Meet Stella...Volunteering at Berkhamsted Owned! | The Hospice of St. Francis

Meet Stella...Volunteering at Berkhamsted Owned!

“Every sack holds a story and can evoke cries of elation or disappointment. Every shift is different and unpredictable but the common thread is one of laughter, friendship and service. I always leave feeling I have made a difference…”

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Meet Stella! She supports our team at our Hospice shop, ‘Berkhamsted Owned’, receiving donations, sorting and tagging them ready for steaming before they are displayed on the shop floor. We caught up with her to learn about her role and her favourite part of volunteering…

“I have been volunteering at the Berkhamsted shop for nearly three years, although it feels much longer as I feel so comfortable working there and very much part of the team. It is my first volunteering role but my big regret is that I did not do it earlier. The day I nervously stepped up to the counter and offered my services was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

I work with an amazing group of women who come from a variety of backgrounds. We are, at heart, all good people involved in an altruistic exercise that we feel helps others and by default helps ourselves. 

Through working at the shop, I have met a fellow volunteer who is now one of my dearest friends.  Of course, every team needs a leader and in Claire, we have the best! She manages the shop with dedication, flair and total commitment. She is supported by her team of deputies who all present different skills and talents but between them demonstrate what integrated teamwork can achieve. They are an awesome group of strong women! The volunteers all come with a variety of skills and abilities, but everyone is made to feel involved and valued.

In my previous life, I was a Teacher and for a time a Headteacher in a deprived area of Luton which presented many challenges, but many rewards. At College, I studied Art, but in my final year focussed on dress design and embroidery. My passion for fashion and style is well known and my collection of vintage hats is always a topic of conversation! I like to think that my knowledge of vintage clothes and accessories has been an advantage in my role as a sorter. 

I love all aspects of the role, but I do enjoy meeting the donors who stagger in with their donations. Of course, many of our donors are recently bereaved and are moved to donate because a relative has been cared for in the Hospice during their final days. It is a privilege to listen to their stories and I am always humbled by the dedication and sacrifices shown by family members who care for loved ones, sometimes for many years.

I remember one delightful lady who donated her recently deceased husband's suits and insisted on telling me where he had worn each cherished garment and the memories each one evoked; weddings, christenings, anniversaries. So hard for her to part with them, but her gratitude to the Hospice for looking after him made the gesture meaningful and worthwhile. Poignant stories like hers are a regular occurrence and we are encouraged to spend time talking to the donors, no matter how busy we are. We are fortunate in having a beautiful garden at the back of the shop and it's the perfect place to sit and reminisce with someone who just needs a listening ear.

The donations range from the weird to the utterly amazing. From a used ‘Year 2000’ calendar to a Gucci scarf; a rusty baking tin to a Doulton vase; every sack holds a story and can evoke cries of elation or disappointment. Every shift is different and unpredictable but the common thread is one of laughter, friendship and service. I always leave feeling I have made a difference.”