Andy and Helen began asking people to drop off items they no longer wanted. ‘That helped us to start making a lot of links with other organisations,’ Andy explains. ‘We began to realise that, for example, there’s no point in us doing furniture because Foundations Furniture or Orange Box North East were so much better placed than us with bigger space, expertise and drivers, so we began working with them and sending them all of our furniture referrals. We began building our network and finding out what our niche was, which was very much in clothing. The biggest thing we’ve achieved is raising awareness amongst businesses about how they can make choices about where their waste goes.’

The collective also prides themselves on reusing packaging where possible and have acquired boxes and plastic mailers from other businesses which no longer need them. ‘I think individuals are already quite aware that they can take things to a charity shop or a social enterprise to stop it from being thrown away, but sometimes the questions go wider than that and I don’t think businesses do enough thinking about these issues,’ says Andy. ‘We’re currently in discussions with an organisation which gets a lot of lost property so we’re discussing how if, after a suitable amount of time has passed, people don’t claim it we might be able to take it off their hands to sort for sale or to pass on to one of the local charities we’re working with. Again that’s things that would be thrown away – we’re just trying to think of different ways of doing things.’

Early last year Andy and Helen began searching for a new base, which would not only have better accessibility for visitors but also encourage a community spirit. ‘We were attracted to Gateshead High Street and I have a vision for what it could be – it’s a lovely, wide street with great views but it’s got so many empty properties and it felt like it was a place that could become something more than it currently is,’ says Helen. They opened their new secondhand shop on Gateshead High Street in August 2023.

‘We’ve worked with some young people who’ve
struggled to find work for various reasons – we’re
trying to build more of a community feel’

‘It started as a collective with the idea that we wanted other people involved and we have volunteers, a couple of other members of staff, and we’ve worked with some young people who’ve struggled to find work for various reasons (whether that’s mental health issues or neurodiverse needs) – we’re trying to build more of a community feel.’

The new shop, called Green Heart, allows Green Heart Collective to be part of a solution to make Gateshead High Street a destination for shopping small with local and independent businesses, whilst also offering a more ethical and sustainable way to shop. In recognition of this, Green Heart Collective were awarded Best Emerging Second Hand Enterprise 2023 – North East as part of the Northern Enterprise Awards 2023. ‘To win the award was very gratifying. It’s good to know that we’ve actually taken some steps that are making a difference, and they’re getting recognised,’ says Andy. ‘It was also good to win something because back in November we were shortlisted for the the Social Enterprise UK Tech for Good awards for our online selling and processing of secondhand items. We were very excited to be shortlisted but we didn’t win, so to actually win this one was the icing on the cake.’

Andy and Helen are now looking at how they can continue to expand their offering, having previously held transformation (sewing) challenges and yoga workshops. ‘The first few months are about getting settled in and being known in the area, but we will develop that with new ideas. We do have such a diverse range of people who come through the door and I’m really interested in chatting more to them and working out what we might do,’ explains Helen. ‘I’m certainly interested in the idea of a climate café where people could come in to share their concerns about the climate. I know people locally have done repair cafés too. We’re open to doing a lot more to encourage people to learn how to sew and repair their items.

‘On a regular basis we get such a lot of positive feedback from customers. People have a view of what a secondhand shop is going to be like so we’ve been really careful to make sure that our shop looks more like a boutique. People are so surprised and encouraged when they come in. Certainly one of my focuses for this year, because we’re not a charity, is to develop our identity so people understand more that we are a social enterprise and what that means. People who want to think about buying secondhand but don’t want to trawl around a lot of charity shops might see us as a destination. When we moved it was a whirlwind and now we’re on the other side we’ve got a bit more headspace to do some thinking and we’re changing the shop around a bit based on the feedback we’ve had and the things we’ve observed. We’re developing a more regular volunteer base which I’m hoping will form a part of the collective too. We’re also developing a community board in store which I’ve wanted to do but we haven’t really had the space to until now. For me it’s about listening to the people who come through the door and building with them. To breathe a bit of life into this part of Gateshead would be wonderful.’

Andy is pleased to see support from the council in regard to this. ‘It’s really interesting that Gateshead Council has just launched a project to help and develop social enterprises,’ he says. ‘They’re really recognising that they add an extra dimension. We’re different from charities and different from normal businesses, but what we do bring is employment opportunities and experience of a workplace. For a number of those who’ve helped over the last year, we’ve been able to write references and help them with skills and they’ve gone on to get jobs. The council is recognising that and that’s really exciting.

‘We’re also excited because the council, at long last, is going to have a town centre manger, recognising that with some creativity and a little bit of investment we could actually create something really special here.’

Green Heart is open from 10am–5pm from Tuesday to Friday and from 10am–4pm on Saturdays. Find the shop at 231–233 High Street, Gateshead.

Find out more at

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.

Please read our Cookie policy.