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“Who wouldn’t like being here?”

Svetlana Moaddel initially joined our Trading team as a volunteer in our Caterham store, but now heads up our Dorking Shop as a Manager. With extensive knowledge of our retail operations here at the hospice, Svetlana shares some of her favourite things about working in the Dorking store and her fond memories of her customers.

“I used to live in Caterham and interestingly enough, I bumped into one of my neighbours in the store and asked her “what are you doing here?” She said, “well I’m managing the shop!” She asked me if I’d ever thought of volunteering for the hospice and, as we’d recently moved, my children had grown up and I was in the process of setting up my own business, I had some extra time on my hands. So I started volunteering there.

I was then asked if I would like to become bank staff, visiting different shops of ours two to three days a week.

Over time, I ended up working full time covering all fourteen shops and sometimes also working in the warehouse – I really know St Catherine’s trade. Then last year, after the first lockdown, Gary (our Head of Trading) asked me if I’d like to be the manager of the Dorking shop.

This store has always been special to me.

It reminds me of my family back home – particularly my Dad’s family. Talking to customers, I found so many similarities. It was so interesting. They have similar backgrounds and looking around at all the artifacts and surroundings, memories come back to me because it resembles my home environment. I think it was why I was drawn here in the first place.

It’s also a charity that supports people with cancer, amongst other illnesses. My mother actually died of cancer and so working here had a lot to do with that as well.

In former Yugoslavia they don’t have hospices and it’s not encouraged to donate or support those who are actually dying. They were either just sent to hospital or the responsibility fell to the families who are not really equipped to care for patients with cancer. I understood how much people were losing out over there by not opening hospices.

Thankfully, here, people understand the concept of it. I often have people come here and tell me about their loved ones who died in the hospice or who were looked after by the hospice, and they’re full of praise.

We get so many lovely people.

You don’t have time to sit and chat for too long, though people do like that here. They like to come in and will chat about anything. The beauty of this shop is that I have loads of regulars. It’ll be a part of their daily routine – they have so many different places to visit. We’ll talk about their dogs, the weather, their health; anything that interests them. And they will look into your eyes and judge your tone of voice to see if you’re genuine too.

My regulars can always tell if I’m not well or in pain – I had problems with my knee and foot the other day and they knew immediately.

They all also have a particular thing that they search for, like books or wool or antique crockery or vintage clothing and I have to make sure that we always have something to at least entertain them. For example, I have a couple that always come and look at the shelf behind the counter with various different vinyl or collectables.

You have to keep it vibrant with lots of choices and prices, or else no one would buy anything.

We have lots of pictures around the shop, people love to buy them here. They also love vintage or trendy clothes – I’ve noticed that the customers are very particular about their clothes here. I am trying to introduce items from more affordable ranges by showing that they can work really nicely with more expensive garments because I don’t want to fall into the trap of only doing one thing.

We get all sorts of donations.

For example, there’s a gentleman that carves walking sticks into funny shapes and one day, he brought about ten really quite quirky sticks into the store for us to sell.

I remember thinking to myself ‘wow, these are so interesting; I wonder who is going to buy these?’. Then a lady came in and just thought they were amazing, picked them all up and bought them all for her son who’s waiting for a knee operation. They come in together often and he always dresses nicely, so a trendy walking stick would be a perfect fashion item for him.

We don’t sell rubbish in any of our shops – it’s always clean, presentable and in good condition.

I get here quite early most mornings, usually at around 8am – 8:30am

That gives me enough time before we open to really do whatever I want to do. Whether that’s organising the windows, stocking clothes rails, sorting out bric-a-brac, pricing donations and Gift Aid – things that I can’t do during that day if I’m on my own. I’d get here early, and I’d stay late. If I tried to do it during the day, I’d lose customers as I want to be connected with them and that’s how this shop ticks. It’s a great little community.

It’s interesting as I used to run my own business and I didn’t have my own volunteers then, but I learnt to go through the ups and downs.

Trading and business, for me, I understand – I don’t panic when it gets quiet as the industry is seasonal. Around school holidays, Black Friday and Christmas we’ll see a surge in customers, and we have to work very speedily, but then usually just after Christmas we’ll notice a drop in sales. I always like to hit my targets, but it doesn’t worry me.

I really enjoy it.

Now I’ve got several volunteers. I love them all; they’re so bubbly, so cheery, so sparkly. I get so much energy from them. I’ve got two Duke of Edinburgh students who are both lovely. They’re so switched on and mature and when they’re not here, we miss them. They do such amazing work. I think one of the main things is to not patronise them; they’re very able and if they’re allowed to get involved and do different things each week they’ll open up and be more confident. Hopefully it allows them to really flourish and that is one of the main points of them coming here.

Who wouldn’t like being here?”

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