Our St Austell Community Shop

Our 33 Cornwall Hospice Care shops give us a presence on the high street and help fund the care, but how much do we really know about what makes them tick? The PR & Communications team are determined to find out and on Tuesday began a weekly project to explore the world of retail, reporting on their visits on our social media channels. First out was Tamsin Thomas who spent the day working at the St Austell community shop in the town centre. This is her blog about the experience…

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Our shops are like icebergs. There’s the bit you can see and then there’s the extremely busy teams behind the scenes keeping the shop floor freshly stocked. Many of them are volunteers and all of them are vital if the shop is to flourish and succeed.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I reported for duty on Tuesday. It was a dull and damp day, typical for January, and I was hovering outside the shop nervous about the day ahead. Then the door bursts open and Tracey Preston, the Shop Manager, is welcoming me in and sending me to the unseen world above the store.   I’m busy straight away as one of our vans arrives and I’m carrying bags of donated goods in with Marcus and Steve. Every Monday Tracey, and sometimes Georgie Gunningham the Assistant Manager, spend time selecting suitable donated items at the Holmbush warehouse. These are then delivered to the shop’s back door the following morning.

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Tracey is off to a meeting so Georgie shows me round the upstairs emporium where bags of spring and summer goods lie waiting to be sorted, “we get ahead of ourselves in winter so we can launch straight in to the summer range” explains Georgie, “and while that’s out we start preparing donated clothes for the next autumn and winter.”

Volunteers Ann and June open the shop and do the weekly stock take of the limited range of new goods while we start tagging donated clothes upstairs. I’m armed with a staple-like gun that attaches our price tags to the garments and I’m off, adding size details, tagging and hanging the items ready for steaming. Some carry a code that shows the donor has agreed to us claiming Gift Aid on the item, meaning for every £1 paid we can claim 25p back from the tax man, nice one!

Volunteers Helen and Eileen arrive, one to sort and price books and the other to take over the tagging duties. I move on to steaming. I find my ideal job. As the radio plays in the background and the team quietly chatter to each other, I’m left with my thoughts as I enjoy the soothing and rewarding work of turning a crumpled top into a smart and seemingly freshly laundered shirt. June comes in with the morning coffee round, a welcome interruption, and we all admire the wedding album of Georgie’s daughter. This is what being part of a friendly team is all about.

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On the shop floor I team up with Ann who’s been volunteering for 10 years. She chats away to me and to the customers and I love her friendly style and her sense of humour. As I fold goods for customers, Ann is on the till and one is telling me, “I always come in once a week and pick something up.” Another carrying an armful of potential purchases, says “I was only going to pop in but now I’m going to try all these things on!” It’s not bustling, but there’s a steady flow of people browsing and chatting of course.

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Back upstairs volunteer Lorraine arrives and I know her. She’s a WI member and I’ve met her at a talk, in fact she was President of St Stephens WI, and she’s been a Cornwall Hospice Care volunteer for five years. “My Brother-in-Law died at Mount Edgcumbe” she explains, “and after Nan Goldsworthy from the charity’s St Austell Fundraising Group asked me if I’d like to volunteer, I met Tracey who invited me in for a half day. I’ve never left!”

What strikes me is the easy friendship between all those who give time to this popular main street shop. They’re all genuinely pleased to see each other and fall in to comfortable conversation as they go about their work. I’m back on the steamer and meeting another of the volunteers, Frida. In a lilting Welsh accent she says “I love helping out and have been here for, is it two years now Georgie?” After confirmation of the time period, she continues “I visited the shop and thought how beautiful it was and said to the person on the desk I could work here and she said yes you can! And that’s where it all started. I come in once a week on a Tuesday and it’s a double whammy, I enjoy working here and it’s all for charity.”

Frida and I fall in to conversation about Wales, children, religion, travelling and much more besides. We move from the industrial sorting upstairs to the brightly lit shop floor where our conversations continue to flow and we take on the challenge to find a full outfit for under £20. When Georgie comes down the stairs I feel a bit like a naughty school girl knowing that between customers we’re trying on clothes and laughing a lot!

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Suddenly it’s the end of the day and we’re cashing up. I express my surprise at how quickly the hours have gone by and am told that it’s like that every day. I’ve had a wonderful time and I’ve seen the rest of the iceberg, the well-rehearsed system that ensures the shop is always freshly stocked, that items are clearly priced and that customers are welcomed in.

I’ve come back to my office in the hospice with some great ideas to help customers understand the difference they make by visiting our St Austell community shop, and with a huge respect for the staff and volunteers who work constantly to turn the donated goods round. Oh and a love of steaming that I know will take me back to the bit of the iceberg others never see.

Why not visit our St Austell Community Shop?