Mary’s Living & Giving shops were set up by global charity Save the Children, with the help of retail expert Mary Portas in 2009. Filled with designer donations, these shops aim to bring the community to life. Every item donated and sold helps fund the charity’s vital work to save children’s lives.
We spoke to Rose Heather who gave us a glimpse into her role as a shop manager for Mary’s Living & Giving in London.
Retail expert Mary Portas helped Save the Children to set up Mary's Living & Giving shops
Tell us about a typical day in your role as shop manager
A typical day for me involves a walk to work over the Heath and a Gail’s hot chocolate when it’s really cold. The day starts with a natter and a shop catch-up and when we’ve made a plan we get started! Sorting, steaming, pricing, merchandising; there’s always plenty to do in charity retail!
What is the best bit about your day?
The best part of each day is seeing the day’s plan in action and everyone having a great time volunteering together. If the volunteers make a big sale it’s even more exciting! Our customers and donors are absolutely brilliant too and seeing them every day, often even before we’re open, is really special.
And what is the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge for me personally is not taking over as I love doing all of the jobs myself! Our shops are community hubs and are run by volunteers so I’m there to bring my commercial experience and to facilitate – I’m there to share my passion and skills but I’ve had to learn when to step back and let the volunteers shine.
Mary's Living & Giving shop interior, Highgate
What made you decide to apply to be a Mary’s Living & Giving shop manager?
I realised that I wanted to do something meaningful and that I wanted to be part of my local community rather than commuting out to the other side of London. The new challenge of managing a volunteer team was very exciting for me and has turned out to be more personally and professionally enriching than I had imagined when applying.
Who is your inspiration?
A lady called Isabelle Audrain who kindly gave me a job as a sales assistant when I was living in France nearly 10 years ago now. She showcased all the skills, passion and work ethic needed to run a successful business in a community setting and I have thrived in similar roles ever since; she is a similar character to our very own Mary Portas actually, and I have a lot to thank her for.
What is it that you love about charity retailing?
As one customer once said to me, ‘it’s everything good’ – donated treasures, people giving you their leisure time to volunteer, the friends we make in the communities we are part of, and the REASON we are doing it [for Save the Children] is literally ‘everything good’.
What is it like working for Save the Children?
Very, VERY rewarding. I am so proud to work for Save the Children. I get the best of both worlds – I work for an incredible international charity knowing that my work is actually making a difference in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Syria and other countries. I’m also very closely involved in my local community in London, I feel so lucky.
The Mary's Living & Giving team in Highgate (Rose Heather is fourth from the left)
Tell us about your team
They are AMAZING! They range in age from 16 years to ladies in their 60s. We currently have volunteers from eight different nationalities. Most of them are women, though we do currently have a very successful businessman who volunteers on a Saturday morning. They are the most inspiring people I know and are always looking for ways to raise more money for children and to make our shop even better; they make my job a real pleasure and the shop wouldn’t be the same without them.
What makes a good MLG shop manager?
Passion, patience, commercial awareness, diplomacy, self-motivation and you’ve got to love chatting to people!
What do people need to know about working as a shop manager for Mary’s Living & Giving?
It’s not a 9-5 job so your weekends won’t always be your own. You have to be good at working with what you’ve got – in retail you have a ‘collection’ which is staggered and dispatched out to shops with merchandising guidelines throughout the season; it can be a real challenge sometimes achieving the same commercial results in such an unpredictable environment. That said, it’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had and I’ve honestly never looked back.