What volunteering means to me

When I first started volunteering with Sue Ryder last year I had no idea that it would mean so much to me as it does today.

I first started looking for volunteer work in April 2013 during my gap year in order to improve my self­confidence and to learn new skills, as well as to gain an insight into the retail sector of work. At the time, I didn’t really mind which charity shop I volunteered in, mainly because I was desperate for something to do! All I had in mind was that it was a hospice or cancer charity because of the experiences I had with my Dad’s battle with cancer.

The first charity shop to seem keen to have me however was the Sue Ryder shop in Emmer Green, Reading. I knew a fair bit about the work of Sue Ryder, so I was more than happy to volunteer there - as well as the fact it is based in a nice area of Reading where I had gone to school for the past seven years.

It's transformed my life

Volunteering in a Sue Ryder charity shop has without a doubt transformed my life in so many ways and I could not be more grateful to the staff at the shop for being exceptionally welcoming and patient with me. To start off with, I was incredibly shy when I was working on the till.­ I’m a very shy person so deciding I wanted to have a go at working on a till face to face with a lot of new people was one of the bravest things I think I have ever done.

It took me a while to get used to it and a lot of encouragement and support from the managers as well as the customers too, which was given to me willingly, and now I absolutely love doing it!

Obviously, volunteering in a charity shop has provided me with a huge insight into what it’s like to work in retail. If I’m honest, I really thought that I would absolutely hate it but on the contrary, I think it’s something I would certainly do in the future.

Learning a lot

I have been able to learn about a huge variety of roles in the charity shop, for example, using the till but also I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning what goes on in the back of the shop. One of my favourite roles is to price check books, which I usually do on a Monday morning after an hour or so on the till, and it’s one of the main reasons I enjoy waking up on a Monday morning!

I volunteered in the shop for about 6 months before starting at Swansea University in September 2013. I was very nervous about going to University, but the managers were very lovely to me before I left and they were always encouraging me and reassuring me that I’d be fine.

On my last day, they gave me a card and we had cake too which meant the world to me, and they told me to keep in touch and to come and say hi whenever I visited home, which I did of course! I even volunteered again in Sue Ryder during my Christmas holidays and I was pleasantly surprised when I had customers commenting on how wonderful it was to see me and they were asking where I’d been since September.

Back at the shop

Now I’m back in the shop and volunteering for the summer holidays too. They were very keen to have me back, which was nice. However what means even more to me is that the shop staff are so supportive and understanding of my hypothyroidism, which is a chronic illness that I was diagnosed with in February 2014.

I am still getting used to the medication as well as struggling with the symptoms of the condition. I try very hard not to let it affect me too much but sometimes I have to have a break to recharge my batteries as it were, and everyone in the shop are extremely understanding of that. The managers are also always willing to have a chat if I ever need it which they don’t have to do but they choose to and it really does make all the difference to my volunteering experience.

It means everything to me

To conclude, and to answer the question: what does volunteering mean to me? The simple answer is: everything!

I love every minute I spend volunteering in the shop, and now every minute I spend on Facebook and Twitter as a social media volunteer for another local Sue Ryder charity shop. I know that Sue Ryder always promote how important their volunteers are for the wide range of roles within the charity, and with stories like mine, they can see how volunteering can change the lives of the people who decide to volunteer.

This is certainly the case for me anyway. I know it’s not strictly related to Sue Ryder, but I would like to share that in September 2015 (I know­ it’s over a year away yet!) I am going abroad to France and Italy as part of my University course. One of the things I really hope to do in preferably both countries is learn more about the charity shops they have in European countries and hopefully volunteer in a charity shop abroad.

Thanks for reading - until next time :)

Emily Maybanks
Emily Maybanks