Deborah Simpson-Boston stands with a wooden fence and blue sky behind her

Deborah Simpson-Boston, manager of the Red Cross shop in Shoreham-on-sea © British Red Cross

From mothers and sons to fashionistas – volunteering in a British Red Cross shop is something anyone can do.

Whether you have several afternoons a week to spare, or just a few hours at the weekend, we can use your help.

But for a volunteer and shop manager, working at one of our shops meant even more than just giving their time to a valuable cause.

Deborah Simpson-Boston is 44 and originally from Durham. She became a volunteer at the Red Cross shop in Shoreham-by-Sea in 2015 as a way of helping her manage stress and anxiety.

“As a volunteer I felt genuinely supported and loved”

“The structure of volunteering at my local Red Cross shop gave me something to get up for in the mornings,” Deborah recalled.

“Volunteers turned into friends and I found myself working in a way I hadn’t before – not just as a shop volunteer but listening to others’ concerns and problems.”

With a background in fashion PR, Deborah was also able to use the volunteering opportunity to put her experience to good use.

Three years on, she is manager of the shop – and alongside this writes a blog.

“Our little shop in a relatively small seaside town took nearly £120,000 last year,” said Deborah.

“I’m so proud of the profits we make but I’m (even) prouder of our volunteers’ achievements.

“Volunteering for the British Red Cross can be for companionship, friendship, or to work through a dark time in your life.

“Sometimes it’s used to build confidence, and for many it’s a happy, safe place to grab a coffee, have a chat and feel better physically and mentally.

“(Because) my background is in fashion, I’ve loved this aspect to retail volunteering: recognising good brands and sorting and pricing items.

“As a volunteer I felt genuinely supported and loved.”

“I’m making a difference to someone else’s life”

Tim Hill stands in the Plymouth British Red Cross charity shop

Tim Hill, volunteer at the British Red Cross shop in Plymouth © British Red Cross

For 46-year-old Tim Hill, the journey to becoming a Red Cross retail volunteer was similar.

He became depressed when his marriage broke down and he lost a job he loved. Tim was encouraged to give volunteering at his local shop a go.

“I started at the Red Cross in July last year,” Tim said.

“I was unemployed and life-changing events had brought an uncertainty and a lack of self-belief.

“I thought my whole reason for being had been lost in my past.

“Then, through a great friend, I did a volunteer taster session with the team at the shop in Cornwall Street (in Plymouth). It’s turned my life around.”

Tim now volunteers four days each week greeting customers in the shop and working on the till.

“I really enjoy my role,” he said. “I like to build up a rapport with the customers and we have many regulars that I know on a first-name basis.

“When I was suffering with depression I knew I had to do something to try to turn things around. Coming into the shop gives me something positive to do during the week.

“Since I’ve been with the Red Cross I‘ve completed an NVQ in customer services and have now started a development programme which will enable me to become an ‘advanced’ volunteer.

“That means I’ll take on extra responsibilities. Not only is this good for my personal development, it’s great to add to my CV as I look for paid work.”

And Tim is keen to sing the praises of helping to raise money for the Red Cross’ many services, both here in the UK and overseas.

“The best thing about being a volunteer is knowing I’m making a difference to someone else’s life,” he shared.

“It’s a great honour to be part of such a fantastic organisation and I’d encourage anyone to get involved.

“Volunteering can be whatever you want it to be – we’re a really close team and we each play our own role in making a difference to someone less fortunate.”

This blog was written by Rachael Dry, media relations officer for the British Red Cross