Charity Shop Part 1: The back room


When I was younger and I thought about volunteering I would always picture someone in a charity shop. I thought that was the only place anyone actually volunteered. I imagined that volunteering meant a retired lady standing by the till selling items and I had no idea how those items got there other than that people dropped them off in black bin bags. I had often ran into charity shops myself with an armful of black bin bags and handed them to the nearest person only to rush off again. This was my first opportunity to find out how items came to be brought in by the public, to be bought by the public, in order to raise money for charity. There are many charity shops in all the town centres of Tameside but I decided to start with a local charity. My shift started at Willow Wood’s charity shop in Stalybridge by placing my bag into a locker into the back room. The room was a hive of activity with six ladies and one gentleman busy at work. I was surprised to find that over 60 volunteers volunteered in this shop alone. The manager Denise showed me around and then put me with a volunteer that had volunteered for over 15 years called Diane. I was soon taught how to price items and place them in the shop. It was lots of fun although I found the ticket gun machine a little tricky to start with. I was scared that I might accidently fire it through my finger. The volunteers were a tremendous amount of fun and extremely hard-working. As I stood pricing items various people would appear at the door dropping off things, including an extremely thick computer book and several black bin bags, others were asking for specific items such as baby dolls and 500 piece jigsaws or collecting items that they had previously purchased. It was now my turn to have a go at sorting some of the items that came in. It was exciting to look inside some of the bags that had arrived. It felt as if I was looking into people's lives. One bag contained lots of children's fancy dress items, another contained two socks, a remote control and an aerial cable and yet another had a collection of straw hats. I priced some clothes that seemed to be from one lady's wardrobe. They were a selection of brightly coloured, linen summer clothes from Principles and Marks & Spencer's. Had the lady decided to buy a new summer wardrobe or had she found linen too difficult to iron? One of the ladies pricing the items was Nancy who was 83 and had volunteered for Willow Wood since her husband had died nine years ago. She, as with many of the ladies, found that volunteering at the shop gave her a source of company. She and two of the other ladies knew each other when they were younger because their husbands were all Scout leaders. Their husbands no longer alive but the ladies had found a way to be part of the community. Nancy was a local celebrity having won a Pride of Tameside Award for Volunteering.

Each volunteer came in on certain days often for a morning or afternoon for a couple of hours. I found the volunteers friendly and welcoming and I got a sense of how working in the back room was fun and interesting. They was no end to the laughter especially when pair of black fluffy knickers (still with its label on I might add) was discovered. It will certainly make me think about what I will put into my black bin bags for the charity shop in future. Having a cup of tea while sorting through the clothes and items from one person's life, in order to make its way into another person's life, while helping someone else's life in Willow Wood Hospice, was a lovely experience. My back room training is over; next I get trusted to serve the public on the tills.