‘Becoming a charity shop volunteer changed my life’

Back in the books where she started as a voulenteer, branch manager, Debbie Calder at the British Heart Foundation found that voulenteering changed her life.
Back in the books where she started as a voulenteer, branch manager, Debbie Calder at the British Heart Foundation found that voulenteering changed her life.

Charity shops may be having a tough time in these recession-hit times, but the British Heart Foundation shop on Marygate, Berwick, has shown they can strengthen communities and help people back into work.

Volunteer work didn’t just make a vital difference to Debbie Calder. She admits it changed her life. She had been unemployed due to ill health when she started volunteering in the BHF nearly five years ago. Now she is shop manager and a far more confident person.

“I thought I would never get back to work,” she explains. “I had lost all of my confidence and was stuck in a rut. I had forgotten how to socialise and I felt that I no longer connected with the outside world.

“A friend recommended volunteering at the British Heart Foundation shop in Berwick. It took me a few weeks to build up the courage to go in and ask about the opportunities they had, but eventually I did. I spoke to the manager and some of the other volunteers and was made to feel really welcome. Everyone was friendly and cheerful. I knew it was the right place for me.”

At first, Debbie volunteered in the book section of the shop, because she loves reading.

“I would just sit in the corner sorting and pricing and not really mixing with the other volunteers very much. But after a while I started to join in a little bit more. After a few months I started to work on the sales floor, serving customers and feeling more and more confident. It was great to feel like a part of this team. Volunteering changed my perception of the world again and I could go home feeling proud that I had achieved something. I had a value and I was valued, and I was helping others.”

Soon Debbie found that her natural personality and confidence was returning.

“I became so confident that I applied for the assistant manager’s vacancy when it came up – and, to my delight, I was appointed.”

For Debbie, pricing books and serving customers had been the ideal way of getting back into the routine of work. “Becoming employed again was a big step for me and the British Heart Foundation was incredibly supportive and encouraging,” she says. “They believed in me when I didn’t always believe in myself. I loved every minute of being the assistant manager and after ten months I was offered the manager’s position.

“Four years later I am still running the Berwick shop and I love my job more and more every day. The team of volunteers and staff are a pleasure to work with. Without their dedication and commitment I wouldn’t be able to do my job and we wouldn’t be able to continue saving lives. I look forward to going to work every day. I cannot thank them enough for their support, friendship, commitment and drive and for making our shop the very best place to work.”

Born and bred in Berwick, Debbie left aged 23 to work in Edinburgh as a training and retail manager. She didn’t enjoy it as much as working in the charity shop, although she honed her skills working with volunteers and young people. Now Debbie recognises the thought processes of many people who come into the British Heart Foundation.

“We get plenty of people coming into the shop just like I did five years ago, saying ‘Oh, I don’t know whether I can do anything’. But they can, because we get so many kinds of people.”

She knows first-hand how difficult times are for many charity shops on struggling high streets. “More people are shopping in charity shops, but the problems are a lack of volunteers and stock,” says Debbie. “We always need stock, especially books. Our motto is ‘We love the things you bring!’ And without volunteers we couldn’t run the shop. We need them on the till, and in the back processing the stock.

“We currently have 22 volunteers working in our shop, but that’s not enough. Really I could do with doubling that. Becoming a volunteer at the British Heart Foundation all those years ago changed my life and if I hadn’t taken that step I would not be where I am today.

“If you have never thought of volunteering before, if you are like me, and have had some time out of the working world, or find yourself with time on your hands then think about us. We value you. We value the time you give.”

Debbie, more than anyone, knows that only too well.

If you are interested in volunteering at the British Heart Foundation, visit the shop or phone Debbie on 01289 332198.