FAIR Shares - a countywide volunteer organisation which helps build stronger communities - has opened its first charity shop.

Formed in Stonehouse in 1998, Fair Shares was the country's first 'time bank'.

A time bank brings people together to share skills.

For every hour volunteered helping someone, a Fair Shares member is entitled to an hour's help in return.

The idea is to create a network of neighbours helping neighbours.

And the help provided can take many different forms - from practical tasks such as gardening, giving lifts or running errands to simply helping someone learn a new skill.

"We organise for someone to get a helping hand and then later the favour is returned," said Fair Shares' chief executive Lawrence Hughes.

The charity hopes the shop, opened on Friday in Stonehouse High Street next to the Co-op, will generate more funds so it can raise awareness and recruit more volunteers.

Five Fair Shares members Malcolm Francis, 59, Eric Catchpole, 73, Valerie Flemington, 73, Margaret Horton, 67 and Roy Hayes, 73 were on hand to help with the launch, which saw residents invited in for cake and a cuppa.

Because the celebrations coincided with BBC Children in Need, 10 per cent of the day's takings were donated to the appeal.

Val, an active Fair Shares member since 1999, started out by helping a disabled woman with her shopping.

"All these years later I am still doing it and we have become very good friends," she said.

"Helping each other with every day activities like shopping and gardening has been a really good way of helping others and making new friends."

Several schools in the area have also expressed an interest in getting involved.

Pupils from Maidenhill attended the launch and are keen to assist with recycling work, while students from Wycliffe College could volunteer in the charity's new premises.