Donations, deliveries and diversions; meet one of our charity’s drivers

donations driver alf and unicorn

Items handed in at our charity Donation Centres are then sorted and the donations then distributed to our shops for sale. This part is handled by our van drivers, a special team who spend their time on the road, as Tamsin Thomas found out when she joined driver Alf Licursi

“I’ve only been working for Cornwall Hospice Care for three and a half months” explains Alf, as we drive off and before adding that previously he was a funeral director for 20 years. I immediately know we’re in for an interesting day.

Distributing donations

Alf is one of seven drivers who operate on pre-planned routes between our shops and donation centres. We’re heading out on the east route. Our van has been pre packed so after the all-important vehicle checks, we make the very short journey from Daniel’s Lane to our Holmbush shop where a cheery Jill, the Deputy Manager greets us and oversees the bags and boxes of donations we carry in.

She in return can send back two bags and two boxes of items that haven’t sold and cardboard for recycling. Alf catches me flicking through some clothes on display and I’m gently reminded that “we’re here to work” (said with a smile), so I drive the trolley full of toys to the storage area at the back of the shop close to the children’s section.

We grab a quick photo opportunity outside the shop that’s managed by Alf’s partner Jo Westmore, and we’re on the road to Liskeard. “I love meeting people,” says Alf, “it’s what I enjoyed about being a funeral director, chatting with people and helping them. I’d been at Tesco before that, on their management programme.” Inevitably with his background and my curious former journalist nosiness, we talk about his previous job, about what people have asked for in terms of their funerals, embalming, the storage of bodies.

Time flies and we arrive at our Liskeard shop where by the nature of the one way street where only delivery vehicles can go through, we’re time limited. A smiling Bev Weller, the Manager, greets us and suddenly I’m climbing the shop’s infamous stairs with supplies. I’m carrying two donation bags, Alf has five in hand! He natters away with Bev and I see the benefits of our distribution process as they happily go through a well practiced routine.

Diversion ahoy!

I’d like to say it was all plain sailing, but on our way to Looe we meet our first hitch, a diversion that takes us on a mystery tour back to Liskeard! Even the sat nav on my phone fails to work out quite where we are.  “We’ll go back to East Taphouse” advises Alf, “I know that road. In fact I’m getting to know a lot of Cornwall now.”

From Looe we journey to St Blazey where I arrive through the back door and announce I’m today’s van person. Manager Sue Dutton laughs and says “I wouldn’t be surprised if you were operating a van!” As with every manager we meet, Alf enjoys a relaxed chat with Sue as he and I bring in the bags and boxes of donations and take out the returns. A message comes in asking us to go back via the Holmbush shop again to collect some metal gondolas, used to display clothes. It’s my chance to grab a pasty and a saffron bun, the staple diet of van teams surely.

Back at Daniel’s Lane we swap to a smaller van for our trip to Fowey and its narrow streets, handing in plastic wallets of financial information to our accounts team.  Alf’s got an idea; “We should have a Cornwall Hospice Care day where people can visit unseen parts of our operation, like the warehouse. We could have a charity car wash going on – you donate items and then drive forward and we clean your car.”  I love his enthusiasm.

Fowey’s my local shop so it’s great to be greeted by volunteers Celia and Sarah. We start chittering away and for a moment I forget I’m supposed to be working. They have a tiny backroom and we fill it quickly, but they’re already starting the process of emptying the bags and sorting the donations for the shop floor.

Incidents and accidents

Snag two is about to stall us; a serious crash near Morrison’s in Bodmin has brought the town to a standstill. We manage to get to the Donation Centre in Normandy Way to pick up goods for the Bodmin town shop – a giant pink unicorn, rugs, pet travel boxes, books and clothes.  Then we join the queue, but we keep chatting. “I’m called a Donations Assistant Driver” explains Alf. “ I can do all sorts, so often work at the Bodmin Donation Centre sorting items and last week I was down at the Penryn Furniture shop. There’s certainly plenty of variety.”

Tracey Hawken, Manager at Bodmin greets us and while we offload more donations, tells me of an ongoing problem in the town with people fly tipping outside many of the retail outlets. We agree it’s sad as its mostly goods that we can’t sell, but do have to pay to throw away.

Our final call is back at the Bodmin Donation Centre where Charlotte and volunteer Jeremy help us load up Christmas donations that will be stored at Daniel’s Lane until the autumn.  Reindeer antlers, wreaths, an elaborate candle holder and tree stands are all carried out to our van. Alf packs it carefully like he’s creating an elaborate game of Jenga.

A well oiled machine

What I’ve witnessed is a system that keeps our shops stocked and that runs Monday to Friday without most of us knowing or appreciating this key part of the retail process. I’ve done 9,000 steps and carried endless boxes and bags of donations. I’ve caught my shins leaning in to the van and wrestled with the door when it wouldn’t close, but for me it’s just one day. For Alf and the whole team of drivers and assistants, that’s their daily routine, so I say three cheers for this silent but vital army and thank you from us all!

Join the team

If you’d like to be part of the team here at Cornwall Hospice Care, head over to our Job Vacancies webpage, for latest opportunities.  We also welcome volunteers to help sorting items in our warehouse, assisting our van drivers and much more.  Please take a look at our Volunteer Roles webpage for more information.

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