"We've even sold a kitchen sink": the secret to a successful charity shop
A three-person team, including a mother and daughter, run Bloodwise’s only charity shops. They share the story of how they’ve raised £1.4 million for blood cancer research and the funniest stories from the shops’ 20-year history.
Chris Ingham MBE: founder
I’ve been fundraising for over 50 years
My husband was a policeman and we got transferred to Lutterworth, a market town in Leicestershire, in 1968. Our children had ponies so we joined the local riding club.
It was around this time that a friend's daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia. She was only two. Along with a few other people in the area, we started organising raffles to raise money for Great Ormond Street, where she was being treated.
This led to the foundation of the Lutterworth and District branch of Leukaemia Research Fund (as Bloodwise was known then) in 1971. The branch raised funds through coffee mornings, car boot sales, jumble sales, bikeathons, auctions, dances, etc. We tried anything that would raise money.
Later on, my cousin’s wife was diagnosed with leukaemia. She died within a matter of months. Back then, the diagnostic for all blood cancers was very limited and the most common form of childhood leukaemia had a one in ten chance of survival. I lost one of my best friends to blood cancer, too. Their deaths really encouraged me to keep fundraising.
We saw an opportunity and ran with it
Back in 1999, Age Concern had a pound shop in Lutterworth. They had six weeks left on their lease, didn’t want it anymore and offered it to us. My husband Christopher and I and our friend Mo sheasby decided to open our own charity shop for that six-week period. We borrowed rails, a counter and a till. It was a real success, so we asked the owner if we carry it on. They agreed to give us discounted rent. We were popular straight away when we’ve opened, and we’ve gone from strength to strength since then.
They said you won’t make money on the side of a car park. We proved them wrong
We were getting so many donations in the little shop that the shop became so full it was difficult to move around. In 2008, another shop became available, on the other side of town and we thought how big it looked. We filled it within a week.
Two years later a shop came available just across the car park from our clothes shop. It was perfect. We moved in and put in eight metres of book shelving. It now sells books, furniture, DVD and record etc. We have a delivery/collection van to aid us with the sales of the furniture.
Everyone knows I don’t say no to any donation. I drive Lesley up the wall. But every penny counts.
What’s the strangest donation we’ve ever received? Gold coins, a titanium hip joint. You name it, we’ve had it donated. We’ve even sold a kitchen sink.
We reached the £1 million mark in 2014. Now we’re working towards the next million. We hope to make it by the time I retire. They said you won’t make money on the side of a car park. We proved them wrong.
Lesley’s my backbone
My children have been brought up as fundraisers. Or ‘dragged along’, as Lesley says. They’d always help at jumbles and car boot sales.
When my husband died, Lesley took over from him. She became treasurer of the fundraising branch and joined the shop as manager in 2007.
She’s always there when I need her. I had a major cancer operation last year. She ran the shop without me for three months. She’s my backbone.
Lesley Caffrey: senior manager
I was working in the window industry and I took voluntary redundancy in 2007. I had intended to set up my own business but Mum needed help at the shop, so I came to help as manager.
It’s the best job I’ve ever had. It’s hard work. We’re open six days a week, but we have fun. You never know who or what is going to come into the shop.
We couldn't run the shop without Ann, our Manager. Ann's a retired nurse who began as a volunteer. In 2009, she joined our strong management team and is a very valued member of staff. She also became Vice Chairman for the Branch.
Ann's the buffer that keeps us all sane, keeps us laughing and looks after us all. She makes sure everyone is given a birthday card, and is not forgotten. She stocks the shops with the little things we forget to buy, like the weekly visits to stock us up with batteries, tea, coffee, biscuits, etc.
We are fortunate to have the donations given to us that enable the shops to keep running. But we only tip 5% of what comes through the door. If there’s something we can’t use, we pass it onto other charities. Clothes we can’t sell we get money for from our rag merchant.
Mum and I work together well. After 12 years, we’ve figured it out. If one of us has got something to say, we say it. If we disagree, we speak about it.
We have 78 people here, a mixture of staff and volunteers. We’re a big family. We say thank you to them every team member at the end of every shift. They mean everything to us. There wouldn't be a shop without them.
The Bloodwise charity shops are located at 33 Station Road, Lutterworth LE17 4AP and 1 Bell Street, Lutterworth LE17 4DW.
You can phone the team on 01455 556 649.