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The benefits of charity shops: volunteering

It’s a simple fact that the Yorkshire Cancer Research charity shops couldn’t operate without their wonderful volunteers. From sorting donations to giving customers a warm welcome, every volunteer helps keep the charity’s shops, donation centre and online shop running. Their dedication helps to raise funds for pioneering cancer research in Yorkshire.

A Yorkshire Cancer Research volunteer smiling while hanging clothes in the shop

But it’s not just people with cancer across the region who benefit from the contribution of volunteers. Research has shown that people who volunteer have increased feelings of self-esteem, social connection, and wellbeing¹. Volunteering is not just good for the charity, it’s good for us too.

Connecting socially

Shop Manager Rob Atkins is keen to champion how volunteering can benefit mental health.

He explained: “I’ve worked in charity retail for many years, and I’ve seen first-hand the benefit that volunteering can have for people’s mental health.

Two volunteers in Yorkshire Cancer Research shop in Harrogate

“Through talking to customers and other volunteers, people’s confidence can increase so much. For people who aren’t currently working or can’t work for various reasons, it’s a great opportunity to socialise and interact with other people.”

When Annie was spotted browsing the books in the charity’s Ripon shop, it didn’t take long before the shop’s volunteers realised that she was an expert on all things literary. They asked her if she’d consider volunteering, and Annie joined the team in February 2022.

She said: “Initially I wasn’t sure I’d be able to help as I can’t lift or do anything manual, but when they said I could help sort books and volunteer when I felt able to, I was happy to be involved.”

Before she started volunteering, Annie spent most of her time at home due to a back injury.

“I love volunteering. Since I started at the shop, my mental health is so much better. Before this, my whole life was at home so coming here twice a week makes the world of difference.”

Like Annie, many people have found that volunteering offers a chance to socialise that may not be available in other aspects of their life.

A 2017 study found that 95% of UK volunteers agree that volunteering has provided an opportunity to socialise and meet new people, and 92% feel like they’ve benefited from a sense of belonging to a team. For many volunteers at Yorkshire Cancer Research, this is the highlight of the role.

Best friends Ann and Sue have also discovered the social benefits of volunteering. The two met when they began helping at the Knaresborough shop in 2019. They now spend time together throughout the week.

Ann said: “I started volunteering after I retired and had more time on my hands. For me, it’s not just about helping the community and supporting the charity, I personally think it helps me too. I know that having Sue helps me.

“Now we go out and do things together because our friendship has developed since we started volunteering. We work really well together.”

Sue added: “So many people come into the shop and compliment the atmosphere and the warm welcome and it’s because we all enjoy being here and volunteering as a team.

“Volunteering has brought out another side of me, a caring side. It’s changed me and it makes me appreciate things more. It’s done me good and hopefully I’m also doing some good at the same time.”

95% of UK volunteers

agree that volunteering has provided an opportunity to socialise and meet new people.

Being part of the community

Lynne began volunteering in the Ripon shop after moving to the city and found it a great way to get to know the community and her new neighbours.

“I was new to the area, and I didn’t know anybody. A friend of mine suggested I try volunteering as a way of getting to know people.

“The customers are all so nice and lots of people come in for a chat throughout the day. You get to know the regulars. I just love the social side of it, both with the customers and other volunteers. We all really get along here, and we always have a laugh.”

Yorkshire Cancer Research shop volunteers

Emily McCabe manages the charity’s Knaresborough shop and has seen first-hand the way that volunteers can become a part of the community.

She said: “Charity shops are a community hub, and I don’t think people realise that. We see the same faces each week, and in some cases, we might be the only people they chat to all day.

“That’s what makes charity retail unique. You hear people’s stories while working here, and you wouldn’t get that working in mainstream retail.

“The volunteers have formed a community here too, developing really strong friendships with other volunteers. They offer a friendly face for the people who regularly come into the shop.”

Improving confidence

Volunteering can also be a way to develop new skills and improve confidence², both for young volunteers looking to enter the workforce for the first time, and for older volunteers learning skills outside their previous careers.

This is true of two volunteers at the charity.

Volunteer in the Yorkshire Cancer Research Charity Donation Centre

Edward first started volunteering in the donation centre in 2020.

He said: “It was during the first Covid lockdown, and I wanted to learn something rather than just being sat at home. Helping out, even just a little bit, was really important to me.

“I was interested in how the online sales worked. I had an idea of how a charity shop operates, but I didn’t really know what happens in donation centres and it’s quite amazing really.

“I’ve learned so much in the online market, like how to use Ebay and how to respond to customers. I didn’t even know how to pack stuff and send it off before. I’ve also been helping with deliveries to the shops, and it’s amazing to see how everything and everyone works together.”

Shop Volunteer in the Yorkshire Cancer Research Knaresborough shop

Sara Narayan started volunteering after she retired and has found that her confidence has grown over time.

“I worked as a teacher, so when I started volunteering in the shop after retiring, it was a complete change to what I’d been trained to do.

“Emily, the manager here, is really supportive and talked me through everything. She’s always there if I have any questions.

“Initially, I was very nervous, and I used to avoid working on the till in case I pressed something wrong. Over time, I’ve learned how to use it. That’s a skill I’ve learned in my 60s, and it’s really given me confidence. I feel more capable of using it on my own now.”

Sara has also found that she’s learned new skills from her fellow volunteers.

She continued: “There are other volunteers who have more experience with retail than me, and I’ve watched as they’ve pulled out seasonal pieces or interesting donations. That’s another skill I’ve learned from volunteering, and I’ve used it to create my own displays recently.”

The support from volunteers across Yorkshire means that Yorkshire Cancer Research can continue to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer in the region.

Find out more about volunteering

Thanks to you

All this work is only possible thanks to donations from supporters like you. We share the same vision of a world where cancer no longer destroys lives and breaks families apart.

Funding cutting-edge research is the best way to achieve this, and your support for research gives us hope for a better future for people with lung cancer, in Yorkshire and beyond.

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