I didn’t expect to be the next Community shop manager (CSM) for Shelter Scotland’s Tollcross shop in Edinburgh.
When I applied for this intriguing job, I was relatively fresh out of university and had organised voluntary societies and events, but never for a charity and had only limited retail experience. This was a shortcoming only made up for by truck loads of enthusiasm and a drive to work for a charity doing work I was passionate about supporting. I was under the impression this was a shot in the dark and thought I’d have a lot more positions to apply to before getting my foot in the door in the charity sector. Little did I know that that is exactly what the new community shop manager position is all about; a variety of interesting personalities from a wide variety of backgrounds bringing their unique skill sets and perspectives to shelter retail!
I came from previously working in a political archive and researching housing rights as part of my degree, other CSMs in our area have run their own businesses, worked with the police, come fresh faced from university or been in their position for decades! This diversity of backgrounds brings both fresh and tried and tested ideas to the table, giving a flexibility to our position that makes it much more than “just charity retail”. Each CSM infuses their particular culture, unique flare and passion into their role, which gives each of our shops it’s own individual character, vibe and distinct way of engaging with the public, customers and dedicated volunteer teams.
The daily life of a CSM varies wildly. An “average” day will see me spending most of my time in the shop, coordinating and interacting with volunteers, making the shop front as visually stunning and inviting as possible and, of course, serving our lovely customers. But, as I said before, the community shop manager role expands this “retail centric” focus to push for more community outreach and engagement; during my first few weeks in the position I went around introducing myself to the other local businesses and their owners, as well as postering and flyering the university campus, something I am very familiar with from running student societies! Other days see us making trips to other shops to communicate with our other CSM team members and maintain our local support network that’s so vital to working well as a region. In terms of events and initiatives, many of our shops plan around our local communities; our inner city shops often coordinate around the Edinburgh Fringe festival, having live music or “re-launches” that appeal to the younger, more carnivalesque atmosphere of the city at that time.
This kind of outreach and community engagement has increased our local profile, which helps bring in more new volunteers, encourages more donations and helps build our customer base, all vital to our project of contributing to Shelter financially, as well as expanding awareness of our campaigns and initiatives. Additionally, a good number of our shops are “volunteer led”, meaning that we rely primarily on the good will, time and hard work of our wonderful volunteer teams to run our shops; an important part of the new CSM role is to refocus the centrality and importance of an empowered and deeply involved volunteer team, getting eager volunteers involved with nearly every level of shop life. In this way, we also build deeper links with our local communities, imparting on a larger, more involved volunteer base the skills and knowledge that participating in a charity like ours brings. Volunteers are an important part of our communities and in working with us more closely, they both help support our vital function of supporting shelters wider aims and in turn are rewarded with a fulfilling, varied and thoroughly local experience. Our Shelter shops, particularly those that have been around for longer, are very much part of our local communities and the CSM role does a fantastic job at re-emphasizing this fact, something that I believe distinguishes us greatly from more traditional charity retail outlets.
On a more personal note, I’ve been enjoying my new role immensely. Just over 3 months in and our shop is as vibrant and colourful as ever, our team has swollen generously to over 30 active volunteers that all contribute valuable time and character to our space, for which I’m infinitely thankful. To top that all off business is doing exceptionally well despite the retail sector generally struggling! With many exciting events planned for the next few months, particular with the Edinburgh Fringe rapidly approaching, I look forward to seeing how our shop progresses as we move forwards; Our volunteer team and local community continue to impress me in so many ways, that I’m sure the future will look exceptionally bright for our shop in Tollcross and for our CSMs across the country! Whether you’re looking for some interesting knick-knacks, a charity to give your old or unwanted things to, or a friendly place to volunteer with, why not pop into our shop some time and see what we have to offer?