A ONCE-STRUGGLING Darlington jewellery store has regained its sparkle after making the switch from a mainstream retailer to a hub for creative artisans.

Hoppers, in Post House Wynd, last year went from trading as a regular high street jeweller to a local co-operative, showcasing the work of artists and jewellery makers from Darlington and the surrounding area.

Joint owner Emma Howe says the business has never looked back since and now has about 30 creatives on its books.

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Miss Howe took over the business four years ago with colleague Martine Holborow (CORR), when the shop’s previous owner retired.

The decision to diversify came out of necessity, when trade started to suffer amid continuing economic gloom.

Most of the proceeds from sales go to the creators of the pieces, with the shop taking a 30 per cent cut as commission.

Miss Howe said: “The whole point is that everything is locally-made, Guisborough is the furthest away any of our artists are from.

“Whereas before we were all about traditional jewellery and watches, we now sell everything from ceramics to hand-made teddy bears.

“We have completely diversified, although we do hold a small amount of silver and fashion jewellery and we still have links with suppliers, so if a regular customer wanted a specific item, we would be able to get it for them.”

Asked why Hoppers took the unusual step of changing its entire business ethos, Miss Howe’s reply is a stark reminder of the economic climate faced by many independent retailers.

“We needed to,” she says, simply. “Trade was just diabolical, there are a lot of other traditional jewellers in the town and we were starting to struggle.

“People do not have the money to spend on gold and diamonds like they used to.”

The change came about after a conversation Miss Howe’s father had with a friend, who said that Darlington lacked an outlet for people making and selling their own items.

Miss Howe added: “It was a big change, but a positive one and hopefully things will keep getting better.

“We are always looking for new people to come on board.”