Walking into the Rowans shop in Fratton, Portsmouth, I go from the darkness of an autumn morning to an area bathed in a warm, glowing light.
The shop is neatly ordered into different areas of merchandise, clothes arranged by type with each hanger dressed with a multi-coloured sizing toggle and hung on the gleaming silver rails.
Polished shoes stand to attention, their clean soles and sparkling
jewellery reflecting on the glass shelves. Along the walls pictures, toys, books and household goods are proudly displayed.
Immediately I am greeted by a warm welcome, which is given to all customers as they enter the shop. Several also receive hugs and conversation flows easily as they catch up on recent news. The gentle sound of chatter is frequently dispersed by laughter.
It’s an atmosphere I’ve rarely experienced in a shop. But after a morning spent observing and chatting to the store manager, volunteers and customers, it’s clear to me that the Rowans store is so much more than just a place to shop.
Store manager Nanou tells me: ‘I totally believe in what the hospice does and it’s great to know that the money we raise through this store is funding incredible care. Because Neil, my partner’s brother, was cared for in the hospice, nothing was ever an issue and the care was outstanding. He had the attention he needed 24/ 7. For us as family, it was lovely to be able to know we could visit and stay with him for however long we wanted.’
June Anderson started volunteering in the shop more than 18 years ago. She comments: ‘I think so highly of the team I work with, we have all become such good friends. I enjoy being in the shop so much, as I like to be kept busy and just love chatting to everyone.
‘In fact when I was ill last year, Nathalie teased me that my fan club was missing me as so many people were asking where I was.’
As soon as June finishes speaking, Anne Beckett comes over and the ladies give each other a hug. Anne says: ‘Just like in the hospice, the shop is wonderful and welcoming. Everything in here is so well ordered, sizes and clothing are clearly displayed. Plus the clothing is very, very good quality.’
Val Carpenter, a regular customer along with husband Trevor, says: ‘For the past 15 years or so, we have always tried to pop into the Fratton store each week. It’s a real community shop, due to the lovely, caring and friendly staff, who always make you feel so welcome.
‘If you don’t pop in one week, they notice. Next time you’re in, they tell you they missed you and ask if everything is okay. It’s also such a pleasant shopping environment - bright, clean and everything is really good quality, which is great as I have often managed to bag some great bargains.
‘Of course we know of many people who have used the hospice’s services, both in the hospice itself and within their own homes. Plus we’re aware of the support that their family members have received, so it is nice to know money spent in here is helping to fund a worthy local charity.’
Sally Isted has volunteered at the shop for 25 years and tells me: ‘The Fratton shop has always been a very close-knit community with everyone co-operating well. I call it the ‘magic’ shop.
‘I’ve seen alcoholics being given the chance to volunteer and it has changed their lives. People who were initially terribly shy and who would hide themselves away whilst doing their jobs have become very
‘We’ve had volunteers as well as customers who have had cancer and we’ve been there for them. We’ve also had people who have suffered a bereavement and they’ve brought in some of their loved ones’ clothes and possessions. When they have wanted to talk, we’ve always tried to offer some words of comfort.’
Just before I leave a head pops through the door, Sally’s, June’s and Roma’s faces light up and welcome Doreen Davis, who also used to volunteer in the shop.
Doreen says: ‘We all had great fun and became good friends, so I often like to pop into see everyone.’
Leaving the shop, my thoughts echoe Doreen’s words exactly. I want to pop back in to see everyone.
Read Sally Isted’s full story about why she calls it the ‘magic’ shop online at www.rowanshospice.co.uk