“We’re thinking of ways to keep connecting with people.” – Joanne, Oxfam Harborne Shop Manager

Oxfam Shop Manager Joanne

As we come to terms with the devastating effects of the coronavirus, our first concern is keeping people safe.

Last week, with heavy hearts, we closed our high street shops.

We recognise that for many of us, Oxfam shops are more than just charity shops. They are places where communities come together and thrive.

We believe it’s important to stay connected and positive to make sure feelings of isolation don’t take over at this difficult time.

Oxfam shops all over the country are sharing positive messages of support within their communities and looking at ways of connecting.

Closed Oxfam shop windows during the coronavirus pandemic

Sophie, from Oxfam GB’s Web Team, spoke to Joanne, Shop Manager of the Oxfam Harborne shop – to find out how she’s coping and what she’s doing to keep in touch with her staff, volunteers and customers.

Joanne: It’s been a very strange week because obviously we’re such a social place where people come and meet the volunteers and customers and it was sort of weird seeing people just slowly disappear off and I suppose it’s finding a way to use this time usefully.

It is going to be quite an unusual time. We want to stay in touch with volunteers because some of them don’t use social media and things so it’s thinking of a way to keep connecting with people.

We have 35 volunteers – some young, lots in the middle we’ve only got three or four I’d call [elderly]. We’re a very mixed team. And we’ve got some who have been here for like 25 years and some for like 2 months.

Sophie: I guess you’ve been speaking to them about how they’re feeling and what’s happening.

Joanne: Yes. And I’ve got lots of ways of staying in touch with them. I think Ira has been here about 28 years. And he’s one of the older ones, he’s nearly 80. So we’re keeping in touch but he’s one of the ones not on email so I just call.

“Some of the younger volunteers [are] calling the older volunteers.”

Sophie: We spoke to one of the Brighton shops where some of the younger volunteers were calling the older volunteers. One of the ways we are looking at supporting people is through sharing our education resources for parents.

Joanne: That’s a great idea. I think that by sharing stuff with people you’re giving people the resources do with what they want to because I think people will be struggling for ideas you know – and thinking about the best ways of keeping in touch because we never had to think about it before.

Sophie: What sorts of things would you be suggesting to your volunteers to be doing now with their time because they are unable to come into the shop?

“I think lots of people will be chomping at the bit to get back in and will be very keen to get back in and helping Oxfam”

Joanne: I suppose there’s all the little things that keep us busy for a while like decluttering – lots of people have been talking about having a clear out… I think if you’re a team member you just want someone to check in with you once a week or something… I think that would make me feel connected if I was volunteering… I think lots of people will be chomping at the bit to get back in and will be very keen to get back in and helping Oxfam

Sophie: Do you think the volunteers are very passionate about Oxfam’s work or is it more that they just want somewhere to be part of a community with other people when they come and volunteer?

Joanne: I think it’s a real mix – I think if you talk to people here there’s a mix of people coming because it’s a social thing, there’s lots of people who like to come and be with us as they like the environmental aspect of the recycling and then I’d say I’ve got a few people here who are very strong Oxfam supporters. I think everyone has come for a slightly different reason, but I think everyone is always driven to do things to make money for Oxfam.

Sophie: To help keep in touch we can ask people if they want to sign up to the e-newsletter which goes out to our supporters.

Joanne: I think now is a good time, people will have the time – I think everything’s worth an ask isn’t it.

Sophie: And you personally, what are your plans at this time? I guess for a lot of people it’s just taking each day as it comes.

Joanne: I think it’ll take time getting used to things and then once you get used to them you’ll start breaking up the day.

Sophie: The shop window display – did you print it off yourself? And did you design it?

“I wanted to put something up [in the shop window] because I thought it seems a bit sad to just leave a shop.”

Joanne: Yeah. I wanted to put something up there because I thought it seems a bit sad to just leave a shop. Customers will see we’re closed and I just wanted something short and sweet and snappy that was positive but not too much and I just thought it’s nice and eye catching and I thought hopefully people will see that we’re closed for a reason because we don’t want people leaving stuff outside. The window display we did was a way of connecting with our customers while we’re not here to share something positive.

Oxfam is looking at a number of ways we can keep our volunteers feel connected. These include:

  • Inviting volunteers to set up film or book clubs as a means to socialise, build community and support with one another. Films and books could be donated to shops once no longer in use
  • Encouraging volunteers to set up socials or coffee mornings online
  • Delivering training to our volunteer network for continued learning, empowerment and engagement


As COVID-19 escalates, we are helping people worldwide minimise the risk of the coronavirus infection by providing them with accurate information and advice in local languages. Our teams are delivering clean water, handwashing facilities and soap to those most at risk. Donate now to support Oxfam’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Oxfam's coronavirus emergency response appeal


If you have any ideas on how we can stay in touch with our volunteers or if you would like to talk about any aspect of Oxfam’s work or get involved, we are here 9am-5pm UK time Monday to Friday and we would love to hear from you.

Call from the UK: 0300 200 1300

Call from overseas: +44 (0) 1865 472602

Email us: heretohelp@oxfam.org.uk

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