Dave Jones Benevolent Butcher
By Samantha Rea
Dave Jones is a butcher from Barnsley whose community spirit is inspiring the nation. He offers help to those experiencing financial hardship, whether they need cooking equipment, food parcels, or a suit to wear to an interview. The assistance Dave can give personally is limited to his Yorkshire village – but his social media posts are retweeted thousands of times, motivating people across the UK to do good deeds in their local community.
Shying away from the limelight, Dave didn’t want to be pictured, but he did give us an insight into how we can all #BeMoreDave. Meet the man behind the tweets...
A few weeks ago, you posted a tweet offering to buy a microwave, a toaster, a kettle and a month’s electricity for a family who needed help. What was the outcome?
We helped three families. One had been moved to a safe house following a marriage breakdown: they were starting out from nothing. One woman had been evicted after her husband passed away, and the other one had hit rock bottom. It was really nice to help them get back on their feet.
That post was retweeted over 2,000 times: did anyone else get in touch?
We got a large response, but unfortunately, you sometimes have to say, ‘I’ve done what I can do now. I can’t do anything else at this moment in time.’ You’ve got to use your life skills, and your past experience to know who really needs help, and you get a feel of whether something’s right. These were genuine people.
At half term you offered free food parcels to families struggling to feed their children over the holidays, but you can’t help anyone if you go out of business. Is your partner fully supportive, or does she ever worry that you’re giving too much away?
The business is well supported by the local community, so when I’m in a position to help, I do. I can’t help absolutely everybody, but it’s important that we give back. My partner is fully supportive, but I don’t do anything without discussing it with her. She’s in the same mould as I am, probably kinder in a lot of ways, certainly regarding her people skills. Sometimes she might say, ‘Leave that at the moment, but do it another time.’ It’s brilliant that she supports me, I wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise, and I don’t think we’d be together if we weren’t both that way. We want to be helpful and kind to people.
On Facebook, you offered to help local families at Christmas, and someone replied to your post offering to donate decorations. Do you think that what you do inspires other people to get involved?
I think it does. One of the reasons we do it is because it inspires other people to contribute to their community. Sometimes they just need an outlet, and the knowledge that, ‘I can drop this food parcel off here and I know it’ll be passed on to people in need.’ We do regular appeals for the local foodbank, and it’s immense what the customers bring in. When I asked if people would bring us a tin of potatoes instead of buying us a Christmas card, we ended up with 400 tins, which we gave to the foodbank, so it does inspire people. I ask the foodbank what they’re short of, and in summer it was UHT milk; today, it was tinned rice pudding. There are children waking up in severe poverty. Some of them haven’t even got carpets or curtains. So, if we can do our bit, in our area, and if that inspires other businesses, and other people, that’s a fantastic result.
Would you like us, as a society, to be in a position where you didn’t need to help in the way you do?
Absolutely. We shouldn’t have to support foodbanks to make sure people have food on the table. We’re a rich nation: we’ve got a huge amount of money. Unfortunately, it’s not channelled into helping vulnerable people. Any civilised country should look after its sick, its elderly, its disabled, and its less fortunate people. Our government chooses not to do that. They’d rather give tax breaks to corporations and billionaires than help people who’ve hit hard times.
You’re very tuned in to what people need; for instance, there was another post where you invited people to use your wifi to access Universal Credit and job applications. I read a news story about a woman ending up penniless due to missing a Universal Credit appointment that she had no knowledge of, because she’d become homeless and didn’t have internet access. What gives you your insight?
I think it’s your upbringing and your connection with people, and an awareness of what’s going on in the country; staying away from the tabloids, and listening to people who are on Universal Credit, and realising how things affect people. It’s being grounded, and aware of the pressures people are under.
I saw that you retweeted a guy who runs a charity shop, who was inviting people to come in and use the wifi. He’d clearly been inspired by your tweet. Is it nice to see the domino effect of your actions?
Yes, and other people have messaged me to say, ‘We’re offering the same – we’ve put a sign up in our window!’ It’s great, because these aren’t willy nilly tweets off the top of my head. I’ve thought about them, and aimed them at the people I think we can help the most.
Do you think there are people who need help, but who struggle to accept it, through a sense of pride?
I think there is a pride issue. Not everybody wants to ask for help. Normally, in cases like that, a family member or friend will message me about them. Often, they’ve tried to help, but they can’t do everything, so I’ll see if I can take a bit of pressure off for mealtimes.
There’s one lady I’ve just helped who was recommended to me. She’d landed her dream job, and she was waiting for her first month’s wage, and in between time, she’d been waiting for Universal Credit, which takes ages. She’s got three children, so I took her a food parcel because it must be scary to wonder whether you can feed your kids. She was delighted, and she messaged afterwards to say I’d inspired her children, which is so nice. If those girls grow up and remember that kindness, and take it out there, that’s great.
Were these values you were brought up with yourself?
Yes, my grandad was a Yorkshire miner, and my grandmother was an old-fashioned Yorkshire miner’s housewife. They were members of the Labour party, and in those days money was scarce, but families helped each other. I remember there was a lad whose mum and dad had absolutely nothing, and I used to go to my grandma on my way to school, and say, ‘All the kids are taking a slice of buttered toast to school, grandma, can I have one?’ She wrapped it up in foil and about three weeks later, she started doing two slices of toast. I said, ‘I don’t know if I’ll eat two.’ She said, ‘I’m sure your friend will.’ She’d actually seen me give it to him, because he was only having one meal a day. Back in the early 70s, that was a regular occurrence. I think it’s the values you’re brought up with, and the area you’ve lived in. I was born and bred in Barnsley. You’re never going to be rich when you’re the son or grandson of a Yorkshire miner, but there was a great sense of community then.
The village primary school presented you with a Local Hero Award – how did you feel about that?
Oh, how proud was I? My knees were knocking. I’ve never been so nervous in all my life. To get an award like that from the children at the school, I was amazed. The headmistress came to the shop with two children, with a letter for me. I opened it, and the more I read, the bigger the lump in my throat was getting. I held it together because I didn’t want two small children seeing a 53 year-old man blubbering. I thought it was amazing that they took the time and effort to do that, because I don’t see what I’m doing as anything to be rewarded: I do it because I want to. They gave me a lovely plaque and a trophy, and I read out a poem about being kind and helpful. If it inspires just one or two of them, that’s great.
Social media is useful for getting messages out there, but you’ve been helping people for a long time. How did you reach people before Facebook and Twitter?
Before social media I mainly responded to requests for donations for school fetes and the foodbank. It’s so much easier now, because one of my Facebook posts can reach 50,000 people if I put a boost on it. Social media’s brilliant because it exposes everything that’s wrong, as well as allowing us to post videos and photos of what we’re doing.
Is anyone ever suspicious of your motives, perhaps feeling like it’s too good to be true?
Not really, not when people know me, and understand what I’m about. One or two might wonder if I’m posting on Facebook to promote the business, but I don’t gain customers from it. No one’s going to travel far to see us, and I don’t need to promote the business, because we’re already a well-supported shop.
It’s clear that you were raised to be kind and community spirited. Does this stem from Christian values?
My brother’s a vicar, but for me, this is to do with socialism, which means making sure nobody’s poor. It’s about making sure that those who are doing well are contributing to society through paying fair taxes, so that those who are less fortunate can receive the help they need.
If somebody feels inspired by you and wants to help, what advice would you give them?
When you pass a homeless person, say good morning. You don’t have to get them anything. Normally, my chat results in: ‘Good morning, how are you doing? Are you having a coffee?’ Nine times out of ten, they’re not, but if they are, I get them one and say, ‘How’s things? Have you got anybody looking after you? Is there anybody you want me to get in touch with for you?’ Nine times out of ten, the answer’s no. But that ‘good morning’ might keep them going for an hour or two, thinking: ‘Somebody spoke to me!’
Look into volunteering in foodbanks, or charity shops, or a street kitchen. There are some great street kitchens out there that help vulnerable people who’ve fallen on hard times. They’re in every major town, serving hot food, cold food, tea and coffee, and they’ll often have clothes, toiletries, and sanitary products. That’s a great way to help.