From Volunteering to Shop Manager - My Journey with Oxfam Holywood

From Volunteering to Shop Manager - My Journey with Oxfam Holywood

Fiona Anderson, Shop Manager at Oxfam Holywood

During the pandemic, thousands of people found themselves furloughed and not working for the first time in their adult lives. It was a tough transition for many as they struggled to fill their days with things to do. However, as the restrictions lifted the majority of people returned to their day jobs – at least those who were lucky enough to still have that option did. But Fiona Anderson from Holywood, County Down, discovered that what she did to fill up her days during lockdown was actually what she wanted to do full time and so she went about pursuing her passion.

Fiona had a successful career in communications but a stint volunteering in her local Oxfam charity changed all that.

"My friends and family call me the recycling queen because I constantly speak to people about recycling and living sustainably as it is really important to me. I was working in communications and last year the pandemic happened and I was furloughed. I didn't know what to do with myself, having worked since I was 14, so I went into my local Oxfam and volunteered. I had volunteered there while I was at school for with my best friend Rachel when we did our Duke Of Edinburgh Award and I decided to go back to help out with my spare time.

“In my previous role as a Digital Marketing Specialist I was working with some of Northern Ireland’s biggest brands creating digital strategy and running their social media accounts so I was keen to apply this to my volunteering role. A lot of charity shops miss out on implementing that strategic communications approach which a lot of other retailers are already doing. So I set up an Instagram page and from there it grew really quickly (all organic growth, whereas I was used to working for clients with healthy marketing budgets!)

"Suddenly we were aware of the huge demand for a social media presence for the shop. Charity shops aren't good at promoting themselves individually and there was a huge gap in the market for posting what we had available to attract people who wouldn't traditionally charity shop. This in partnership with the fact the pandemic happened, a lot of people were really strapped for cash and were looking for a new place to shop. I think we all re-evaluated what was important to us and there was a clear societal shift in attitude towards charity shopping which worked in our favour. We now have a really loyal following from eco-warriors to fashionistas and people who are just there for a bargain. It's been fantastic.”

I absolutely fell in love with the shop and the team, a fantastic bunch of characters of all ages – our oldest volunteer Barbara is 93! There is so much to learn from each of the volunteer’s experiences and expertise. I love people and I loved spending time with the volunteers and getting to know the regular customers.
Fiona, Shop Manager outside Oxfam Holywood

Fiona enjoyed her time volunteering that she made the huge decision when a full-time position came up in the store. She said: "I eventually returned to work but I just felt that my heart was in Oxfam. I was still volunteering at weekends but I was missing the shop and the people. So when a shop manager position became available, I took a leap of faith and applied. I was successful in getting the job and suddenly the shop that I had loved for so many years was actually mine!

"Once we reopened after the Christmas lockdown, Holywood Oxfam had the highest sales in Northern Ireland for the opening day out of all the Oxfam shops. This was due to the quality of the items and how we promoted our reopening across social media - we actually had a queue down the street at opening!”

Something I feel I probably underestimated was just how important a role the charity shop plays in people's lives in the local community, especially in a town like Holywood. People really struggled over lockdown not having that social interaction and I get told so often I'm the only person they have spoken to today. We have customers who are in the shop every day which is lovely to see, we also have volunteers from lots of different backgrounds. I am particularly passionate about encouraging and empowering young people, It is so fulfilling to watch them grow in confidence and build up their experience.
Shop Window and merchandising from Oxfam Holywood

“There is so much creativity involved in this job which I adore. From merchandising and decorating the shop to our unique window displays and handpicking the best clothing and homeware to showcase on social media. You have to be a bit of a jack of all trades as a charity shop manager, no two days are ever the same but I have really enjoyed my experience so far. We recently hosted a Harry Potter themed event which was a sell out, it’s fun to theme our displays to appeal to different audiences - we are really excited for Halloween this year and will have costumes to suit everyone.

Fiona believes this is a really exciting time for charity shops and encourages anyone who is thinking of volunteering or pursuing a career with Oxfam not to think twice about doing it. She said: "I have so many plans for the shop. Everyone is now getting behind the sustainable fashion movement and we are delighted about it as it has never been more important. There is a shift in attitude and it is so lovely to be a part of in a small way. I'm probably not a traditional charity shop manager, I had this promising career in communications but the last year just changed so much for me. It was an eye-opener and it just made me realise what is truly important. I now have such a great work/life balance as the shop opens at 10am and closes at 5pm whereas before I would be working until really late and taking my work home with me. It's all about prioritising what matters and doing what you are passionate about.

As Second Hand September approaches we have lots of exciting things planned including partnering with a personal stylist for a bespoke evening shopping event, a designer sale day and we have also just launched a TikTok account for our shop (@HolywoodOxfam). We will be encouraging all our followers to take the SHS pledge to only buy second hand for the whole month. You can keep up to date with everything we are up to via our Instagram, Facebook or Twitter page through the handle.

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