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Mary Queen of Shops, Part Deux.

Dear Jo (and fans of Mary Queen of Shops)

Thank you for your question (see comment on previous blog)

There’s always a pang of fear when an outsider tries to change something you have a great deal of affection for. Will their skills set fit in a new and challenging environment? Will they be able to improve on the existing situation? Will the final result represent a new way forward?

The answer is clearly no to all three of those in respect to the French hairdresser who butchered my girlfriend’s beautiful hair last week.

What about Mary though?

Well she has in my view coped very well. Going from the voluntary to private sector is no mean feat.

As I’m sure many of you will know volunteer competencies can be a source of stress. Tending to stretch all the way from those who will arrange and execute a street collection in Ulan Bator without batting an eyelid, to those who need diagrams to make a cup of tea.

To answer Jo’s question directly though. It certainly gave me lots of food for thought. Someone with her retail knowledge and skills is always going to be a huge source of inspiration and good ideas.

It did make me slightly self conscious about what we have on sale and where it is placed. Lynn (our shop manager) though is generally excellent in ensuring the other volunteers and I put only the best on display. As dedicated as the toy ladies were I would expect that most of the items they had on the shelves would have never seen the light of day in the Nottingham store.

She also made me consider again the possibility of a higher quality of donations. Going to a large employer to look for items was an impressive piece of initiative.

Overall though I’m not convinced Nottingham would benefit from such a drastic re-brand, especially one which was too close to a high-end fashion boutique for me.

One of the nicest aspects about shopping or working in a charity shop is the feeling that everyone is welcome.

We have people who come into the shop in Nottingham who I suspect probably don’t have a roof over their heads at night and there can’t be too many other establishments in the city where they’d feel their custom was wanted.

Now of course I’m not suggesting that Save the Children has a role to play in providing refuge. There are many other brilliant organisations that do so already.

However I fear that Mary’s shop model might unintentionally alter that ‘all are welcome’ atmosphere.

My charity shop of the future would be set out like a small professional market, with a competitive pricing structure, a dynamic program of displays linked to appeals and campaigns and a collection of volunteers that spanned every possible social and cultural group.

Most of all though I’d like it to have a door that no-one feels self conscious about walking through.

Well apart from incompetent French hairdressers.

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