Jessica Mason and the Oxfam Shops in Wales.

Oxfam has over 600 shops and 20 of these are in Wales. These shops are a vital source of income for our work to beat poverty worldwide. Our shops in Wales raised an incredible £2.1 million gross sales in 2018-19, and over the recent the festive season, Oxfam shops in Wales raised an incredible £510,000.

Oxfam announced yesterday that our overall 9-week Christmas sales were up by 11%, making it an 8 year high. We couldn’t do this without our amazing donors and customers and our amazing shop managers and volunteers who work tirelessly to ensure our shops succeed. Diolch – Thank you!

Who are our shop managers and volunteers? Why and how do they get involved? Over the next 12 months we’ll be taking time getting these answers and getting to know some of our lovely team members here in Wales. We’re starting with Jessica Mason who works in Cardiff and Chepstow…

10 Questions for Jessica Mason 

1 – Tell us a bit about yourself…

I’m 37, originally from Bristol but fell in love with Wales after coming here for university. I’m an activist at heart, always up for a good cause. I make clothing and love to upcycle clothes, which puts my degree in Theatre Set and Costume Design to good use. I am obsessed with pub quizzes, crosswords, quiz shows and alike.

2 – Why did you choose to work for Oxfam?

My first ever ‘job’ was volunteering at an Oxfam shop when I was 15. Since then I’d always wanted to manage my own Oxfam shop. When I returned from living in Vancouver, Canada after 15 years, I was ecstatic to see a job posting at Oxfam. I’ve been with Oxfam for almost three years, in three different shops and absolutely love my job.

3 – What’s your role and where do you work?

I am currently the Manager of the Chepstow shop and the Deputy Manager of the Whitchurch Road Shop and Online Hub in Cardiff. I do 12 hours in Chepstow a week until the new manager starts there and 24 hours a week in Cardiff.

4 – What does your typical day involve?

Yesterday I woke up at 7am, was on the road with my coffee by 7.30am. I arrive at Chepstow just before 9am when we open. I opened the shop, had a little catch with my volunteers, Ellie who’s at university and Margaret who’s a retired Art teacher with a great fashion sense.

We have a wide range of stock to organise and display in the shops. We sell our lovely second hand products as well as new products, which are part of our new Sourced By Oxfam range; Fairtrade coffee, Divine chocolates, toiletries, household items like eco-friendly laundry detergent, socks, recycled fabric items like sari bags, beautiful fairtrade gifty items and Moomins swag, as well as a selection of over 100 cards.

We also sell our Oxfam Unwrapped gifts, these are the presents you get for people who have everything or if you just don’t know what to get. You can buy a card that provides safe water for a family of 4 (£10), Education for a child (£19) or the ever popular for secret santa with a limit of £5.

After sorting the stock I had a meeting with a new volunteer, who came in for an initial chat, he is a Duke of Edinburgh volunteer and will be starting soon. We always need more volunteers and a good chunk of my time is spent recruiting volunteers, then training and retaining those volunteers.

We take volunteer safety really seriously and have many measures in place to look after those who are under 18 and vulnerable adults. All new volunteers undergo a health and safety induction, reference checks, risk assessments, and safety training. .

Mid afternoon I had the chance to do my favourite part of the job- sorting through donations! You never know what you will find and it never gets old opening new donations. Some highlights from yesterday include a Karen Millen coat, a large collection of Terry Pratchett books and a stunning Jaeger handbag in mint condition. People are so generous and it constantly blows my mind how kind people are.

We closed up the shop at 5pm, it was a good day, we made over £300. Which is about right for this time of year. I headed home around 5.30pm, ready to cuddle my dog by 7pm.

5 – People tend to think that volunteers are retired or older but it sounds like you have a wide variety of volunteers at your shop…

Yes! At my shops, our youngest volunteer is 14 and our oldest is 78. Our teams are as diverse as our communities. Last week I had a first shift with a volunteer from Uganda, here for university, who is excited to help.  Some of our younger volunteers are interested in gaining work experience and building their C.V’s while some young parents are happy to be transitioning back to work through volunteering a morning a week with us.

6 – Where does the stock come from? Who donates?

People are amazing, the donations we get through our door astound me. From clothing with the tags still on to antique books and rare collectors items, we are blessed to have wonderful supporters who give so generously to us. We also share stock between shops and help each other out as much as we can.

Because we have specialist shops we can send more unusual donations to them, such as niche book collections going to our bookshops or wedding dresses going to our bridal boutiques.

All our new products are sourced and selected with strict criteria by our New Products team to ensure the highest standards of ethics and low environmental impact. Some of our new products like our incense is made in Midsommer Norton near Bath while others are from worker cooperatives in India and Bangladesh. All our new products have the country of origin and you can see on our website in more depth about where they come from and the process of how they get to our shops.

7 – What happens to the stock that may not be good enough to sell?

Any clothing or accessories we can use will be sent to our ‘Wastesaver’ facility – where it will be used for pop-up shops, sold online or recycled. Nothing goes to landfill. We are always looking at new ways to reduce waste.

8 – Tell us about the most interesting / famous items that have been sold/ are about to appear at your shop?

We recently sold a series of awesome Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman for £180 in our online shop. We have an incredible catalogue of over 2000 comics being put online at our Whitchurch Road Online Shop, some incredibly rare and unusual. One dedicated volunteer, Graham, has organized them over months and we are beginning to sell them, so keep checking back on our online shop.

Keep an eye out for brand new designer clothing from fashion brands which support Oxfam, plus some gorgeous vintage women’s wear.

9 – How does Oxfam use the income from the shops?

As a team in Wales we raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for Oxfam. Income from our shops is almost entirely unrestricted, meaning Oxfam can use the funds where it is most needed. In a time of climate change and increasing natural disasters, this funding is vital for our life saving emergency aid work. Having a steady income stream from our shops year on year means Oxfam can plan into the future and be more effective in our work. Quite simply, Oxfam shops are at the heart of how Oxfam will fight to end poverty around the world.

10 – For those wishing to volunteer their time – what should they do?

If you want to be a part of this wonderful, fun and challenging world we are always looking for volunteers. Do you have a specialist subject? Are you a great photographer? Do you love to interact with people? Are you a numbers person? Do you love doing events? If any of these things are true or you just simply want to help in any way you can, please contact your local shop via the shop finder on our website.  We provide all the training necessary, a whole host of ways to get involved and references on request.

Thanks to the lovely Jess for giving us a real insight into our Oxfam Shop World…I wonder who we’ll meet next?


Heulwen Davies, Oxfam Cymru