It has been said that our nation’s high streets are becoming clogged with charity shops and £1 stores, with clothes shops, book shops and other traders closing their doors and moving out of town.
And it is true to say that charity shops have been thriving while the economy has struggled to get back on track during the past seven years or so.
But while the £1 in our pocket may go further when it’s spent in a charity shop, the charity to which that shop belongs is having to struggle ever harder to make ends meet through donations when there are so many to choose from.
If someone asked a person living in the Portsmouth area what big local charities we have here, there would be a few examples that come quickly to mind.
Perhaps it would be the Tom Prince Cancer Trust, or maybe Brain Tumour Research. It might also be Aggie Weston’s.
But there is one other very obvious answer, and that’s The Rowans Hospice.
Nestled in the countryside opposite Purbrook heath, the hospice cares for people who have terminal illnesses.
It costs roughly £4.8m to pay for the service, including the doctors and nurses who are based at the hospice.
But while the heroic fundraising activities of people locally are never far from the pages of The News, there is an awful lot of work going on behind the scenes to make up the shortfall.
Amanda Mahoney, who is the spokeswoman for The Rowans, explained how the charity makes its money.
She said: ‘We get about £800,000 from the NHS through grants from the Clinical Commissioning Group, but that pays directly for us buying the services from the NHS.
‘For example, our doctors are NHS employees but they’re based here.
‘They may go to the Queen Alexandra Hospital, or they may visit patients in the community, but they work on our behalf.
‘So the NHS gives us that money, but we give it back to pay for the medical staff.
About a third of the £4.8m comes from people who do fundraising – everything from coffee mornings to taking part in our Ruby Ride or our Moonlit Memories Walk.
‘The other third is a direct result of our care. About £1m comes in through gifts in wills, legacies, or through funeral donations.
‘The remaining third comes from a variety of streams, including from regular givers, people who give directly from their salaries, gift aid, and then our trading company generated more than £400,000 last year and we’re trying to grow that.’
The Rowans Hospice Trading Company is run separately from the charity, though all of its profits go straight towards the running costs of the facility.
It now has 18 charity shops around Hampshire and the Isle of Wight – the area the hospice’s patients come from.
One of the 18 is a dedicated bookshop, and there is a separate furniture shop, based in Farlington.
Amanda said: ‘A lot of our income comes from these, but it is tougher and tougher out there for us because people only have a certain amount of money and there are a lot of other charities out there chasing the £1 in people’s pockets.
‘By having these shops that people can go to we have a trading company that’s able to build a future for us.
‘We’re a local hospice, we have local charity shops, and we have local people who are our volunteers and who are able to talk to our customers about what we do and how their money is going to be helping.
‘They are our faces in the community.’
While the hospice relies on a fleet of hundreds of volunteers to keep its operations going – from flower arrangers to shop staff, from van drivers to help within the hospice’s day care centre – it is branching out into training.
In late September, it took on five apprentices, who will work in the charity’s shops alongside more experienced staff.
But they will be learning customer service, business management, and other skills which will see them earn qualifications and pave the way for them to find jobs or go on to higher training.
Amanda said: ‘We are working with Chichester College on this, and the apprentices will eventually qualify for their NVQ Level Two in customer service.
‘They are going to be placed in a shop, so they will have one each, and they will be learning the whole process of running them, from sorting the goods, pricing, customer service etc.
‘It’s an opportunity for young people to get valuable skills.’
Nothing that is sent to a Rowans charity shop is wasted.
A dedicated team of volunteers sifts through all the donations at a central warehouse in Portsmouth.
While the saleable items are distributed through the shops, anything that doesn’t meet the charity’s standards is sent on to other organisations such as third world charities or rag banks.
On the flip side items with a higher value are sold on the hospice’s eBay page online, or old items are refurbished and made as new and re-sold.
Sending items on in this way makes the hospice £100,000 which it otherwise would have had to throw away.
‘We don’t waste anything,’ added Amanda.
The highest standards are reserved for the furniture sold in the charity’s warehouse in Marshlands Road, Farlington.
The warehouse began trading six days a week in February 2012, and it has become so popular the hospice has invested in two new vans to pick up and deliver goods.
‘It’s hugely successful at the moment,’ Amanda continued.
‘The vans are larger and more economical, meaning we can make fewer journeys for less money.
‘We have to give huge thanks to one of our corporate partners, Richmond Citroen, which did us a deal on the vans’ graphics and sign-writing, and also gave us a car for our raffle.’
That link-up between businesses is also a key help for The Rowans.
Large companies locally often give their staff days off to spend in the community, doing voluntary work for any cause they want.
‘We have had, from SSE in Havant, 220 volunteers since January,’ Amanda said.
‘They come in and help us sort our donations in our processing centre. We’ve also had volunteers from other companies such as Lloyds bank.
‘The bottom line is we really do rely on corporate help.’
The 18th shop in the Rowans Hospice stable was opened on Monday, September 30 by the Mayor of Fareham, Cllr Susan Bayford.
It is the fifth Rowans shop to open this year, following after Cowplain, North End, Havant and Titchfield.
The shops are a relatively recent addition to the hospice’s work, with the first opening on London Road in Fratton in 1996.
That was followed by the Waterlooville shop a year later, and then the now-bookstore in Marmion Road, Southsea in 1998.
After a 10-year hiatus the expansion began in earnest, with the hospice’s remaining 11 stores opening between 2008 and 2012, as far afield as Petersfield, Emsworth and Bishop’s Waltham.
Volunteers are always needed for the shops.
Amanda said: ‘If you are interested in volunteering in one of our shops or at the Processing Centre in Farlington, please call Hayley Hamlett, Volunteer Service Manager, on 023 9238 7893.’
Five apprentices joined the Rowans Hospice, working with the charity and Chichester College to earn an NVQ Level Two in Customer Service.
They include Gerald Kennedy, 24; Amy Palmer, 22; William Lock, 19; and Ashley Bacon, 23.
Each will be based in one of the hospice’s 18 shops, learning the tools of the trade.
Anne Yendell, the charity’s director of finance and operations, said: ‘I truly believe that the Apprenticeship Scheme has the potential to have a transformative effect on the employment prospects of the young people we have taken on, as well as bringing diversity to both the Trading Company and the Hospice through the nurturing of fresh talent. I also believe the scheme offers the Hospice a way of reciprocating community support by making a positive contribution to the local workforce, whilst giving young people a head start in a difficult working climate.’
Ashley Bacon described the opportunity as ‘life-changing’, while his new colleague Will said: ‘I am really keen on retailing, display and merchandising, and have been volunteering at the new North End shop since it opened. I am absolutely delighted to be given this opportunity.’
The Rowans Hospice is constantly on the lookout for businesses to support its work.
That could be through raffle prizes or donations of other services, or through providing staff volunteers to help the trading company keep making money for the hospice.
Amanda said: ‘Our trading company has grown massively, so the challenge for us is keeping up with demand.
‘We really want businesses to help out. It’s not just straightforward financial help, there are other ways they can help us, for example giving us prizes for our raffle, as well as staff to help us.
‘SSE has given us dozens of staff to help us, as has Lloyds, Barclays and Zurich insurance.’
For more information about the Rowans go to rowanshospice.co.uk