These incredible pictures show the inner workings of a “Teddy Rescue” – which boasts a collection of 12,500 antique stuffed bears.
Tina Rush spends hours each day carefully restoring teddy bears in an 18th century forge – with some bears being as tall as seven feet and others as old as 77.
So far she has amassed more than 12,500 bears at her old Pickering forge, which she used to run as an antiques and curiosity shop for 14 years.
As interest for the bears surged online, she took an early retirement to care for them full time.
Sales are entirely online, and her Teddy Rescue Facebook page now has a following of more than 1,000 members.
Having lost her 25-year-old daughter Jofi to a rare form of severe asthma in 2016, funds raised through any sales go towards Asthma UK.
Tina said: “Bears have always been popular, but this year many people have needed a little comfort.
“We are absolutely driven by nostalgia. It’s a phenomenal thing.”.
A great number of requests come for memory bears, or bereavement bears. There are responsibility bears, for children, or people with additional needs.
She said that many of her loyal customers are elderly, and have struggled this isolation this past year due to the pandemic.
Donations come from all over – from charity shops or car boots, or even left on the doorstep of the 1760s forge, which now serves as a bear orphanage as well as family home.
She said: “Sometimes they are pushed in under the porch.
“All our bears are rescued, some have no limbs or eyes, or need stitches or restuffing.
“Some of the older bears, made from mohair of sheepskin, need new paws and pads which are much more difficult to work on, or amber-glass eyes.
“Every bear gets the same treatment. I sit and hand stitch them, and they all come with a little card telling their story.
“I just do it because I want to really. Not everybody can go to a shop and buy an expensive bear.”
Tina’s first bear was 77-year-old Button Rush, gifted to her by a neighbour for a hospital visit as a child, who she says is “well-worn, but still very well dressed”.
She said: “I have bears that are worth 50p and others that are worth thousands.
“I keep saying ‘no more’ to my long-suffering husband Scott, but then I get more. We live with bears. It’s a full time job, you’ve got to care for them properly.”
There are 400 bears in Mrs Rush’s living room alone. Some are 7ft tall, others an inch high.
There are artist bears, retro bears, bears that stand up and sit down.
One was left in the doorway of a designer store in Leeds, and rescued by a shop worker who had watched anxiously all day to see if it would be reclaimed.
Another was a sweetheart’s gift from a soldier killed in war in the Second World War.
A final mohair, Big Ted, complete with flat cap and neckerchief, was donated by an elderly gentleman who wanted to ensure his beloved childhood toy went on to a deserving home.
Tina said: “We know so many people are lonely, especially now.
“It’s nice to pass them on, and even more so in these difficult times. It’s just a wonderful thing to do. You have to live your life with a little glimmer of hope.
“The teddy bear is one of the most traditional toys in the world.
“Across nations, from all walks of life, everybody recognises it. You never forget your bears.
“Just because something is second-hand doesn’t mean it’s second best. Life isn’t perfect and shiny. Sometimes it’s more endearing.”