Charity shop volunteers need to be hard working, selfless and dedicated, as SOPHIE BROWNSON discovered when she tried out being a volunteer at St David's Hospice charity shop in Newport.

“Always good as gold.” That's how manager Bernie Day described the volunteers as I entered the smart St David’s Hospice charity shop on Stow Hill, Newport .

Leading me into the back room I met the other volunteers who were all busy sorting through large black bin bags full of clothes that had been recently donated.

“We have 32 volunteers just in this shop; our youngest is 15 and our oldest, Grace Howells, is 89.” Ms Day said.

“We have lots of long-standing volunteers such as Jean Parry who has been here 22 years and they work various shifts based on a rota system.”

Asking how Bernie got into volunteering, I discovered that every volunteer has their own story and reasons for giving back to the community and to charity in such a way.

“Before St David’s I ran my own pub" she said.

“So I had many years experience dealing with customer service and members of the public, after that I was mobile and used to work round many of the St David’s shops in Gwent before settling at this one.”

Other volunteers were members of the community who wanted to give back or youngsters wanting to gain experience in employment or to help with their Duke of Edinburgh.

The shop has two Duke of Edinburgh volunteers.

Ms Day said: “They do a Saturday shift; one of them is 15 and the other is 18.

"She has been with us three years and is now on her gold award but she has finished for the moment to do her A levels.”

Putting me to work straight away I learnt the secret to sorting through donations before they hit the shop floor.

Tipping the entirety of the contents of the large bags onto a table into the centre of the room I began to sort through.

Chatting to the volunteers I learnt that it’s best to empty the contents of the bag out first before sorting through for health and safety purposes in case there is sharp bric-a-brac in among the clothing.

Alongside its main seller of clothes, the shop also sells books, records, and brick-a-brac.

Ms Day said: “If something has been on the shop floor for more than three weeks, we move it to the back as our regular customers don’t want to see the same stuff every week.

“There is stuff that you can’t sell for safety issues.

“But nothing goes to waste unnecessarily but you do get some stuff that you can’t sell.”

Most of these items go into recycling which is collected twice a week and the shop makes 55p per kilo and 3p per book that is recycled.

Sorting the clothes I separated the shoes and put them in a box before ensuring that the saleable clothes had sales tags attached using a pricing gun and the appropriate ones had stickers to show that they were Gift Aid items.

Gift Aid is a big part of working in the shop I discovered, as every customer who donates items and pays tax is asked if they would like to become a Gift Aider.

Charity shops are also now on the forefront of ‘cheap chic’ fashion with many fashionistas trawling through them to secure a designer or one-off bargain, so I asked if the shop had seen any expensive donations.

“Recently someone donated a Pandora bracelet,” Ms Day said.

“We also have lots of Karen Millen dresses, some of which have their original labels still on them.”

But some things I learnt must be returned to their owner.

“Someone had just passed away and the nephew cleared out the house and donated all these suits,” Ms Day said.

“As one of the volunteers was sorting through them she pulled out £200 from one suit and aother £150 from another.

“This went on and in the end we had £690 all together.

“Luckily the customer was a Gift Aider so we were able to contact him using the details he provided and we called him to say that we had found all this money

“He was so grateful.”

Next I was shown how the clothes are pressed using a steamer and hung using the correct hangers.

Once done I then had a go at pricing the items according to the price guide chart on the wall.

While I worked, Ms Day chatted to me about the shop.

“We have a good lot of customers and volunteers," she said.

“The shop is open from 9am until 4.30pm but I am often here until 6pm or 7pm most days, and many of the volunteers come in even when they are not in rota to help out.

“I love this shop - it is the customers and the volunteers that work here who make it.

“You get to know the regular customers and you get a lot of rapport with them.”

Some customers come in every day I learnt.

“We get a lot of elderly customers and those living in sheltered accommodation, but we also get lots of students and mature people, all ages really," she said.

“You learn who you can have a laugh and a joke with.”

Newport alone has 11 St David’s Hospice care shops and 38 across Gwent.

Leading me out on the shop floor, Ms Day then let me have a go at hanging the clothes, ensuring that the correct items were in the correct sizing bracket for each type of garment.

After chatting to customers I was then given the chance to have a go on the tills, but I did find this a bit challenging.

Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed the day and have greater admiration for the dedicated volunteers who serve at St David's Hospice.