Robert's magnificent book emporium

Robert’s magnificent book emporium

He has the air of intense concentration and quiet determination as he sits in the corner surrounded by an intimidating pile of books. Occasionally one of us will hand him one, ad hoc, found in a bag of clothing, toys or bric a brac. He takes it with a polite word of thanks… we pause our sorting and wait while he scans it… the screen goes green. The book is worth money to the charity – we all whoop with triumph!

Robert is in charge of sorting books at the charity shop Helen and Douglas at Rosehill. He is also the only volunteer who works on books and he literally shifts TONS of books each week.

The scale of what he is achieving single-handedly every week is hard to imagine. The sheer volume and and size of his task would make a lesser mortal weep (and … to be quite honest we do when he goes away on holiday!)

Since lock down has lifted the book department at Helen and Douglas in Rosehill is recording anything up to 15% of the overall takings at the shop. This is up from around 9% over last year. Due mainly to the increase in sheer volume of books being donated each day.

I asked Robert what motivates him to work so very hard for the charity.

“When I first started volunteering I didn’t even know about Helen and Douglas… I was just trying to get to be a bit more sociable as I had been in my personal lockdown and I wanted to use my brain a bit more as I had been not allowed to return to work. 

So they took me in at the shop.  When I found out about what the charity was about, it changed my attitude quite a lot and I changed my hours a lot. I first started working on a Sunday for 3 hours – now I do three days a week full time and even over full time and it is because I now understand much more about the charity and what it does.”

“It’s very intensive. I start at 7am and work to 4 in the afternoon on Thursdays and often on Mondays too if I can. On Sundays I work from 9.30 to 4.”

“The mother of a baby who had passed away in the hospice wrote to thank me

“One of the points that really hit the nail on the head for me was that last year I got a letter from a mother of a baby that had passed away in the hospice saying thank you for my work because I had raised a lot of money for the charity by doing what I did in my shop job. 

I now have a picture in my head which pushes me to do a little more and more each week.”

My job is sorting out donated books”

“My job is sorting out books that arrive in the shop as a donation. First I put them through a system in the computer to find out if theres any interest in them – I then pack these up. The rest I take in boxes to the book area and start taking the old books off (ones that have been there for over three weeks) and take those out and replace them with new books. 

We have boxes where we store items when we’re getting them ready to go out onto the shelf. Then there’s the boxes that are packed and ready to go to the internet site…

It makes me think of what I am doing, and of where things should be … which isn’t always the most straightforward thing for me!”

Recycled books are hard on the back!

“Some books are not good enough to sell and need to be picked up by a company who pays us a very small amount of money by weight for recycling them. 

It was easier when we put the recycled books into bags as I could hold the bag and know roughly how heavy it was … The bagged books could be in 10kg weights.

We recently got given some boxes for the recycled books which now take 23 kg of books which make it harder to lift – considering I am nearly 70 -It’s hard on my back!”

We have been swamped with books since lockdown

“It’s been very heavy work because since lockdown we have been swamped (luckily) … but literally swamped all the same … with books, CDs and DVDS.”

Less than a days worth of book donations waiting to be sorted.

Around a Ton of books is moved every day”

“On an average day there are various trips around the shop that I make with books.

I would say that all in all roughly 30 books = 300kg I would say that around a ton is moved every day in one direction or another, not a long distance but in terms of weight, that is what I would be moving. I sometimes feel it!

In a perfect world I would like to have more room, but that’s pretty impossible. Every section and area of the shop – toys, bric, clothes, books need their area and space to work on too… “

Once I have a goal I try to find ways to improve on it

“I think we sell the most books out of all the shops in the group of Helen and Douglas.. It’s a good quantity of money for the hard work.

In general we have a good laugh and the important thing is to get on with each other and respect each other. Although one speaks about one section, its really all about one team and one shop. So if books don’t sell then other sections in the shop can buoy up the figures for that week.

I know what my book section should be doing each week in money and it takes me and pushes me to improve on it each week.

I am the sort of person that once I have a goal, I try to find ways to improve on it. So I have added sections and changes to the display and I can see books missing so I know that the changes work.”

“Except for children’s books I do everything. I sort out children’s books but unless there’s a big gap I am the only one to do books and so it becomes easy to work and I know where things are.”

Is this specialist book sale catalogue something to do with you?

That was a donation – lots of boxes of old books and they were really old books. But even I can see when a book is special and in a good condition. These were 17 or early 1800s. Among them was a collection of bibles – books that were at least over a foot tall and heavy – very heavy! 

I knew that if we put these books on the shelves that someone would buy them for a really cheap price so in the end they were sent to this auction. The values we got for them were amazing – the sale raised a whopping £675 for the charity.

“When I go home I take the books with me! I go to bed and the books are all over the place… I go to sleep and try to think of other things and then the books become part of the story… they’re even in my dreams!”

“I could not be without Robert – he is one in a million”

I asked Anneke, The Manager of the shop what she thought of Robert’s weekly feat with the book department …

Helen and Douglas children’s hospice care

Helen and Douglas shop, 74 Rosehill, Oxford, OX4 4HS

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