It has been volunteers week, which is a time of the year where we say ‘Thank You’ to the amazing people who give time at my Oxfam shop in Northampton. I thought I’d introduce you to my team. I have 18 volunteers at the moment – this sometimes goes up to 25 depending on the time of year. I get an increase from September when students roll in from all corners of the country to study at the University of Northampton, and also occasionally Duke of Edinburgh participants.

Barbara is presented with a certificate by a group of other volunteers
Barbara (centre) receiving an award for long service to Oxfam

My team consists of volunteers ranging in age from 14 to 86 years. The oldest volunteer I’ve had was Barbara who ‘retired’ late last year at the age of 96. She gave an amazing 26 years of her time to Oxfam and began to volunteer not long after she retired from her paid job. During that time she has seen many shop managers and been part of numerous disaster appeals. Her donation of time to Oxfam was amazing, and also inspiring to me and a lot of my volunteers!

Each volunteer is so important to me. They all play key roles however small or big. Let me introduce you to the engine of the shop:

Volunteers Pat and Helen
Pat and Helen – the ‘engine’ of the shop!

Pat and Helen are amazing. I welcomed them to my team in 2009 and they have been serving customers by supporting Oxfam ever since. Very often they are just a text away when I need support at the shop, so they play a big part of my team. They also open the shop up for me each week allowing me a small lie-in! I love their morning ritual of coffee and donuts, so when I get in I often get a treat 🙂

Sharon holding a certificate for service to Oxfam
Sharon looks after the till for me

I interviewed Sharon six years ago. Oh my days it was the longest interview I have ever held – she was so chatty! Anyways, she said at the interview that she’d never want work on the till. On her first day I put her on the till, and now she never wants to do anything else! I cannot persuade her to steam clothes, but Sharon is a very charismatic person, always happy and everyone loves her round here.

A museum curator and Jane show off a giant spiky bone from a sword fish
Jean with an expert from the Natural History Museum showing off an unusual donation!

Jean has been with Oxfam for just over 10 years now. She was inspired to volunteer after watching a BBC special about children in poverty. She simply wanted to do something and decided to pick up an application form to work with us. Each week she prepares our homeware section – from the collectables to everyday crockery – as well as making our jewellery section look great. Some time ago someone donated a sawfish teeth bone, of all things! Jean curiously went on to find out what to do with it and ended up visiting the Natural History Museum in London to meet one of their experts behind the scenes. We left the teeth bone in the hands of the museum but it was certainly an unusual shift for Jean!

Jane rearranges some donated crockery
Jane keeps the shop spruced up and well stocked

Jane is quite new to our team. She is semi-retired, so rather than sitting at home and playing Sudoko, she chooses to spare a few hours for Oxfam. She seems to have found her feet replenishing each section and filling the gaps. This is really important as we often have busy spells, and that means lots of gaps to fill. Jane springs into action to make sure Oxfam is getting lots of funds raised. As I type this I am nibbling on some treats she brought us from her holiday, and a slice of an awesome apricot sponge cake she made for us all!

Kamila smiles holding an Oxfam certificate
Kamila keeps our finances in check

Kamila walked into our shop from the rain one afternoon to offer her time. She assumed she would be working with customers, but once I learned that she was studying finance at university I quickly offered her the chance to do our weekly financial recording so she can gain practical experience. She volunteers for us alongside her studies and working as a bartender. Sadly she is leaving us to move up in the world of finance, though I like to think I’ve done something to get her there. That’s the beauty of volunteering – places like this shop are perfect to learn new skills or apply your trade. Mission accomplished 🙂

Tom smiles from nehind the till
Tom is a talented singer as well as an Oxfam volunteer

Tom was a work experience volunteer allocated from Northampton College. Originally he came here for a week as part of a placement, and now he spends a day each week with us and does an amazing job on customer service as well as assisting other departments. Tom is also a talented singer and is part of a band that played at the Oxjam Buskathon event last October. See his performance here. You can also read more about his band here. He simply wants to gain as much retail experience as he can and develop key skills in communication, problem solving and team working.

Teri singing with guitar and microphone
Teri performing at an event at the University of Northampton

Originally from the Czech Republic, Teri is studying international development. She came to volunteer last September after talking to me at a Volunteers Fair at the University of Northampton. Teri has a burning ambition to help children in India and is currently in the process of helping me set up an Oxfam Student Society. She is also a singer songwriter and performed at a clothes swap event we held with the Sustainable Fashion Society at the University of Northampton earlier this year. Check out her music here – especially her rendition of Katy Perry’s Chained to the Rhythm!

Verity, Aarav, Aisha and Isabel joined us through their Duke of Edinburgh programme.

Verity, Aarav, Aisha and Isabel – these four are currently doing their Duke of Edinburgh Award. Right now they are clocking up time to achieve the bronze level by serving customers, replenishing books and DVDs and checking toys. Oxfam can take on volunteers to work in the shop from 14 years old. I remember when I was their age there were zero opportunities to work in a shop like this. Nowadays I get lots of young applicants wanting to take part – so many that sometimes I don’t know where to put them. It’s great to see young people taking the opportunity to develop key skills in a working environment. I hope I am doing my bit to make sure they get good jobs in the future!

Elaine and Vicky in the stock room
Vicky and Elaine in the stock room

Vicky and Elaine get swamped with tonnes of toys each week, from Peppa Pigs and toy cars to Monopoly board games. They do a sterling job ensuring that everything is tested, checked and safe for kids. I recruited and interviewed Vicky via a recruitment agency, and over time I have seen Vicky develop into a very confident, reliable and efficient colleague.

Jan surround by donated toys
Jan has been the driving force of our toy section for 25 years!

Jan is another volunteer who has clocked up over 25 years for Oxfam. She started off volunteering for a big Oxfam sorting centre in Northampton, that is now relocated in other areas of the country. Then she started to volunteer in this Oxfam Kingsthorpe Shop. Jan’s main job for me is checking the toys, puzzles and games, but she also finds time to vacuum the whole basement!

Terri in the stock room
Terri is Queen of linen sales!

Terri started to volunteer with us in early 2016 after overhearing me talking to another potential volunteer. She heard me give the spiel and thought ‘this sounds good, I must try to join up’ – If this was a computer game that would have counted for bonus points! Since then Terri has got stuck in and doubled our linen sales, improved our children’s clothes section, expanded our use of Gift Aid and got my paperwork into better shape…. Overall she has achieved a lot in the space of a year and is continuing to do a great job for Oxfam.

Clare does lots of charity work

Clare is another one of my key volunteers. She has been on my team for nearly a year now. It’s great to work with Clare as she has such a friendly face that warms the shop up. We love having her on customer service duties. Clare is also a very busy person doing lots of other charity work, so we really appreciate her time each week when she does volunteer. Recently is was my birthday and she took the time to make me a cake in the shape of a ‘V’ along with some delicious flapjacks! I am sure you can see the theme here now – I never go hungry in this shop.

This is some of my team at the moment. It is not the biggest in the country but they really do the business each week. They are the engine of my ship and without them I could not get anywhere.

To put into context how important my volunteers are, their work can provide safe water for up to 2,500 people each week. Over a year, that means 130,000 people are getting clean water thanks to the spare time of my volunteers! The whole network of Oxfam shops depends on volunteers like mine and I am always in awe of their generosity. They are the life blood of Oxfam and I salute every one of them for taking action to help us fight poverty in the UK and around the world.

If you would like to volunteer in my shop, do contact me directly on 01604 722529 or email vshah1@oxfam.org.uk. If you are reading this in some other part of the country, you can find details of your nearest Oxfam shop here.

Thank you for reading this blog. I do hope you have enjoyed it and I welcome any feedback.

Vimal Shah