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Meet Janet, the Chatterbox Celebrating Her 25th Year of Service as a Volunteer in ellenor’s Gravesend Charity Shop

On Gravesend’s King Street, rubbing shoulders with the retail outlets of some of the UK’s biggest high street brands, sits one of ellenor’s nine local charity shops.

Wander in, and you’ll find the place lined with blouses, books, and bric-a-brac – a brilliant blend of bargain and boutique, with a few designer labels and hidden gems to be unearthed among the racks and shelves.

But it isn’t just rare finds or affordable items ellenor’s King Street shop offers. It’s a wide smile, good conversation, and personalised service – from one of the most experienced retail assistants in the business.

We’re talking about Janet Hughes, who this year celebrates an impressive milestone: her 25th year volunteering in ellenor’s King Street charity shop.

87-year-old Janet began her volunteering journey in 1998, following in the footsteps of her husband, Harry – a nurse who’d been volunteering at ellenor since 1990. Harry’s role? Driving around the local area, picking up important equipment from hospitals and running other errands for the Kent and Bexley-based hospice charity: which provides care and support to local people of all ages – and their families – living with life-limiting illnesses.

Soon, Janet – not wanting to miss out on all the fun – began accompanying Harry on his rounds. (The fact that Janet’s help meant her husband could be back home in time for lunch was a big plus for him, too.)

But it wasn’t until the day that Janet walked, by chance, into ellenor’s King Street shop – now a quarter of a century ago – that things really got going.

“They’d just opened,” Janet explains, “and chatting to the manager there I could see she was all on her own. It was Christmas time, and all the volunteers had deserted her; she was desperate. That day, I started volunteering here – and have been ever since!”

Janet has always loved the rhythms and routines of the ellenor shop floor – always savoured the hustle and bustle, the flow of customers and new people.

“I like putting things in order,” she says. “Picking items up and placing them in the right area of the shop; working at the till; and helping customers piece together lovely outfits.”

At times, Janet has even taken her work home with her: getting stuck in with a needle and thread to sew buttons back onto shirts and give ripped or overly worn items a new lease of life. And, having been operating a till for about a decade longer than the first contactless cards started showing up, she’s a dab hand at cash handling.

But ever since Harry passed away three years ago, her role at ellenor’s Gravesend charity shop has taken on even greater significance for people-person Janet. In the shop – where Janet works two days a week – she’s found solace in the camaraderie of customers and her colleagues.

Who, by the way, think she’s fantastic.

“I’ve been working with Janet here for four months now,” says Yvonne. “She’s always so friendly and helpful; she’s certainly taught me a lot, too. She works hard – as soon as she arrives, she’s straight into it! Given her age, for Janet to still be on the shop floor – and with the amount of energy and vitality she has – is simply brilliant.”

Another of Janet’s colleagues, Nikki – whose son is supported by ellenor, and so has a doubly personal connection with the local hospice charity – agrees.

“Janet is like our adoptive nan. Not only does she work incredibly hard, but she’s also so focused – and is absolutely fantastic with the customers.

“Plus, she makes us laugh all the time, which is a big bonus!”

Friends, fun, and a reason to leap out of bed and seize each day with determination – Janet’s role at ellenor gives her all these things, and more. So, if you’re passing through Gravesend’s King Street one Monday or Wednesday (and you’re in the market for a bargain or two), pop in and say hello. Just be sure to mark out a good portion of time to browse – because, when asked what her favourite part of the job is, Janet’s answer is immediate.

“It’s chatting to people,” she says. “To be honest, I’ve never talked so much in my life!”

“There’s a lot of ways that you, or someone you know, could thrive in a rewarding role in one of ellenor’s charity shops, then we have good news for you – we’re actively seeking friendly, enthusiastic volunteers with an eye for fashion; and a passion for delivering excellent customer service.

 By joining our team, not only will you be contributing to the wellbeing of your community, but you’ll also play a crucial role in supporting ellenor’s mission. As a charity relying on the generosity of Kent and Bexley’s residents for approximately £7 million in annual funding every year – your involvement ensures that we continue to provide care and support to local families facing life-limiting illness.”

 Explore the latest volunteering opportunities in our shops, or learn more about what it takes to be an ellenor volunteer. If you’re ready to step up for your local community, get in touch – because we’re ready for you!