“I’m Mike, I’m the manager of Ashgate Hospicecare’s shop in Clowne. I’m married to Mandy and we have two grown up children and four grandchildren and we live in Bolsover. When I first applied to work for Ashgate, I wasn’t sure I had the right experience as I’ve never worked for a charity before. However, I have applied my experience in retail, and I can see that this is increasing our income and actually making a difference to the lives of patients and families who need hospice care.
I’ve spent most of my working life in retail and I thoroughly enjoy it. I started in my teens working for a family in North London. Before I worked for Ashgate, I was at Dobbies Garden Centre. Dobbies has a connection to Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice in Sheffield, and so I’ve met lots of wonderful people and found my time with them really thought provoking.
I’ve been here 12 months now – it’s my anniversary next week – and I can’t believe how quickly it’s gone! I can happily say that I enjoy every single day. There isn’t a day I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t have to work long hours and I get regular weekends off so I can plan my life. I’ve got a good work-life balance and I’m making a difference. It’s lovely to chat to customers about the shop and to hear their own personal experiences of the Hospice. It makes you realise why the work we do really matters.
In Clowne, we’re fortunate enough to have the Ashgate Coffee Company attached to the shop. As I’ve got to know the customers, I know that we have some people who come and visit the shop and the coffee shop two, three, sometimes four times a week. It’s become a real community hub. I think a measure of that was the success of the fashion show, which was held in the store in April. We were absolutely blown away with it! We limited tickets to 50 and we sold out. I couldn’t believe it when I saw people queuing up outside half an hour before we opened for the night! We raised over £700 on the night, with ticket sales, clothing sales and food sales. We had some fantastic feedback as well.
For the coffee shop manager, Sally, and me, it wasn’t about the money. It was about people coming together and enjoying themselves, and they really did! People still talk about the fashion show now and what we’re going to do next. We’re going to do an autumn fashion show and Sally is talking about doing a Pie and Peas supper and a quiz night. This is something people would go to their local community centre for, and, although Clowne has one, this is a bit of an alternative. There were at least two people who I spoke to at the fashion show who had never been in the shop before, and hopefully they’ll tell their friends about us. As much as we wanted it to be for people who support us regularly, we wanted new people as well.
We’ve now got 30 volunteers and three paid staff and I can honestly say that with their help, the shop is a real success. Donations, Gift Aid sign ups and sales have all increased. It’s all really positive. I’ve still got a lot to learn about working with volunteers, as I had never done it before and it was certainly the biggest learning curve for me. But I love it now. We have all sorts of people volunteering for us, from young college students who do a half day a week to people like Lorna who has just joined us and she’s 80! She’s just moved up from South Wales and she’s great. The most heart-warming thing is seeing how energetic and enthusiastic our volunteers are, whatever background, whatever age. I’ve got retired police officers, retired nurses, admin clerks. Next week we’ve got a volunteer starting who works full-time Monday to Friday in her job and she’s going to give up one morning of her weekends for us. It’s just so generous! The fact that people give up their time to come and volunteer for us is really important to everyone at Ashgate. We couldn’t run without them.
My volunteers get my utmost respect and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to help them out if they’re having trouble personally or if the rota isn’t working for them. They apologise that they can’t come in or they ask me if they can make a cup of tea. I say, don’t ask me, just tell me! If you need a break, just go for it! After all, it’s your time you’re giving up. I have one lady who volunteers with us on a Sunday morning, and when she goes on her break she pops to the shops and picks up milk for the next few days and she won’t take any money for it! I’ve come to accept that now and she always says that that’s her contribution.
Our shops can always do with more volunteers and so we just need to get the message out there to try and increase their numbers. If we had to employ staff instead of volunteers, we’d need people to cover 140 hours a week and that’s just in one shop! We simply couldn’t afford to do this; we wouldn’t survive as a retailer.
Our next step now is for me to get out and about in other shops, see what their challenges are and how they overcome them. As a retail team, we’re always looking at being the best we can be and finding innovative ways to increase our income stream. The rebranding of the Ashgate cafes from ‘Care for a Cuppa’ to ‘Ashgate Coffee Company’ is just one example of this. We’ve got some excellent store managers and we are well supported by our local areas. We have a great foundation now and we need to continue to look after all of our shops and cafes and our customers, and then we can start to think about opening more coffee shops. I think once that happens it’s really going to take off.”