“Volunteering at Sue Ryder has given me a new lease of life.”

70-year-old Ann Tuvey has been the Lead Volunteer at our Bury St Edmunds charity shop in West Suffolk ever since it opened five years ago. Here, she describes her responsibilities, challenges and what she gets out of giving her time.

Volunteer Ann busily balancing the till at our Bury St Edmunds store.
Volunteer Ann busily balancing the till at our Bury St Edmunds store.

I’ve always worked in retail since I left school – I started out at WH Smiths so I’m well versed in managing the stock takes, rotas, wages and so on – so when I saw an ad about a new Sue Ryder shop opening just round the corner, I jumped at the chance to volunteer.

My husband Bill is disabled and around that time his condition had begun to worsen, so I’d decided to take a few years off work to focus on caring for him – but I must admit I was getting a bit bored. All my kids had left home and it was a shock going from raising ten children to it being just the two of us. (I have 24 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren too – when they’re all together it can be rather loud and incredibly annoying; I felt sorry for the restaurant when we all got together for a birthday meal!)

I attended a taster session at the shop with five or six others and immediately felt at home. I’ve been working in the shop since day one.

Ann’s day-to-day duties

As Lead Volunteer, I effectively run the shop in the manager Sue’s absence, run taster sessions and train new recruits. At Sue Ryder, you have to complete certain training and qualify as a Lead Volunteer before you’re given the responsibility of running the shop.

When I arrive, I check the float and complete all the paperwork on the computer. Then I move on to pricing. Sue texts me every morning to let me know what needs doing.

I most enjoy pricing shoes and bags (but I’m not so keen on clothing), as well as bric-a-brac. ‘Brica’, as we call it, is my first love – before we installed the EPoS (electronic point of sale) system last year we used to work in departments and brica was mine.

Sorting donations takes up a lot of my time; we get 85 to 90 donations a day on average so it’s always a full-on 24/7 job – one day you think you’re on top of it and the next new donations are piled up to the ceiling!

Working in a big busy shop can be a challenge; EPoS, particularly, was a big change for us but I enjoyed it – when you’re a retiree, change is for the good as it keeps you on top of your game and interested.

People management is key

I’m a bossy Lead Volunteer – I’m always checking up on people and making sure they’re okay. It’s a personal thing, like how I make sure I meet all the volunteers and paid staff even though we may not cross over often; it comes from Sue I think as she’s a very good people manager.

At the moment I manage 30 volunteers and I make it my business to keep them happy – I take it quite seriously! I always send my volunteers Christmas cards and buy them a little something to say thank you for their hard work during the year. It makes all the difference, those little gestures.

Different people prefer different tasks – some like tagging and sorting, others putting clothes out or working the till – and there’s lots of opportunity to specialise, particularly in retail volunteering. Sue, the manager, is exceptionally good at finding out what people want to do and putting them in the right place.

I’d encourage anyone who’s committed to volunteering and wants to learn to become a Lead Volunteer. The only thing I’d say is don’t expect it to be a cushy job where you can just sit and chat: charity shops are still retail shops, after all!

I’ve noticed the demographic of our volunteers gradually changing over the years. There are more young people now – lots of young mums see it as a good way of getting back into work or keeping their skills sharp. It’s getting harder to attract volunteers now; we’re lucky to have such a loyal band who’ve been here as long as me.

A welcome surprise

Sue and I are great friends (though we do butt heads sometimes!). We’ve been through it all together over the years and have weathered the ups and downs. She’s a good manager because she’s open to listening to ideas, from volunteers as well as paid staff. We all feel valued.

Recently, for example, I celebrated my 70th and the staff threw me a surprise birthday party. I’m the keyholder and, after work that day, Sue called me saying: “I’ve been to the car and I’ve locked myself out the shop, can you come and help me?” – I didn’t think anything of it as she does this all the time!

So I pulled my shoes on, grabbed them and tramped round the corner to the shop, moaning away about it, and then I get there and – SURPRISE! – the whole team comes leaping out and scares the life out of me. It truly was a huge surprise; I didn’t expect it at all.

Apparently they were planning to do it last year but realised they were a year too early (it’s a good job they asked my daughter what my age was or I’d have been furious!).

Flexible hours and a great team

Personally, volunteering at Sue Ryder has given me a new lease of life. It makes me feel worthwhile and I would miss it dreadfully if I couldn’t go.

I felt lost when I had to take a couple of months off last year to look after Bill; I felt like I was missing out so I asked to cut back my hours so I could carry on. Sue has been really flexible and allowed me to come in early each morning for about three hours, five days a week, rather than longer shifts. It’s an arrangement that suits us both.

Bill is very supportive of my volunteering. He helps out too where he can, which is a big confidence boost for him as it makes him feel useful. I bring unusual donated items home to him and he finds out what they are and tells me how we should price them; sometimes really rare finds go up on the eBay store.

The whole team have met Bill and always ask after him. It’s the people I work with who keep me coming back; they are very important to me – whether paid or volunteers – they’re like a second family. That sounds cheesy but it’s true; I care about all of them and look forward to going in.

Could you be our next volunteer?

If Ann’s words have inspired you, check out our volunteer vacancies.

Author

Ann Tuvey

Retail volunteer

Ann Tuvey

Ann has been volunteering at her local Bury St Edmunds charity shop ever since it opened in 2014. She is now Lead Volunteer, managing 30 other volunteers, as well as a keyholder of the store.