‘In out, in out, shake it all about…’

About sums up my working life from about a year or so after my MS diagnosis, with a stint at College and University thrown in there. My life went from 100 to 0 overnight it seems, but this post isn’t about my paid working life, the opposite – my volunteering life.

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When restrictions were starting to be lifted (first time around) last summer 2020, a good friend of mine who knows all too well that I have always longed to fill that void of ‘emptiness’ that MS had tried and continues to try to chip away at over the years in regards to my independence and identity, informed me that the Hope Centre Charity Shop were looking for volunteers. A charity shop which has been opened alongside the Northamptonshire Hope Centre; an anti-poverty charity that provides services for anyone in the county affected by homelessness, poverty, addiction, and poor mental health, with 100% of the proceeds generated by the Hope Charity Shop going towards the services that the Hope Centre provides.

Of course, after being locked up and down for 3 months I quickly responded to the advertisement and sent an email over expressing my interest. I went for an induction with the shop manager a few days later and I knew as soon as I walked through the doors that responding to that advertisement was one of the better life decisions that I had made for myself. Trust me, there have been some questionable life choices made over the years, but all a trial and error of needed confirmation I say! 

I have volunteered at a few places over the years, but something just didn’t feel right. I felt like a ‘spare part’, in the sense that I was typically given the jobs that the paid staff didn’t want to pick up, I didn’t feel like I was contributing to a cause. This was also down to frustrations that I wasn’t picking up any new skills or pushing myself to be the best person that I know that I can be, given the chance. It wasn’t until I started volunteering at the Hope Charity Shop that it was confirmed to me that working as a volunteer with not only other volunteers, but other members of staff who shared the same desire to contribute to a not for profit charity is what I was looking for this whole time. A close knit community where everyone’s contribution matters.

People volunteer for many different reasons, and mine? Initially it was to fill that working life void that MS had slowly taken from me over the years…to have a purpose. Now a year on? Not only has a passion developed with volunteering within the charity sector but volunteering with Hope continuously teaches me about the charity and the services that are provided, as well reading about and meeting some of our service users whose life’s’ have been changed from the money generated through the shop.

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From a personal perspective, holding my volunteering position at the Hope Shop has been invaluable to enable me to realise my worth in society. I am not a spare part, I do have a skill set to offer, and I am able to learn new skills. With having MS, it has been extremely hard to secure employment to accommodate my symptoms, and work with people who can appreciate my limitations and abilities. I have been bought to tears at times with the amount of support that the Hope staff have provided. We all work together.

With having an office based background in primarily private sector positions outside of my studies, thanks to Hope I have picked up and developed a skill set from not only working in a retail environment, but what is involved working within a charity sector. This includes sorting through donations to sell, tagging the items to be priced, greeting our lovely customers, working on the till, and sorting and getting further product information on items that we list on our eBay storenot to mention the hard work that goes into running a charity shop successfully. A strong relationship has developed with the Shop managers and the other volunteers who have and continue to provide all of the updated information required to enable me to carry out my position successfully.

Shop manager Anna, and assistant manager Joy are an absolute pleasure to work with, along with the other volunteers and I urge anybody who is looking for a volunteering opportunity to get in contact. Whether you are looking to gain new skills or work on existing skill sets,  be part of making a meaningful difference in the community, feel valued and part of a team, or meeting new people…there is something here for everyone to get involved with.

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Remember that said identity I will always strive to hold onto in the beginning of the post? Volunteering with the Hope Shop has enabled me to hold onto this; that said identity being just me, being able, and that I can still contribute to society and myself in some way. My health continuously knocks me in and out of work but volunteering with the Hope Charity shop is the one thing that has and will hopefully remain consistent for me. 

Thank you Hope.

***Original article can be found here



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