Catherine Madge started volunteering at Blythe House’s Whaley Bridge department store in 2014, after her father received care and support from the hospice during the final months of his life. She’s learnt cash handling and visual merchandising skills, and says the camaraderie with fellow volunteers and customers is one of her favourite things about giving her time to support the shop.
The Whaley Bridge resident explains more: ‘I was mainly working at the till, providing general support with displays, both upstairs and downstairs. Initially I worked two mornings a week, then when I began working in the week full-time, I started Saturday afternoon shifts, then filling in for holidays. I also did a stint at a stall in Buxton. I enjoyed bag packs and other fundraising through work with my previous employer.
‘I decided to support the hospice as a retail volunteer to give something back, after my dad, Gordon was helped so much at the end of his life, especially consultations with Dr Sarah Parnacott [consultant in palliative medicine]. This was before the Hospice at Home service, and I realise how much of a difference it would have made to his last days. My stepdad, David also had lots of help from Blythe House too recently, in his final months.
‘When I am not working full-time, I help when I can, and when I was furloughed last year, I contacted Blythe House when the shop was about to re-open, to help out where I could until more permanent volunteers were able to return.
‘My favourite things about volunteering for the shop are the camaraderie that everyone has, all working for the same thing, meeting regular customers and answering queries, you never know what you will be asked!
‘I learnt the till and cash handling (before the pandemic came along), along with developing visual merchandise skills, and, yes really, doing a little dance when something you have displayed sells! There are always little treasures to be found amongst the donations and I have researched some vintage craft items such as knitting and sewing patterns to help them sell in the shop and on eBay.
‘Blythe House takes care of its volunteers, the managers are terrific, and you always know you are making such a difference to this charity, and always giving something back to your community. The volunteers take care of each other, keeping in touch when they can, and you meet so many there is usually time for a quick chat and catch up.
‘When you can find something for a customer, a little treasure, or it is something they have been looking for, for ages, and can’t find elsewhere, it is a real joy. I remember a customer had left some family photos in a book he had donated. Fortunately, I was able to locate the book and return the photos – he was really chuffed! Christmas is always a special time; lots of decorations and presents are bought, and far too many chocolatey things around!
‘Something I really enjoy is talking with people, helping them out, saying hello to regular customers and volunteers. So many people said they were really pleased when the shop was able to re-open again last year, let’s hope it’s not too long before it opens again in 2021!
‘I would say when thinking about volunteering for Blythe House, you actually get a lot more back than you put in; a real feeling of doing something for your community, whatever it is, and I just wish I had more time now, but hopefully that will come. In the meantime, I donate what I can, and enjoy keeping in touch with this hub of the community.
‘Finally, Blythe House really helped me get back into work and back into the community after going through bereavement and, given the chance, I would love to do more.’