So, there I was after the call from my boss, feeling deflated. I was being furloughed to help support our company during these Covid-19 times.

Whilst I totally understood the reasons for this (and it was totally the right choice), it didn’t change the feeling that I wasn’t wanted. And I know this wasn’t the case either… but you know it doesn’t change that feeling.There was also the guilt that my friends and colleagues were working hard. I know this as I had already spent a number of weeks ‘Working From Home’ on endless Skype and Zoom calls, batting away constant messaging, emails, facetime calls, and not seeming to have any time to pop to the toilet or have a chat with someone in my family whilst making a cup of tea (the equivalent to our drinks stations at work); I knew that it was tiring for them.

Other people around me were using this time to do home improvements, to improve their baking skills, do gardening, learn new skills (sing, dance, learn a language); but with the continuing tap tap of keyboards, and the faint hum of the rest of the household on their calls all day, it still felt wrong. So now on top of feeling deflated, not wanted and feeling guilty, I realised I was feeling very sorry for myself, when in fact I was very lucky. I gave myself a good talking to… there was no reason for me to be feeling down.

The turning point

Looking back (albeit only by 6 weeks or so), the best thing I did was reach out to Willen Hospice. I had been working with them on a work project before all this happened. So I called my main contact with an offer to do ‘anything’ for them whilst I was furloughed. They warmly took me up on my offer.

It costs around £9 a minute to run Willen Hospice and they need to raise £4.7m a year! Most of their income comes from events (such as the Midnight Moo) and sales from their ten charity shops dotted around Milton Keynes, Buckingham, Towcester, Leighton Buzzard and Ampthill… but that has now all changed as a result of Covid-19. They needed a way to keep the money coming in. So for now many of their events have been postponed (let’s hope they can happen later in the year) but the shops were an opportunity.

The first challenge they had was how to open a shop. Although the Government guidance is constantly evolving, when I joined them, the shops couldn’t open unless they were selling food and basic essentials. With the support of Tesco, they were able to open the Bletchley store. The second challenge was how to resource it. The shops rely heavily on volunteer staff, but most of the existing volunteers are on the vulnerable list. Here was my opportunity to help.
With the retail management team acting as ‘Bodgit and Scarper’ the van drivers and store muscle, and one other member of the retail team managing the store, I joined them.

What I have got out of it

It’s been a couple of weeks now and I’ll be honest, I can see how others may learn new skills in this role, but for me it has been more of using my existing skillset in a very different way. Learning to use the till and dealing with money is just a laptop and budgets in my ‘usual’ world. But being able to use some of my past retail marketing experience was fun (see window display). Other things I have learned:
• It is a very different world dealing with the public each day. I was quite detached from the general public in my work world, but now I was talking to customers every day.
• Other people are lonely. It’s been therapeutic for me as well as the customer who comes into the store to buy a few things and have a quick chat.
• It gave me purpose. It’s not that I didn’t have any before but gave me another reason to get up in the morning.
• Problem resolution. It was a new venture and issues had to be overcome. Working together as a team and those skills from the workplace transitioned easily.
• I have made new friends.

To continue to open the other shops they need more volunteers
My understanding is that there is a core of very loyal volunteers in the Bletchley store (as well as the others). I spoke very briefly the other day to one of the usual volunteers who popped in to see the store. She explained that she had offered to volunteer for a short time following the passing away of her husband. That was over 20 years ago, and she is still loving volunteering!

At some point relatively soon, I will return to my ‘usual’ work. My ability to give up time during the day will disappear. But it may be too soon for the dedicated existing volunteers to return.

If you are fit and able would you be willing to give up some time to help support all the shops opening? You may be like me currently furloughed, or you may have retired early, or be between roles. You might be returning from university for the summer (by the way this would look great on your CV!) given that there is little chance of many retail jobs this summer.

What will you get out of it?

The satisfaction of a job well done and the knowledge your work has directly befitted others. You will learn new skills and a fair bit about yourself too!