“I’ve got two and a half thousand vinyls in a van, do you have any use for them?”.  This isn’t the sort of question I’m guessing most retail workers are usually asked, and not one I would usually have an answer ready for.  Yet, for charity shop volunteers, you have to be prepared for all eventualities as you never know who, or what, is going to come through the door.

I’ve been volunteering at Oxfam in Garston since March 2018 after realising that I still had too much time on my hands despite watching an endless amount of Netflix.  It’s been funny, chaotic and sometimes a bit smelly but nonetheless, the experience has taught me a few life lessons that the Sydney Jones Library and VITAL do not offer.

Some pale looking customers…

During the summer, I was able to volunteer on Mondays and Fridays. Friday is the busiest day of the week, because the bustling market that sets up, right outside the shop’s front door, encourages shoppers to come in and investigate what we have to offer. Different characters appear but what touches me the most are the people who simply want to come in and have a chat when they check out. 

There is an epidemic of loneliness in this country, with people seeking out the social contact that perhaps young people, and even I, as a student, sometimes take for granted.

Humorous anecdotes and complaints about the so-called insufferable heatwave have made a fair few of my shifts a little easier.  A charity shop assumes a community centre role, wherever they exist; they play a vital role. It’s where children go with their parents after school and shoppers can meet and natter over the cardigan rails, and is a place where bargains sometimes can be found, (donated by the likes of Mark’s and Spencers and Sainsbury’s).

It would be nice to say that I ponder the family stories behind each egg cup and porcelain dog, I have to balance on the heaving shelves of bric a brac, but honestly, I usually just hope it all doesn’t come crashing down on my (or the manager’s) head. As a volunteer, I have appreciated the several skills it takes to run a small shop including valuable communication skills and the skill of keeping products relevant just like you would in any other retail environment.

A frequently asked question is: “what happens to the donated items that we cannot sell?” It is a pity but a substantial amount of donations bags are either too dirty, or too shabby to be steamed and shelved.

The ‘World Changing’ Room

You’ll be relieved to hear that these type of products are not discarded. Most of it will be donated to Oxfam’s Wastesaver initiative. Some of the products donated will be sold in local markets in countries such as Senegal, or even used in energy creation products.  But please, if you are going donate, check through your donations and ask yourself, ‘would I buy this?’

I’ve made friends in my Oxfam, and met and held conversations with people I would usually just pass on the street without noticing. Volunteering can be fun mostly, but like any job, it can become mundane or repetitive. But being a student, it gives me something more to talk about on my CV as opposed to solely my degree. It’s definitely worth trying.

There are several Oxfam shops in Liverpool. The city-centre store is located on Bold Street, (you know the road by the Sainsbury’s Express that you’ve walked down en route to a night out at Concert Square?!) There is also one located on Smithdown Road, which may be more familiar to second and third year students who have rented a student house there. Not to mention Allerton Road and of course the one closest to my heart, Garston.

If you are interested then have confidence, go into the store and ask for the manager; you’ll be made very welcome.