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  • David Swallow

Long hours, lousy pay. Love it.

Volunteering for your community keeps your business skills fresh


A few years ago I helped to open our community shop, called the Village Store and Cafe, whose tag line is 'a place of welcome, refreshment and support at the heart of the community'.


After a while I left the team and life moved on. Fast forward a few years to this March and I was working away on a kitchen island in my wood shop, when the phone rang. The leadership team of the shop were all over 70 and had to self-isolate, I was asked to help out.


Before I knew it I was back as volunteer manager and set about adapting the shop to keep customers, staff and volunteers safe. We placed a table in the doorway from which to serve customers, we upped our game on social media to tell people what we had in stock and encourage advance ordering, and we tapped into a network of Street Champions who would collect groceries for neighbours.


Mostly however we laugh and look out for each other. The team is so diverse with so many different skills that we've actually grown the business by 30% even whilst not allowing customers in the shop and with the cafe closed. One person is an excellent seller, drawing out from customers their meal plans and suggesting ideas for the menu. Another is great at logistics, a third can make just about anything we need, others are wonderful cooks. For me, I've brought the copywriting and social media skills which I apply to my furniture business to the party.


Some of the team are retired, others furloughed, others looking for work. They all willingly give their skills for free, and it's great to see how much fun everyone has whilst at the same time providing a much-needed service for the village, particularly the vulnerable. It's given me an opportunity, whilst my career goes off in a new direction, to keep my marketing skills fresh and to see immediate results.


So the Covid crisis has delivered an unexpected upside, connecting and reconnecting with people to build a team to deliver results and create value. Using transferable skills from the workplace to help others and, in turn, improving those skills by applying them in a different context, which will be so useful back in the business world.


I've not yet managed to sell them any of my butchers blocks, but I have learnt to make a mean cappuccino.

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