Way, way down in a deep, dark cave there lives a dragon to face the brave. Her ventricles are spurring smoke, she really is about to choke. A case of heartburn grabs her chest, that wretched human won’t digest.
Yet where can she find remedy? At Grimm & Co, oh silly me.
Alas, a case of the mad hatters hasn’t struck. For Grimm & Co is an apothecary for all the realms’ magical beings to descend upon.
Started by the seventh son of the seventh son, Graham Grimm, just before lunchtime in 1148, Grimm & Co has been around for centuries as a Yorkshire-based chemist. Invisible to humans, the apothecary has seen many a ghoul, gremlin and troll stock up on remedies to cure a serious head cold for the Bogeyman or a Hobbit’s bout of fungus foot.
But with times of austerity comes the need for drastic measures. With help from the almighty Queen of Shops, Mary Portas, Grimm & Co gave in and became visible for all to see and enter.
Stumbling into a gnarled, artisan world of fantasy, the shop on Doncaster Gate, Rotherham is every fiction-lover’s illusion of hope. Bringing inanimate objects to life in the most ingenious of ways, Grimm & Co hopes to inspire and entice minds both young and old with the power of words and imagination.
Jack has been battling those rotten giants again; he’s been winding them up, etching his name onto the beanstalk that stands tall and proud in this mystical shop. The fibreglass green slide in question that twists and turns in Grimm & Co was donated by Rotherham firm, Tech Spray. But there’s no magic beans here. They can’t be used as currency these days, apparently.
For magical beings with a few extra coins, the shop sells the likes of Junior Giant t-shirts in XXXXXL – of course, that would be XS on a giant. And for giants who simply haven’t got the time to be grinding the bones of children, they can stock up on a wholemeal bread mix, made from freshly ground bones – just add water.
After all that bread eating and chasing after Jack, the giants sometimes get a big ball of fluff in their belly buttons. With fingers like tree stumps, it can be hard to extract. But Grimm & Co have just the tool – a giant belly button cleaner. Made from ethically sourced Dodo feathers, this implement is perfect for giants or ogres in need of de-fluffing. But beware, it is only for naval use, no sticking in any other orifices or it may get stuck.
Fairies can pick up their kisses – not the sloppy kind, the thimble kind – and pixies and elves can fight off the wind with a cosy knitted hat. But don’t tell Oberon; as Grimm & Co also sell Fairy Dust made from 99% fairies.
Witches or Banshees looking for parchment on which to inscribe their most poisonous, wretched potions and incantations can find notebooks for spell books, or a book about how to avoid humans. How rude.
The magical being behind this old-found wonderment? An enchanting human female called Deborah Bullivant. As she takes us around this spellbinding jaunt, just over the moon from Rotherham high street, legends are re-told in the most ludicrous yet miraculous of ways.
Changing lives one story at a time, the Grimm & Co charity was set up by Deborah who had previously worked for Inspire Rotherham, an organisation aimed at inspiring children in literacy.
Instigated by the 826 Valencia movement in San Francisco, started up by author Dave Eggers, Deborah was in awe of Dave’s TED Talks online and his Once Upon a School idea – a passion to engage young people with the art of creative writing.
Making writing fun, Dave opened the Pirate Supply Store, selling false beards for Blackbeard, wooden leg oil, and parrot food for Pirates who sparsely left the hallowed decks. Subsequently, a fanatical following of sister stores popped up across America.
From The Superhero Supply Co in New York, to The Boring Store for undercover Secret Agents in Chicago, The Big Foot Research Institute in Boston, to the Time Travel shops in LA; all characters on both sides of the hero spectrum were catered for.
Tales of the phenomenon soon stretched over the tides, with capital cities itching to get their hands on the monster and mythical creature trade.
With a secret writing centre in each, which dedicates one-to-one support to children who need it most, Deborah knew that this is what Rotherham needed, too.
Contacting the Ministry of Stories in London, which neighbours with the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies shop, Deborah was intrigued to find that the Ministry of Stories was looking to branch out, and that they’d love for her to open in Yorkshire.
And so Grimm & Co could finally be unveiled from beneath its sheet of invisibility.
Backed by the likes of Michael Rosen, former Children’s Laureate and author of Bear Hunt, Joanne Harris, Barnsley-born author of Chocolat, and screenwriter Jeremy Dyson, one of the brains behind the League of Gentlemen, Grimm & Co officially opened its doors on the most mythical date in the solar calendar, February 29th.
After months of planning, preening and pretending, and an inundation of enquiries to this alluring store for the supernatural, as the Crow cries, children and young people from across the region have the chance to revel in its bewitching delights.
Open to all schools across Yorkshire, Grimm & Co offer literacy workshops aimed at children who are Phonic Novices rather than Masters of Synonyms.
After exploring the alchemy bar with the Potent Professor mixing up a storm, stepping aboard the Wicked-O-meter to check your wickedness, and marvelling at the last ever batch of Rocking Horse Poo – that really should be guarded- there’s so much more to discover.
Take to the depths of the Black Market Meat Cellar. Deborah tells us they open from late onwards and sell all matter of meat.
“There’s the Eighth Dwarf, Tasty, or Unicorn meat, which I really don’t like to sell as I’m quite friendly with them.
“And we also accommodate for Vegan witches. We haven’t got any in stock yet but we can place orders for Head of Lettuce or Eye of Potato,” she says.
And don’t forget to check out the Museum of Artefacts. Authentic relics from fairytales of old, see THE pea, the stick used to poke Hansel, a mysterious wand and a dragon’s scales.
Stealthy as we go, Deborah keeps it hush hush as she transports us through the secret door to the creative world upstairs. Thanks to Willmott Dixon, Grimm & Co were gifted with a bookcase-cum-portal that opens up into the glorious Imagination Station, whose walls are filled with the handwritten tale of Graham Grimm, as written by Jeremy Dyson.
As Deborah says, make sure you have your imagination with you, or face the doom of the implement extractors. Although children are blessed with thoughts of the far-off worlds, some ancient adults have lost theirs along the way. Deborah tells us the children have had to use the Thought Unblocker and Mind Oiler on many of their teachers as they cannot surpass without their imagination in-tact.
Up the story stairs lined with book sleeves, designed by The Workshop and printed by Rainforest Graphics, can you spot Graham Grimm as you run by? He may have popped through his mirror to another realm, but he’s more than likely left his slippers behind.
See the Corridor of Glory, filled with mugshots of those who have helped lift Grimm & Co off the ground. There’s Side by Side, the brains behind all branding, graphics and gimmicks of the shop; Airmaster UK; AESSeal; and Taylor Tuxford Architectural Surveyors to name a few.
Now for the good part. Its story time.
Collectively writing a story together, ideas flow from the children’s brains about characters, plots, twists and turns. Using the Gloves of Democracy, they hold a vote to which path their story takes.
Splitting into groups and with the help of a writing mentor, they class come up with a few sentences between them, choosing the best ideas as a whole.
Finishing their stories in their own individual way, each child is given their very own published work to take home, complete with illustrations and of course, their author’s by-line.
With 197 children taking part before they had even opened, Deborah tells me the one-to-one support they offer has been key to their success, with teachers commenting how excited the children were to write once back in the classroom.
Not just for schools, Grimm & Co have also had keen interest for after school and holiday workshops, where similar captivating classes will begin.
“We had one boy who had never read aloud, ever. Yet when I asked who wanted to read the story, he put his hand up. His teacher was squirming and signalling no, she knew he’d struggle and be embarrassed. But I decided, if he wanted to do it, he should give it a try.
“He read aloud at a pace, following my lead from the cursor. When he finished, the entire class stood up and clapped, he got a standing ovation. Even his teacher was crying,” Deborah tells us.
With boys historically being less inclined in literacy, Deborah says the impact Grimm & Co has had on boys such as the example above has been truly rewarding.
“Many young boys have before lost interest of motivation with literacy, they often say they hate reading or writing. And yet with classes such as ours, teachers have commented how they’ve experienced a greater vibe amongst the boys and a complete change in attitude.”
Maybe they’re in awe of the world of words, maybe they’ve found new heroes such as Jack the Giant Slayer. Maybe they’re excited to meet a leprechaun looking to buy a new pot for his gold, a Kraken wanting some tentacle ointment, or Rumplestiltskin after some more yarn to spin into gold. Whatever the catalyst, there is no doubt that Grimm & Co is a force to be reckoned with.