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The Heart Of The Community

I had been a teacher for quite a long time and left that, and then done various smaller jobs, and was sort of finishing my career and had been away out of Oxford. I came back right at the moment when there was a vacancy for the building manager at Flo’s. That was at the very beginning. There were four employees, including me. It was at the time of setting up which water company and which electricity company and deciding how we were going to manage the finance systems. I had a background in admin, and I had a background in finance, and so I just slipped into the roll, which was great. It was great.

So I did that, and the organisation did a rapid expansion. It feels like it's been rapidly expanding since its inception, really, and not stopped. Not drawn breath! It's like an amoeba, it splits and the role that I was doing into two because the role became bigger, and neither of them really suited what I wanted to do. So I left from being the building manager, had a van, and sort of thought I was going off being a free spirit, but anyway, I came back almost immediately! Having been a teacher, I then moved into the nursery and worked very happily with all their little children for another few years.

After working with the children, I then moved into nursery admin and the refill shop. Occasionally, like today for example, I spent the morning in the nursery playing with the children, and that was lovely, and then the afternoon in the refill shop.

My main responsibility in the refill shop is for managing the volunteers. I organise the rota to make sure that we have enough people to help me, but if there aren't volunteers, then I cover every shift and stocktaking and checking on the finances and knowing what the budgetary needs will be – seeing how we can advance towards meeting the budget that we've set for the year.

For the last couple of years we’ve had about thirty volunteers here, and of those we end up with about half that number over a year. So at any one time, there'll be fifteen dropping in for either occasional shifts, or for regular shifts, or for, you know, two and a half days’ worth of shifts. It really just depends on what sort of time that person's got and how much they want to give to volunteering. So we have quite a few who just do one shift a week, one or two who return after a month and just drop in and catch up and go off again.

All of the volunteers have different capacity and different ages. It's really multi-generational, from age fourteen up to seventy-five. And the seventy-five-year-old is our longest serving volunteer and completely competent. So if I can't be there, and that person is there, I know that everything is going to go very smoothly.

Sometimes I know that I need to be in the shop when there's a young person or somebody who's developing their confidence. Quite a few people use volunteering to start to build their self-confidence after maybe something's not quite right with their previous work and they need to have that supported environment. Quite a few have gone on from volunteering in the refill shop to working in the cafe or getting paid work outside of the refill shop.

Some people come because they'd really like their children to get involved, but in order to get the children involved, they come first. And sometimes that means the child comes back, but more often than not, the adult stays! It's a really good role, you know, shopping and helping people and learning customer service and managing money. The environment is so supportive and it's in a park. I have reached retirement age and I don't want to retire because I like doing it.

It's been brilliant because of the variety. When the role has got too big, I've been able to move sideways, so Flo's has been extremely flexible. I feel like the skills that I've got have been well used, so it's kept body and soul together – I use the people skills that I have to help people, and I really enjoy that, that gives me a lot of self-worth.

I've been a teacher and I've worked with children and I enjoy people, and I'm becoming an old person, and Flo's also has old people around it, so it's such a great environment to be in. I've had that feel-good factor in other places, but this is definitely one of the best environments that I've worked in, I would say. And you know, I'm not as fast administratively as I used to be and I've kind of moved away from that now, so I'm also feeling comfortable in my work. And it's the right time to feel comfortable. 

The other thing, of course, is it does keep me fit and young at heart. If I get into the nursery, I can immediately get young at heart! And the refill shop has a lot of physicality about it, moving stock around – also a little admin, and most of it is face-to-face with customers. In a quiet moment I also help out in the cafe, clearing tables and washing up and, and that sort of thing. So I’m never still and all the walking around, it's got to be good for me, I think.

Sometimes you walk in, and there's mums breastfeeding in one place, there's kids playing in another place, there's old people chatting in another place, the environment's being looked after. Everybody who works here puts in and then it’s reflected back by the people who come. And it's quite amazing sometimes. Quite amazing. It helps having the midwives as well, because then you get the really tiny babies coming through.

This is the heart of the community, isn't it? This building for this area, this is the heart of the community and I feel like, just by serving people in the shop, and walking around and cleaning tables and whatever, and in the nursery where I still know all of the nursery parents, I feel like this is my community, and I'm right in it.

I've never worked in a community building before, I've worked for things like alternative health and wellbeing centres, and that helped people and was community but it's very small and this is huge, comparatively. And the number of people that come here every day and come again and again and again. All the people I’ve nodded to out in community, now I've had conversations with them.

And you get to know when people's babies get born! It's so exciting. One of the cafe chefs just had a baby, and they are mother and son chefs, and so she has become a grandma, and she's so excited that she's going today to visit for the first time! And yeah, that's lovely isn't it?

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