In our third edition of the monthly blogs we are writing for the Tooting Daily PRSS, Gill Perkins, our CEO, celebrates the fantastic volunteers in Tooting and beyond. 

It’s #VolunteerWeek – a time to say thank you to our wonderful volunteers and to celebrate the contribution volunteers make to charities all over the country in many different roles. 

But we'd like to celebrate Wandsworth Oasis volunteers in particular – we really couldn’t manage to keep our 9 charity shops open 362 days a year – from first thing in the morning until last thing at night – without them.  We estimate our regular volunteers donate a minimum of 30,000 hours a year between them, which is quite mind-blowing. And this doesn’t include those volunteering as part of the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme and those on work experience, or our amazing group of Trustees who manage the strategic direction of the charity – like Non Exec Directors of big corporations, but without the fat pay package! 

So, during Volunteer Week, let’s take a look at what it’s like volunteering in a Wandsworth Oasis charity shop. We often say a week in the life of a charity shop would make for the best sitcom (if anyone wants to write one, do get in touch!), but also it is an amazing ‘commercial’ retail operation raising money for a good cause as well as a mammoth logistical and recycling organisation. A lot to get your head around whether you are a paid member of staff or a volunteer. 

Who are our volunteers?

Our volunteers come in all shapes and sizes – they are individuals with an affinity with our cause; they are people seeking work experience whilst looking for a full time job; they are parents with young children; they are students and young people seeking work experience in the areas of customers service, visual merchandising etc; they are those who do not have English as a mother tongue looking to gain confidence and improve their English language skills; they are recently retired and are missing the rough and tumble of the workplace and the interaction with others or who love the idea of meeting new friends and colleagues with the same values; and they are vulnerable adults who need a second chance to make something of their lives or simply an opportunity to contribute to society. A broad church and everyone is welcome…

But don’t take our word for it – hear it from the volunteers themselves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJo9fchPc34 

A day in the life of…

No two days are the same, but the main tasks are:

  • sorting donations by quality – those that can be put on the shop floor, those where we think we will get more money on eBay or in another shop and those that will be sent to the commercial recyclers;
  • pricing goods;
  • serving on the tills;
  • creating window displays and other visual merchandising.

Mostly you will be trained on the job – no specific skills are necessary – but we encourage volunteers to tell us if they are interested in anything in particular – such as books, fashion, vinyl, china, stamps, old coins, cameras, antique furniture etc.  Specialist and expert knowledge is so valuable to us – there is nothing more annoying than a dealer coming in and snapping something up without a quibble – you know then you got the valuation wrong!! So, if there is anyone out there who knows about any specialist subject and can volunteer with us even a couple of hours a month – that would be amazing. Please do get in touch!

Are there any perks?

Well, it depends if you are a charity shop junkie or not! We don’t allow staff or volunteers to buy things before they go out on the shop floor, but you will come across some true bargains and unusual one off items. We guarantee you will be laughing most of the day at something or other – the camaraderie in our charity shops is something to behold.

Whilst we do not pay wages, we do reimburse volunteer expenses. We believe that no one should be out of pocket for volunteering at Wandsworth Oasis. Those on Incapacity Benefit can volunteer without their payments being affected, and those claiming the Job Seeker’s Allowance should not be affected as long as they are still ‘actively seeking and available for work’. Whichever benefit you receive, you should inform your benefits agency if you are doing voluntary work.

And we try to make sure that volunteers are enabled to attend our fundraising events by getting sponsorship from local companies and we have an annual thank you event for the team – over recent years our thank you events have ranged from a fish and chip supper in one of shops served by the paid staff to a drinks reception at City Hall and a pizza party at Bunga Bunga. 

But perhaps most importantly you will be humbled by the generosity of people in what often feels like a truly self-centred and commercial world. 

If you’re interested in volunteering with us – no minimum hours – visit our website at https://www.wandsworthoasis.org.uk/volunteer-opportunities