A day in the life
Save the Children, Walcot Street
words ella pawlik
photography meg gisborne
9.30am: Outside, stragglers are still hurriedly clip-clopping to work. Save the Children doesn’t smell like a charity shop inside. It doesn’t have, in Dylan Moran’s words, ‘that incredible funk of depression’. Sunlight streams into the shop, followed by the day’s first customers.
10.00am: A man walks in and heads straight to a display cabinet at the back of the shop. He absent-mindedly checks out his reflection in the glass while eyeing a Chester silver brush. He scans the collection of curiosities inside, which includes an early 19th century beaded purse, a Johnson Brothers Edward VIII coronation mug, a brass and lapis ring, and a set of 1940s zoo animal figurines. Having acquired nothing but a newfound confidence in his mirror image, he leaves, walking past another customer who’s showing a red woollen skirt to her friend. “I mean, it’s SO Chanel, isn’t it?” she says. Spoiler alert, it IS Chanel.
11.00am: There’s a heady concoction of clothes, shoes, bags, books, jewellery, everythings and anythings in the shop, and it’s all a cut above. One designer handbag has a £150 price tag. “The quality of clothes is not like your standard charity shop,” volunteer Katrina Fox confirms. It must be hard to price everything accurately. The shop manager, Emily Davis, has made a pricing guide for the volunteers, but they often still have to do some old-fashioned detective work, and sometimes give the odd call to Bonhams auction house.
11.30am: Pricing is one thing, acquiring is another. Where does all the booty come from? They have to check for counterfeits but for the main, they get as good as they give. “People see what we already have in the shop and donate accordingly,” Emily explains. “Some items are a bit too loved,” she says with diplomacy “and they go to other charity shops. Or the rag man”. In general, though, it’s stock from good stock.
12.00pm: There’s a steady stream of customers and a calming click-clack of hangers being pushed back and forth along the rails. Being opposite the Hilton doesn’t hurt when attracting trade from out-of-towners, but the majority of custom is local. Some customers return week after week to see the same volunteers. They must be nice then, the volunteers. And there must be a specific type of person who donates their time to help out in a charity shop. Well, not so much, apparently. There are around 29 volunteers in total who keep the shop open six days a week (they’re looking to get more in and open on Sundays too). Some are old. Some are new. Legendary Ellen, who’s in her 80s, volunteers every Monday without fail. And Margaret (also notably fabled) has been volunteering at the shop for a whopping 20 years.
1.00pm: Today, Kat explains that she has only been volunteering for a few months. She has, in her own words, a boring day job that means she “forgets what it’s like to deal with real people”. Kat recently helped a lady source a complete wedding outfit from the shop: hat, shoes, dress, coat… the lot. Having never been a personal shopper before, she appreciates that “working here brings out a side of you that you never realised you had”. She runs a cat colouring book through the till. “Cat-mad daughter,” the customer mutters, rolling her eyes as she leaves the shop. “I’d recommend it to anybody,” says Kat, concluding her thoughts on volunteering, not the colouring book.
1.30pm: A green checked cape that was put on display first thing in the morning gets snaffled by Concetta who lives in London and just happened to be wandering by. Marzanna Perry, another volunteer, disappears upstairs and returns with more clothes to display. She’s been volunteering at the shop for around eight years. “I chose a children’s charity because I have children,” she explains. Previously a child psychologist, child welfare and happiness is obviously something Marzanna feels passionate about. While altruism is a big incentive for her, it’s clear she enjoys being there too. Marzanna definitely gives good chat. “This is why I know half of Bath,” she observes, half way through a sentence about something completely different. There are now 13 customers perusing the rails. It’s not a big shop. Is this a frenzy? It feels a bit like one. Everything is relative.
2.00pm: The morning volunteers are finished and the afternoon shift – Carolyn Brown and Joanne Huxley – are welcomed into the fold. Jo is folding more than most as she prefers working behind the scenes upstairs. Standing behind a large table in the top room, Jo is surrounded by rails of clothes labelled ‘Not yet steamed’. There’s a steamer behind her. She knows what she needs to do.
2.30pm: Downstairs, a lady with tangerine dream lips and a lot of pearls is searching the rails. She starts to sigh, signalling that she can’t find anything she likes, but then checks herself. “I got my Louboutins from here, darling, so I can’t complain”. Another customer tells Emily that the jacket she is wearing was from the shop, and brings out an album which contains a photo shoot she did in said coat. Emily looks proud. A young lady tries on a wedding dress that fits like a glove. The volunteers stand in appreciation with their hands on their hearts to keep their emotions inside. The bride-to-be looks stunning and curiously, everyone suddenly seems to get something in their eyes. Save the Children? Try Save the Date.
3.30pm: A lot of stock from the morning has already gone. The shop is vibrant and dynamic, and due to the volunteers constant replenishing, updating and reorganising, the rails and displays are almost unrecognisable from the beginning of the day. The afternoon relaxes into a steady trickle of customers. It’s quieter than the morning, and this is taken advantage of with a round of coffee and walnut cake for the volunteers. Concetta comes to collect her coat and wears it out of the shop looking like a million dollars.
4.30pm: It’s easy to forget that this isn’t just about designer clothes and bargains. On the wall behind the till there’s information about some appeals, and a framed certificate from the Save the Children powers that be, which acknowledges the £106,829.52 raised by the shop in 2017. That’s a lot of money. Meanwhile, someone tries on a pair of Vivienne Westwood shoes; one purple and one pink. The till is locked, the doors shut. Tomorrow’s magpies will swoop in good time.
Visit: Save the Children, 7 Walcot St, Bath, BA1 5BN