A real eye-opener

This is the second part of Sarah’s story as charity shop manager…

“So how long were you meant to volunteer for?”

“It was a 12-week placement and when it was coming to an end we didn’t want to finish. We spoke to Angela and Chris and explained that we really loved what we were doing and didn’t want to leave.”

“What’s so special about YES that made you wanted to stay?”

“They made us feel part of the team, wanted, needed even. They do that with a lot of people: genuinely make them feel welcome and needed. Although we didn’t know them that well, we felt we could trust them. They are very easy to get on with.

“Seeing how they interact with young people, I really began to admire and respect them. It has definitely made me think about a career in youth work, seeing the difference they make, not just with young people but with everyone.”

Having examined their finances YES decided they could offer the two young women part-time roles as sessional workers for three months. “Those first three months came and went and they extended our contracts out of the NESTA money, but from the end of this month everyone’s in the same boat.”

“What will happen after that?” I ask.

“From April I will be paid through the charity shop proceeds as the shop manager. Rachel is taking on the admin after Chrissy takes redundancy. She’ll be paid for 10 hours a week.”

“So the charity shop idea is new isn’t it? Let me get this straight: YES have only had it for a few months.”

“Oh yes, it was some time last November that Andrew [Chair of Brixham YES] walked into The Edge one morning and said, we’ve got a charity shop. This place had been a nail bar for a short time, doing manicures and pedicures, but there was already one well established in town…”

“…and why would a place like Brixham need two?”

“Exactly. So after they closed down Andrew asked the landlord if we could use it rent-free for six weeks if we just paid for the electric and water. And they said yes. I was a bit skeptical at first because there were already, I think, six charity shops in Brixham: Animals in Distress… Sue Ryder… Brixham Does Care… Macmillan… Lifeboats… RSPCA. Yes, six.

“Everyone else was busy creating the Christmas grotto and so Rachel and I were asked to do one or two things to help set up the shop: make a sign, phone someone up, that sort of thing. Then we thought we may as well just get on with it, so we got some clothes rails, worked out a system for accepting donations, and it took off from there.”

It was an eye-opener for Sarah and Rachel to see people were coming to the charity shop to buy their Christmas presents. “It really hit home when you realised that young people and adults, with only a few pounds, were trying to get all their presents from us. That made us think.”

“Has the shop changed your view of Brixham? And the people who live here?” I ask.

“It has. I’ve always been open-minded. I have known there are deprived areas in Brixham and that there are people a lot worse off than me but seeing it first hand… it has made me feel as if I am doing something to help.

“By the end of the six weeks it was doing so well – there was so much positive feedback from everyone who came in – that we thought there was no way we could let it finish there.”

Angela asked them to prepare a business case for keeping the place going, that could be presented to a forthcoming trustees’ meeting. But instead of a conventional plan they highlighted one customer they had got to know, who was typical of their new clientele.

“He’s a guy in his late 30s with a five-year-old boy. He’s raised this little boy completely on his own since he was three weeks old, when his mother left. He came into the shop one day wanting to buy a few toys for his boy. He was quite open and honest and said he hadn’t got much money, and could he give us 50p for the toys instead of £1. So we said yeah why not? Not many other charity shops will do that. So we thought this isn’t about how much money we are making, it’s about benefiting the community, giving them a service. Anyone can come in with £2 and go out with two bags of clothing… which you can’t really do in other charity shops.”

“And that plan went down well with the trustees?”

“Yes it did. I’ve been appointed the shop manager and am getting paid for 16 hours a week although I work 36 hours a week minimum. I have Wednesdays off but work on Saturdays.  I do the books, count the takings, design posters and make phone calls at home after work.”

“Are you making enough money to cover your salary, the rent and expenses, and have enough profit go back to the charity?”

“Yes, easily. They have said if we make more money I can increase my hours but I am not the sort of person who will take more salary at the expense of the donations to the charity. I’m determined not to put up prices, we don’t see ourselves as competing with the other shops, we just have a different ethos… we’re doing this for the community.

“It’s strange. I never thought I’d be working in a charity shop, let alone running one and, yes, I really do jump out of bed in the mornings nowadays. I try not to think about being without a job again.”

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