I’m not sure how many people know this, but lots of Oxfam shops accept people doing community service as part of their volunteer team. I’ve been thinking about our community service workers recently, and wanted to write something on it to address this possible blind spot in peoples’ knowledge.
We have a good relationship with our local probation office at Forest Gate, and we usually have one or two people on any one shift who is here doing community service. The immediate question people have when I talk to them about our CS workers is that it seems to be a bit of a mismatch between coming to Oxfam as a volunteer and being forced to come here. We don’t see our probation workers as being forced into working with us — they get a choice of various organisations that they can do their hours with, and usually people enjoy their time here once they start.
We have some good workers in at present who are really helping us keep on top of the January clearout-donations. There’s a temptation when workers come to us on probation to delegate the less-interesting tasks such as the bulk-sorting and the shifting of donations downstairs, but we try and break this up with other stuff!
Most of our CS workers do one day a week, and being in the shop for the entire shift means they start to understand how the shop works sometimes quicker than volunteers who do a half shift. They usually work in the shop for the course of two or three months, and by the time they finish their hours we’re often sad to see them go. A few workers have stayed on as regular volunteers, but that most of them don’t isn’t a big deal. These workers are very useful to us while they’re here, and that the shop can play a part in a light form of rehabilitation is something we feel is important to our role in the Hackney community.