Community, compassion and cracking vintage clothes... Dave Lynch embodies the qualities his Inverness shop The Village is bringing to the Highlands.
“The jacket I’m wearing is a Jaeger design from the 1960s, still well made, still fashionable, still looks great. I can’t believe some of the clothing we buy now will be intact in 60 years time. I can only imagine the industry that created with all the mills and the people who made buttons. Vintage on one hand reminds me of quality, sustainability and, on the other hand, it has a story.’
As we chat at Kool Runnings, the Jamaican restaurant round the corner from The Village, the affable 51-year-old Mancunian’s passion for clothes and soul music shines through, his zest for life almost evangelical. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that in his 30s he followed a higher calling, moving North to train as a pastor, at the Highland Theological College in Dingwall.
“I had the option to be a minister or pastor, but my interest had developed more into social and community growth and I felt that was best served outside of the church and outside an organised religious structure. But I took a job as the Railway Mission chaplain for the North of Scotland which meant I supplied pastoral care to railway staff from Perth to Thurso, Aberdeen to Kyle of Lochalsh.’
On July 7, 2005, all of Dave’s support skills were called upon when a quirk of circumstance meant he was one of the first chaplains on hand at the time of the London Underground terror bombings, in which fifty two members of the public died.
“I was down for my sister’s wedding in Oxford and I got a phone call to say – ‘you probably won’t be called on because you are so far away, but be on standby, there’s been a major incident, we are just starting to get information on the news.’ When I said I was actually in Oxford, he said, ‘right, you are actually one of the closest chaplains so you have to get to London right now.’
“So I went straight in and offered just pastoral support at King’s Cross station. Then I was sent round to Tavistock Square where the incident was on the bus and I was just speaking to the police officers there. That was probably the most significant thing during my time as a chaplain.”
But Dave’s life was soon to take a different track. “Organised religion meets a certain need for a certain group of people but for me, then and now, it still it doesn’t meet those needs, and it seemed the right thing to step out of, rather than cause friction within it. But I still have a faith, no doubt about that.
“I got to know lots of rail staff, I did weddings for people, funerals for people, but I was hungry to see some community built and outreach for groups so I just thought, what if we open a community shop, not only to fund community events, but a social hub where people could meet.
“Opening The Greenhouse in Dingwall took up all my time so there was an interesting transition – I was paid by the Railway Mission and I worked voluntarily setting up the shop, but then as it grew I ended up working voluntarily for the Mission and being paid by The Greenhouse.”
His hard work wasn’t going unnoticed. The Observer crowned him one of the ‘UK’s Top 50 New Radicals’ for his work at The Greenhouse. Then just over a year ago he took a lease on a disused bookshop in Union Street in the Highland capital. This new chapter for the building has seen it grow into a thriving meeting point, offering tiny rents to start-up businesses, including its newest addition, a Spanish tapas cafe.
Vintage clothing takes prominence in The Village. “I sold a white shirt to someone and it was from Sweden in the 1920s and the original owner’s name was still sewn in it. He was one of the foremost leaders in promoting Esperanto as a language. You have this whole history and here’s a £15 shirt which is still in a great condition. It’s the quality, the stories and it just looks good.”
In keeping with the retro theme, there’s also a vinyl record section – as a former Northern Soul DJ, music also plays a huge part in Dave’s life.
‘My oldest sister was into it in the ’70s – she used to go to the big Northern Soul clubs, the Wigan Casino, Twisted Wheel. My future brother-in-law was a scooter addict, a skinhead with Doc Martens, so growing up in Manchester in the ’70s there was a lot of exposure to soul music. A crowd of us in school used to buy our records by mail order from a place in Kings Lynn. You would have to wait two weeks – completely unacceptable these days!
“I started going to these clubs, worked on my dance steps, getting into it more and more. I started to DJ on the Northern Soul scene in the ’80s as well and something I’ve done consistently. When I came up here, Donald McAll was running New Soul City which was really good but I felt there wasn’t a coherent Soul or Funk scene in the Highlands and I’ve often wondered why that is.
“It may just be that the music never really made it up here to the same extent, that there was other more traditional forms, Scottish bands. One of the things I have noticed is that Scottish people, especially in the Highlands are very passionate about music, especially live music. My guess – and this is all observation – is that there’s never been a huge reliance on music coming in from other areas like America because there’s always been a strong scene of local bands.’
“I’d like to host a Soul Weekender and bring in other music like funk and reggae, something to support the Old Town area. It’d be great to use local pubs and restaurants. We are keen to do it towards the end of March, a time traditionally that’s quite hard in retail, people would be able to come to events, including films and food and not have to pay a festival fee, they’d pay at the door of the event they wanted to go to.’
“We’re in talks with Ironworks and a few major artists, one from the States I’ve been speaking to, a soul artist, and also UK artists. Let’s stop leaving the Highlands to find something good to go to - why are people going to Glasgow and Edinburgh for the weekend? Clearly there is a thriving local music scene – so Inverness deserves it.”
Dave clearly likes to ‘keep it local’ and his philanthropic attitude extends to his choice of dining venue.
“I grew up with a lot of spicy food. I wanted to come here because of the music, and Glenroy the owner’s running a small business, we should support them. Maybe in the quieter months he could do a Jamaican cooking classes to fill the restaurant, or hold a reggae night and have the food on a central table.”
The Village is becoming a destination in its own right, with Dave being approached by enthusiasts in Perth and Aberdeen to set up similar ventures there. But for now he’s concentrating on developing the shop’s basement into a venue, already hosting Northern Soul dance classes and acting as a rehearsal room for Edinburgh Fringe performers.
‘Something makes me think The Village is a stepping stone to something else - I would like to see a whole department store, a bigger space to encourage the social side of it to grow, with more young people with business ideas that The Village can support, offering low cost rent or no rent until they find their feet. I would like to see us support more new business’.
At the core of all his ideas seems to be a deep need to help others – an irrepressible spiritual side to this Soul man.
‘I think it comes from a simple belief that humans are built for community. We are built to live and work together. We live in a technological age which separates us – people watch TVs in their own rooms, go on their laptop. Put headphones in as they walk the streets so they can’t even hear the birds or other people talking. Society is driving us to be individuals and I think the best way for humanity to function is in community – it’s what sets us apart from every other animal on the planet. That’s the best way for me to function. So my life is a lot happier when it’s spent amongst other people.”
Kool Runnings is at 14 Church Street, Inverness. Call 01463 230856. The Village is on Union Street, Inverness. Call 07944 288562.