Sparkly Shoes in the Cat's Charity Shop
Dianne Porter, manageress of the Cats Protection League charity shop in Worthing, arrives for work at 9.30.
"I'm the only employee, but we have a regular team of 10 volunteers who work in the shop including my daughter, Charlotte."
Dianne sorts the till out, puts the kettle on and hoovers. "I'm too tired to do it at the end of the day," she says. The Worthing shop has been open since March 93 and raises in the region of £18,000 a year. They stock a small number of new items manufactured specifically for the charity, ie tea-towels, mugs, key rings, and oven gloves, but 95% of their stock is donated by the general public.
"We get all sorts," says Dianne. "It's actually a full time job sorting it all out."
But everything is welcome and most donations eventually find their way onto the shelves. "Except certain books!" giggles Dianne. "We got The Joy of Sex last week and obviously we couldn't put that on the shelves. We don't sell Black Lace books, either. We take them round the corner to a second-hand bookshop and put the proceeds in the till."
But if you're looking for a wet suit to fit a five year old, or a pair of twinkly gold dancing shoes, they've got them in stock along with silver 6d's for the Christmas pudding, a fluorescent pink bikini and a selection of outsize stuffed toys. They've also got a large selection of 60's and 70's clothes, a beautiful bridesmaid's dress, a white lace blouse for £3, and a strange wooden slice of watermelon. Well, it would be watermelon if it didn't have spikes on it.
"Oh yes, that's one of our Guess-Its. None of us have the faintest idea what it is," says Dianne. "We're waiting for one of our customers to tell us."
Of course, quite a lot of people just pop in as they're passing, but they also have their regulars who come in with the latest news about their cats.
"I think some people just come in for a chat, really," says Dianne. "Which is fine. And anyway, you'd be surprised how many people end up buying something in the end."
Dianne nips out for a burger or a sandwich at about 1.00 leaving one her volunteers in charge of the shop. "They're marvellous," she says. "I couldn't run the shop without them."
Apart from her regulars, Dianne has a list of people who will cover for absence, or in an emergency. "So I can usually get someone in, which is great because I think it's important to get out and sit down for a bit at lunchtime."
Back at the shop and it's time to start steaming. "I love these machines," says Dianne, wielding something which looks like a cross between a vacuum cleaner and a dragon. "Look!"
Pulling the sleeve of a vastly crumpled jacket out, she strokes the dragon's mouth over the fabric, leaving it miraculously smooth. "We couldn't possibly iron everything, so this is great."
But while Dianne is busy in the back room, someone has to be out front - otherwise, innocent little plates and cups are inclined to grow legs and wander out of the shop on their own. I find this shocking but Dianne nods. "Oh yes, it's amazing how things go awol."
Time for tea, and she puts the kettle on in the cramped little back room. Black bags are piled up around the walls almost swamping the little desk; the phone perches on a pile of directories; the steaming machine leers from the corner, and Dianne's chair is occupied by a stack of plates.
"Hang on a mo," says Dianne. "There must be some biscuits around somewhere."
Tea made and poured, a lady arrives with a carload of donations. It's hard to imagine where they can go, but eager hands fit them into the shop somehow.
"We've got a garage where we store things until we've got space for them in the shop," explains Dianne. "Things don't hang about on the rails forever. If they're not sold pretty quickly, I move them onto the sale rails, and then onto the bargain rail and if they still don't sell, we put them into a jumble sale."
Her tea has gone cold, but she laughs. "That's always happening but I don't care. I love working here because you never know what's going to happen next, and there's never time to get bored. I'm often surprised when I look up and find it's 4.00. Closing time already?"
The Cats Protection League was started in 1927 and is the oldest and largest cat charity in the UK. Their aims are 1) to rescue stray and unwanted cats and kittens, rehabilitate and rehome them where possible; 2) to encourage the neutering of all cats and kittens not required for breeding; and 3) to inform the public on the care of cats and kittens - which they do via leaflets and a help line, which gives advice on all general (but not veterinary) aspects of cats and their care.
To adopt a cat, become a member, order a "cat-a-logue", make a donation, volunteer to help, or get details of your nearest branch or shelter, phone the Cats Protection League on their help line.
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