The blossoming of Allium

The Northern Echo: Growing reputation: Alison Wilkinson among her eclectic collection of gifts Growing reputation: Alison Wilkinson among her eclectic collection of gifts

As Christmas rushes on, Jenny Needham visits a perfect little gift shop that’s just opened its doors in Barnard Castle.

IT’S the last shopping weekend before Christmas and a mild panic could be setting in if you haven’t bought all your presents yet. Which is why a visit to Allium Interiors, Barnard Castle’s new gift shop, could be in order.

It’s full of perfect presents, a Santa’s grotto of lovely surprises… only much more classy.

Owner Alison Wilkinson had dreamt for years of opening her own interiors and gift shop. An inveterate reader of glossy mags, she has always kept a close eye on what’s new to buy out there.

The 49-year-old worked as a nurse at Darlington Memorial Hospital and then in her husband’s pharmacy business, where she couldn’t resist selling things like candles and traditional children’s toys. Then, when her daughter went to Polam Hall school, in Darlington, Alison did Christmas fairs there.

“I’ve wanted to open somewhere like this for about ten years and looked at lots of premises over the years, but I’m a great believer that things will happen when they are meant to. Everything finally came together when we moved to Barnard Castle,” says Alison.

Her 11-year-old son started at Barnard Castle School and just down the road Alison spotted the perfect place for her shop, a stonewalled two-room outlet full of character, opposite the Nest, a café and art gallery.

Outside hangs a pretty sign with a picture of an allium flowerhead. The name came about accidentally. “I had been meaning to open a shop for so long, and was already going round trade fairs. I put in an order and was put on the spot when asked for my company name.

I’m called Ali and I’d ummed and ahhed about a name for years, so Allium seemed very appropriate,”

laughs Alison.

The catalyst for Alison’s interest in buying and selling started when she lived in Darlington.

“I was looking for things for the house and knew they existed because I’m such an avid magazine reader, but I could never find any stockists in the North-East,” she says. She tracked down the stockists herself, invaluable practice for her current work.

“My collection of gifts is quite eclectic. I just put things in the shop that I like,” she says. “I source things on the phone and internet, or go to trade fairs: the nicest one is in Paris.”

Allium stocks all sorts: funky sheep keyrings and mugs from The Herdy Company in the Lake District; sweet-smelling Neom Organics candles and body products, from Harrogate; beautifully coloured woollen scarves and blankets from the Irish company Avoca; Union Jack-patterened Retreat Home and Blondie Mania bags; French-style painted furniture from India Jane, Neptune furniture that you can order from the catalogue; Clarins facial products; Savon de Marseilles liquid soaps and Suzanne Jewellery, handmade on the doorstep in Barnard Castle.

The shop is a bit tucked away off the main street, but already Alison’s reputation is growing.

Her award-winning Christmas window display also entices passers-by into her treasure trove.

“I am a bit off the beaten track,” says Alison, “but a lot of people seem to have told others about me. The nice thing is that everyone seems to say that Barnard Castle needed a shop just like this.”

And on the weekend before Christmas, if you haven’t already bought all your presents, the chances are that you might need a shop just like this too.

■ Allium Interiors, 26 Newgate, Barnard Castle, DL12 8NG. Tel: 01833-638696.

Pandora’s treasure box

STUCK for a last-minute present for your mum, sister or girlfriend?

Pandora charm bracelets have become very popular in the past year. The idea is to buy a basic bracelet in varying finishes, and add a charm or bead to it on every special occasion, be it birthdays, anniversaries or Christmas. With endless combinations available, there is something to suit all budgets and styles. But if you’re looking for something other than bracelets, Pandora also offers jewellery such as earrings and rings.

To celebrate the festive season, Pandora is offering a one-off promotion, exclusive to the Newcastle area. From today until Christmas Eve, the first 50 customers who spend £100 or more on Pandora jewellery, will receive a charm from the latest collection of its signature line, Moments.

To locate your nearest participating shop, visit pandora.net

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