Helen Weal has been volunteering at Rowcroft’s Distribution Centre in Newton Abbot since November 2014. Together with a team of 12 volunteers she is responsible for sorting donations ready for them to be sent to Rowcroft’s 15 shops across South Devon. In this interview she tells us what it’s like to volunteer in one of the hospice’s most bustling, busy buildings.
How long have you volunteered at Rowcroft’s Distribution Centre?
I started volunteering at the Distribution Centre in November 2014. My father had spent three weeks at Rowcroft back in 2007 and I wanted to give something back to the hospice to thank them for his care. I LOVE charity shops and also like the idea of recycling, re-using and reducing waste, which is what Rowcroft’s Distribution Centre is all about. I volunteer on a Tuesday morning from 8am to 12pm; Tuesday morning is now my ‘Rowcroft’ morning and that takes precedence over everything else.
Can you describe your role?
I sort all the donations of bedlinen, curtains, towels, vintage linen and lace, table linen, covers and throws, and the cushions. A lot of the shops have an area for linen and order them from the Distribution Centre regularly. I take pride in the responsibility I have been given, plus I know that it is all making money for the hospice.
Can you describe an average shift at Distribution Centre?
My volunteering sessions starts at 8am, which is when I choose to begin. There are always staff in before 8am and usually I’m greeted with a ‘morning Helen!’ There are always two, sometimes three, large-wheeled containers for me to sort, plus my table is piled high! So for the next two hours it’s a matter of sorting and hanging everything, ensuring at the same time that it’s good enough quality to sell i.e. not being too grubby or threadbare. I try to save as much as possible, including tea towels and old towels that can be sold as ‘dog towels’! I love it when vintage linen comes in – that is always special. Anything that isn’t saveable or saleable is recycled. At 10am we have a coffee break, I usually go around this time with two other volunteers who I’m friendly with. It is always nice to have a drink and a catch up, and also to mix with other staff and get to know them. It is then back to sorting, which I usually finish at 11.15am. I then tidy up my area to leave it neat and organised so that the staff can easily see where everything is. Then there’s time to help with a few other jobs before I go home at 12pm.
What do you enjoy about being a volunteer rather than a paid member of staff?
Volunteering is flexible, and at the moment I’m happy to be in a work environment without the responsibility. It gives me more freedom than a job and I think volunteering complements what paid staff do. It also gives me experience in a different field to what I do in the rest of my life.
What advice would you give to anyone else thinking of volunteering at Rowcroft’s Distribution Centre?
If you are looking for active and varied volunteer work then this will be for you. There are so many different areas to help in; from book sorting to bric-a-brac and clothing. You should expect the unexpected – because you never know what you’re going to discover inside a black bag! What I like about it is being part of a team, all working to the same end, all trying to help the hospice.
Rowcroft is holding an Open Day for anyone interested in volunteering at its Distribution Centre, or in any one of its 15 shops, on Tuesday 14 March at the Distribution Centre on Brunel Industrial Estate, Newton Abbot.
For more information call Paul O’Callaghan on 07896 941085.