89-year-old volunteer celebrates Exeter charity shop reopening after Covid restrictions ease

Mary Youlden
Authored by Mary Youlden
Posted Thursday, June 3, 2021 - 1:56am

This volunteer’s week (1-7 June), long-serving volunteer Thelma Peters, 89, is celebrating being back behind the till at the Young Lives vs Cancer charity shop in Exeter after a long period of closure due to the pandemic.

Thelma started volunteering for Young Lives vs Cancer, the UK’s leading children’s cancer charity, when it first opened its Exeter shop, around 24 years ago, after losing her husband to cancer.

Thelma said: “I first got involved because I lost my husband to cancer and I was very down and depressed and my doctor suggested I get myself out there and volunteer. I said I didn’t want to volunteer at a hospital because I have got such a soft heart, I wouldn’t be able to watch anyone suffering…so he suggested I volunteer at a charity shop.

“My husband died of cancer, my mother, my father, my brother, my brother-in-law, so I’ve had quite a big experience of cancer. It’s very rewarding to me to think that you are supporting children facing cancer who haven’t even started their lives yet.”    

The pandemic has had a huge impact on the Young Lives vs Cancer’s charity shops which have lost around £1.5 million in takings and sadly resulted in a number of redundancies. The Exeter charity shop located at St Thomas Centre, on Cowick Street, recently opened its doors again, in April, after being forced to close at the end of last year due to the pandemic.

Thelma, who volunteers twice a week, is hopeful the shop will now be able to remain open.

She said: “Covid-19 hasn’t treated me very well. I don’t feel safe to go out on my own anymore and Covid hasn’t done the shop any favours either. We opened up again three weeks ago – before Covid, we could take £200 in the morning but on Monday this week, we took less than £150 all day.   

“I pray we don’t close again – I missed it when we did. I live on my own and it’s a long day on your own. I love going in there – certain people come in regularly and know me by name and want to have a chat. It’s nice and rewarding to think you are helping children – cancer is awful when anyone gets it, and I had a scare myself last year, let alone a child.

“Quite a few people I’ve served have said they’ve been helped by Young Lives vs Cancer – you are always a bit apprehensive about asking if their child survived but with most of the families I’ve spoken to their child has, which I’m always glad to hear. It’s lovely to know the charity is helping these families. I love working at the shop and I love even more what it stands for.”  

A range of safety measures have been put in place at the Exeter charity shop to protect customers, volunteers and staff from Covid-19 including: limiting the number of customers inside the shop, protective screens around the tills, compulsory face masks for customers and staff (unless exempt), hand sanitisers at key points and a change in the shop layout to help keep customers moving.  

Young Lives vs Cancer, Exeter Shop Manager, Jenifer Reeves said: “We’re so pleased to be back up and running again and welcoming customers into the shop – we couldn’t do this without the support of our incredible volunteers, like Thelma, and we are so grateful for everything they do.

“Thelma has been volunteering at the shop now for almost 25 years and it’s thanks to her support and dedication and all our volunteers and shoppers that Young Lives vs Cancer can be there for the 12 children and young people who hear the devastating news they have cancer each day.”

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