Published on: Thursday 26 Oct 2023 at 13:38
Mary Billington is now an assistant manager at our Epping charity shop, having started ‘hospice life’ as a volunteer at our Scarlet Vintage and Retro shop in Harlow.
Mary was browsing when her husband, James, overheard a customer lamenting that a dress didn’t fit. James mentioned to the shop manager that his wife was a dress-maker and the rest is history!
She started volunteering in the shop, and doing bespoke alterations for customers. When the assistant shop manager role became available she applied and got the job, so becoming a member of staff. Volunteering is an excellent way to gain new skills, make friends and maybe have a change of direction in the world of paid work.
How did you get into dressmaking? My nan taught me how to sew when I was young. I got a few patterns and started to learn how things were constructed. I didn’t get a sewing machine until I was in my twenties, and it’s been a passion ever since.
What did you like best about the volunteering at Scarlet? Seeing the smile on someone’s face when something I’d altered fit. Vintage sizing on clothes is very different to sizing today, so I love being able to give it a new lease of life.
What did you do as a volunteer? Initially I volunteered to repair donated items and work on the shop floor. A missing button or broken zip on a dress meant it couldn’t be sold. The repair put value back into the item. Word got around, and we started getting requests for alterations. They also had a lot of vintage and modern fabric donated, so I would turn it into garments that the shop could then sell.
Tell us about an alteration that made the customer happy! Recently, a lady bought a 1980s dress but it was in a 1950s style. It was difficult to get on and off, so I overhauled it. I cut the zip out, inserted a new one, and made it fit in the right place for her body shape. She was so happy. She donated £60 just for my work.
Why did you decide to apply to become shop manager at St Clare? I’d been in admin roles for around 20 years, but I love the face-to-face interaction you get in the shop. I thought why aren’t I doing this full-time? So I decided to apply to be a shop manager as I didn’t want to look back on my life with regret.
Tell us about a time you opened a donation bag and found something exciting! A few weeks ago, a customer came in with some donations. She said ‘There‘s a Mulberry handbag in there somewhere.’ Not only was there a Mulberry bag but also some Vivienne Westwood shoes! The rubber ones with the heart on the front. So off they went to our boutique shop in Buckhurst Hill, where they could make the most money for the Hospice.
What do you like about working in a St Clare charity shop? The variety, and meeting people. We had a lady come in the shop who needed a 1970s outfit. I ran through a couple of options and I gave her some outfits from the rails. She left buying a whole outfit. I love keeping the shop looking great too. I don’t want people coming in and thinking we are like a jumble sale. I straighten it all out so it looks fresh every time someone comes in. If we love our shop, customers are going to love our shop too.
JOIN OUR TEAM! If you would like to find out about careers in our Retail team or volunteering in one of our shops, click here.