Before the St Wilfrid’s Community Shops had to close, due to the Government’s restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, Clem Jackson interviewed one of the Uckfield shop’s volunteers, Jennie Woodham. Normally, you would find Jennie, once a week, behind the counter of the shop. She is someone who proves that anyone is able to take on a volunteer role, because she is, as she puts it, ‘totally immobile’, however, she travels around with the aid of a mobility scooter and in the shop she uses her walking sticks to get to her place at the till.

Jennie has been volunteering in the shop for a couple of years now. ‘Before that I was a volunteer at another charity shop across the road for about four years.’ There are more than a dozen charity shops in Uckfield High Street, but Jennie says that when the time came for her to move on the only shop she wanted to come to was St Wilfrid’s. ‘Whenever I came in, before I started volunteering, it always felt like a friendly shop.’

I asked Jennie why St Wilfrid’s? ‘Because, for me, it is THE local hospice and if I ever need to go to a hospice that’s where I want to go.’ Jennie adds, ‘My husband was due to come into the hospice, but sadly never made it.’ Another key factor for Jennie was that the shop has an accessible toilet!

Jennie has been volunteering in retail for about 10 years now and says she enjoys the work: ‘It’s not overly demanding; you meet nice people, customers and staff, and I just like talking to people.’

What does the job entail? ‘Well I spend my time behind the counter on the till because I’m totally immobile,’ Jennie adds ‘and it’s the only place you can put me. I can’t be stocking shelves or clothing racks.’

What about training? ‘All the training is on-the-job. Pauline, the Community Shop Manager, went through all the basics: fire safety, health and safety, evacuation procedures and so on. Things like working the till were quite easy, I’ve worked tills before and this one is not particularly difficult to handle. Anyone could pick it up quite easily I think.’

Jennie says that the best thing about volunteering is that ‘You meet nice people, very nice people. I get on very well with John, who I work with on Friday afternoons. We worked together previously at another charity shop; we’re a bit of a double act.’

Despite her limited mobility, Jennie still manages one afternoon a week, usually Friday. She says ‘Other volunteers might do a couple of shifts or even a couple of days a week. Pauline is very flexible and is happy for volunteers to give whatever time they can.’

Jennie’s view is ‘If I can do it, anyone can.’ So what advice has she got for someone unsure about whether they have anything to offer? ‘Why not try it? It’s easy to pick up things here and anybody can do the sort of things we do. There are lots of other volunteer jobs too, not just in the shops. Just have a look.’

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