Devon Air Ambulance is comprised of several core elements: the operations team that make the helicopters missions happen, the aircrew, the medical teams, the office teams and, of course, the teams that are often most conspicuous within our communities: the retail teams. 

Retail constitutes such an important part of Devon Air Ambulance, not only because it is a valuable income stream for the charity, but because our 19 shops are often lively hubs of information about the charity, where regulars visit to chat, bargain hunters seek out special purchases, and locals learn about everything from the nearest community landing site to our annual and local fundraising events.

Our shops are supported by many of our incredible volunteers, and staff regularly meet and greet fundraisers who pop in with their sponsorship monies, or to pick up other fundraising materials that have been sent from the office. 

I took a day out from my role as Digital Content Officer, to learn from Heavitree Shop Manager, Paul Sewter, about what he and his team get up to day-to-day - and to create a little more digital content in the process...

Heavitree Shop Manager, Paul Sewter, and volunteer, Heather.

Trading spaces

The Heavitree shop in Exeter is one of the busiest of our shops, attracting many regulars, particularly parents post school run, and residents dropping off bags of goodies. Monday is often the busiest day of the week as people often take the opportunity to have a good sort out over the weekend.

There's nearby parking too, which makes it very easy for people to drop off donations, as well as a good charity shop community in this particular shopping street. This encourages shoppers to browse the intriguing shelves and rails of items for the perfect pre-loved purchase. 

What strikes me when I step into the Heavitree shop is the incredible neatness and order to the space. It's clear that Paul and his team take enormous pride in their work and in making the environment a pleasant place to shop. Everything is easy to find, beautifully organised and there's evidently a lot of respect for the items donated to the charity by the public. 

It is a privilege to be chosen by donors as their charity shop," says Manager, Paul. "We want to make sure that every item we sell is displayed at its best to ensure it has the new lease of life it deserves.

Full steam ahead

Over the course of my visit, dozens of bags of donations are dropped off by members of the public, including a bag of new Monsoon skirts and several M&S items that still had their labels on. This is not an unusual occurrence apparently, as impulse buyers frequently have second thoughts about items that have nestled, unworn, in their wardrobes for too long, only for the shopper to change their preferences along with what's in that season.

One savvy summer shopper clocked the arrival of one such stash and once the items had been prepared for the shop floor, eagerly snapped up a summer holiday-ready wardrobe, from pool-wear to glad rags, raising around £80 for the charity. Had she bought these items new (which they were) she would have spent hundreds, so Paul and our holiday shopper were both very happy. 

Items of clothing that arrive are first organised and steamed. Anyone who enjoys laminating will find a similar therapeutic quality to steaming out the creases in shirts, skirts, dresses and trousers. Clothes are then organised and priced according to quality, size, brand and the week in the year they go out onto the shop floor. Read more about the life cycle of your donated item here.

Nothing goes to waste either. Our behind-the-scenes recycling warriors are enthusiastic about keeping everything away from landfill to ensure as much as possible can be raised for the charity. 

An excuse to be creative

One of the most enjoyable activities of the day for me was getting involved with a spot of merchandising. I had a great time rummaging around among the bric-a-brac to find and coordinate items that would create a good looking colour scheme or theme for the shelves. 

There are some incredible gift opportunities, from untouched luxury spa-sets and pampering products, to charming china ornaments - even camping kits ready for a young person to take on the Ten Tors Challenge.

Paul is careful about quality but realistic about pricing. It's important to factor in what is affordable for people living in the neighbourhood, while also being conscious that every purchase directly impacts the charity. Arranging objects in a way that shows them at their best helps customers to appreciate them and value their utility and it wasn't long before the newly stocked shelves drew fresh interest from browsers. 


Some of the displays I worked on: pampering shelf, pink shelf and global inspiration shelf

Heavitree's highlights

One of the day's delights for me was seeing what a great rapport Paul and volunteer, Heather, had with their customers. The team form a hub to their community and their positivity and warmth makes the shop a great place to visit.

Heavitree does really well. Paul joined as Manager at the start of April 2017 and the shop had around 450 Facebook followers and 8 volunteers and was running around 10% down on the previous year. The team rallied and regrouped and a year later are up by 20% and boast 17 volunteers and over 700 Facebook followers!

It's easy to see how the energy of the team has revitalised the shop in such a short time. 

Happy shoppers

Certainly spending a day in the shop gave me ample opportunity to browse, and I was delighted to snap up a rather lovely 30s-style Ted Baker satin dress for £9, a summer top for £3, a new shirt for my husband for £5 and a model Devon Air Ambulance helicopter (£7) for my 6 year old, all of which made me the second best customer of the day after our holiday lady. 

I felt very happy knowing that the items I had scooped were not only bargains that delighted each recipient, but the money spent goes straight into supporting the charity.

Would you like to volunteer in one of our 19 Devon-wide shops? Or perhaps you have items you'd like to donate to your nearest Devon Air Ambulance charity shop? We are always very grateful for the support of local communities who very much demonstrate that the charity is by and for the people of Devon.