How Isle of Sheppey are making their shop welcoming to all
Volunteering updates and stories
The Volunteer Hub is a dedicated area for our volunteers to stay updated and connected with everything to do with volunteering at Cancer Research UK.
Bev joined our Isle of Sheppey shop as Assistant Manager nearly five years ago, and Jessica has been volunteering in the shop for three years – coming in every week with her sister (and carer) Vicky. Jessica has Smith-Magenis Syndrome, a developmental disorder that affects many parts of the body.
From the very start, Bev and Jessica have worked together to create a positive volunteering experience in the shop. We asked Bev to tell us about the friendship they’ve developed:
“Volunteers were one of the main reasons I came to the shop. They mean the world to me. I love that everyone’s different and that everybody has their own special personalities.
“I used to be a Night Manager at Tesco, and this was my first role working with volunteers. Cancer Research UK wouldn’t be able to run our stores without volunteers and it’s all about taking the time with them. I do give a lot of time – to make sure they have a positive experience. Some of the volunteers come in because they don’t have anybody else to talk to. I’m their friend. We’re like a family.”
“Jessica fitted into the team straight away. She spoke to everyone and wasn't shy. She was really, really bubbly. And that's what got me straight away. When Jessica said she'd like to go on the till, we struggled at first because every time she scanned a barcode, it was scanning something else because she wouldn't be aiming it properly.
“But she was so fantastic with the staff and all the customers took to her. So, I thought, I've got to do something that is going to make her life easier. And that's when I came up with the idea of doing a scanning frame – I just cut out a bit of paper to block each of the barcodes and decorated it – and it works! I've now got another gentleman that comes down and helps out sometimes, and he's got his own frame as well.”
I like sorting the puzzles and I like going on the till
We also spoke to Vicky, Jessica’s sister, about what their time in the shop means to her.
“Jessica likes being around people. We come into the shop on the same day every week and we like that familiarity. It all started as we used to come to the island every week to go to the shops. One day I bit the bullet, and we asked about volunteering.
“Jessica has Smith-Magenis Syndrome and one of my worries was about her being challenging, as this type of behaviour is a symptom of Smith-Magenis syndrome. She’s only had two moments like that in the shop and the staff have been great - they let me do what I need to do and everybody’s friendly. I don’t feel like Jessica’s being judged, it’s a really nice environment.
“The wonderful thing has been how everyone’s responded. Everyone has come up to me after, given us a hug, and said “see you next week”. In previous places we’ve been told not to come back.
“We try to give Jessica a sense of normality. She doesn’t have a lot of the opportunities that you and I have. I’ve been fortunate enough to find an environment where people give her that – we have that at Cancer Research UK. Bev’s one of our favourite people, she engages with Jessica really well and Jessica loves her.
“I also get a lot from the volunteering. I don’t go to work myself, as caring for Jessica is my work. So, it massively helps my mental health, being around people. I’ve made some really good friends. The more exposure I can get both for Cancer Research UK and for Smith-Magenis syndrome, the better.”
When you look at Jessica, you might think she’d find volunteering hard, but she is one of my most capable people
Bev added: “Jessica will give anything a go and she just picks up everything. You should never judge a book by its cover. What I think is there's no such word as ‘can't’. You work around it, you implement things, you look at another angle. We shouldn't put hurdles in our way.
“I'm very lucky with Gary, the Store Manager. He knows that I'm good with the volunteers and when we are doing PDRs, I always say that I want to spend more time with the volunteers. So, he always tries to give me that time so I can be there for them. I'm very lucky that I've got a Store Manager who understands that we need to have somebody there for volunteers.
“I do enjoy my job. When I have volunteers come in and I train them, the first thing I always say to them is that if they have any issues, any problems, to come and see me. Don't let it build up. I wouldn't want them to be treated any differently from anyone else. Why should they be? We're all human, so we all should be treated like a human.”