Friday, 17 September 2021

30 years of volunteering at charity sales

SALES day at the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed is something of a phenomenon.

SALES day at the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed is something of a phenomenon.

Every three weeks up to 1,400 people arrive at Joyce Grove in search of a bargain.

The roads in and around the village resemble a car park as vehicles are parked bumper-to-bumper for hundreds of yards along pavements and grass verges.

Three hours later, the hordes pile out again with their goodies and a feeling of satisfaction that they have contributed to something important.

The sales started 30 years ago thanks to a small group of friends who wanted to raise money for the  hospice.

Originally, they took the form of a table top sale in the Fleming Room inside the former home of the James Bond author’s family but they soon outgrew the space and were moved outside.

Today, the sales run across 10 outbuildings and outdoor areas and require a team of 300 volunteers to prepare for each one.

Before a sale, the helpers sort, price and organise donations and on the day itself they man the stalls.

There is a donation station where people can drop off unwanted goods. The charity accepts clothing, hats, accessories, jewellery, furniture (except sofas, three-piece suites, mattresses and beds), toys, electrical items (except old televisions and video recorders), china and glass, kitchenware, bric-a-brac, pictures, frames, books, DVDs, linen, towels and fabric. Any white goods, prams or pushchairs are not accepted.

The most popular items among buyers are books, china and glass, furniture and women’s clothes.

Volunteer Jane Pinder, 56, from Wyfold, looks after the donations as they come in.

“I’m very bossy,” she joked. “I move the stuff around so it is in the right places, deal with security and answer any questions people might have. It never ceases to amaze me what comes in. We get everything you could think of, all sorts of musical instruments, piano accordions, ukuleles, drum kits, flutes and guitars and some really interesting old hoovers. Some things we have to skip but we try to take everything.”

Mrs Pinder said donations came from house clearances, people who start projects but then give up and others who have been “sorting out” at home.

“We get all sorts from everywhere,” she said. “We get stuff from businesses who have ordered excess stock as well as some bankrupt stock. Once we had some curtains that were so heavy that they must have come from a mansion house somewhere and we couldn’t carry them.

“You can come to a sale and not know what you’re going to find. The DIY department is fantastic — those things that we can’t identify are put there. It really is a treasure trove.”

With so much on offer, it’s hardly surprising that film and television companies are regular customers in search of props for programmes such as Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Lewis and New Tricks.

Not only that but filming often takes place at the hospice and grounds. The charity has also provided items for the Royal Opera House.

Mrs Pinder said: “We are also the place where am-dram people come to get props because they know they will find something. It really is the place for that.”

The most expensive item ever sold was a paperweight that sold for £1,800 at auction after a volunteer spotted it and handed it to the charity’s valuer. On another occasion a donated painting was sold at a New York auction house.

The most unusual item to be sold was a car.

Mrs Pinder began helping more than 10 years ago as one of her friends was a volunteer and another very close friend had passed away at the hospice about seven years before.

She said: “Without the sales and the money that they generate it would be very difficult to run the hospice.

“We are very dependent on the people turning up each week to help out. It seems to work for everybody and people do love coming and they know it is for a good cause.”

Sue Fulford-Dobson, 78, from Shepherd’s Green, has volunteered for at least 20 years after a friend got her involved.

“I have always done the same thing,” she said. “I turn up for the sales once every three weeks and I work on the stall selling blankets and linen.

“It is fascinating if you like people-watching and talking to people. It is not just about selling, people come for a chat.

“You also get to meet the other volunteers and get a chance to look around the stalls before the sale opens. It is a really nice morning, except when it’s pouring with rain.”

She sees a mixture of customers from the “extremely well-heeled” looking for a bargain to those who seem genuinely hard-up.

Mrs Fulford-Dobson said: “People come from miles away. The hospice couldn’t survive without the sales as they really do raise a vast amount of money. My stall will often take £1,000 on a Saturday, which is a lot when you think of how many stalls there are there.”

Not surprisingly, the majority of volunteers have very personal reasons for giving up their time.

One such person is 70-year-old Mick Martin, of Vicarage Road, Henley, whose wife Sylvia, 67, died from cancer in August.

He began volunteering more than three years ago when his wife started receiving day care at the hospice.

“Sue Ryder was looking after Sylvia at a time when some of my friends worked up there,” he said.

“I used to take her up in the mornings and pick her up and bring her home at lunchtime.

“My friends then said that I should stay around for half-an-hour or an hour and then that went to two hours once a week while my wife was in the hospice. As Sylvia got worse, I began to do more and more hours.

“She received brilliant care, care that I could not otherwise afford. The care is tip-top.

“Sue Ryder was also great with me and offered to help me with any problems at home when I was with Sylvia and I became quite friendly with the staff up there.

“In the end, Sylvia would talk with other patients up there and when she died some of the staff went to her funeral and were very upset. They treat you like family.”

Mr Martin volunteers on Tuesdays and Fridays and on sales days.

“They asked me if I would get involved with the sales but I said I wasn’t comfortable with crowds of people but would try one.

“I liked it and, for me, I am always putting something back for the help that they gave my wife, so it is not just a one-way thing. It is a little bit of an obsession for me.

“It is hectic during the sales — it is almost like a London back street market. It is a lot of fun and working up there becomes addictive.”

• The Sue Ryder sale dates for the rest of this year are as follows: June 4 and 25; July 16; August 6; September 17; October 8 and 29; November 19; December 10.

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