In June 2021, Daniel Breston walked into Demelza's Herne Bay Bookshop to begin his first shift as a charity shop volunteer. We caught up with Daniel to find out more about his volunteering journey with us, over these past 10-months.

Daniel shares: "I am dual American-British, with a British wife. We moved to Herne Bay in 2019, and in early 2020 I was part of the 'Great Redundancy'. I had set a goal of helping the community, and all through COVID, I knew I wanted to be a volunteer at the bookstore.

"As a child, I was a slow reader, and only when a librarian gave me a Sherlock Holmes consolidated book that I began truly reading. I have always been associated with children’s charities: NSPCC, Children in Need, Tech for Kids and now Demelza."

First-day nerves

As his first day approached, Daniel admitted that his "nerves kicked in". He continues: "Consider that we had just begun the great escape from the house and back into the real world. I knew nothing about retail as I had spent 50 years in IT. So, on day one, store managers Brian and Des took me in, gave me a quick review of the store and uttered the feared words of all volunteers: ‘Cull and Fill’."

"Of course, to get this far, there were the forms, the phone interviews and the online procedures for safety and IT security, plus Gift-Aid. Gift-Aid is fantastic as it allows us to get more money for what we sell from donations.

"We place a coloured dot on each adult book indicating when it has gone onto a shelf. The calendar shows the colour to fill gaps and the colour to remove. Fiction is our most significant section, and all books are in alphabetical order by author. Now for every book I did, Des had removed and filled 20! Or so it seemed. But back and forth, I worked, culling and taking the books to the back [ready to head back to the Maidstone Distribution Centre]. Get more books to fill the gaps, then onto the shelves."

Clearly enjoying the process of 'cull and fill', Daniel jokes: "Oh wait, customers, get out of the way. Oh, do we have this author, let me look. Oh, you want to donate, I’ll take them. Ah, DVDs and vinyl records are over there. Children are in that area. Yes, we have cookbooks and gardening over here. Puzzles or desk lamps, no problem. HEY!!!! Can’t you see I am trying to cull and fill the fiction!"

Demelza's Herne Bay Bookshop is just a stone's throw away from the seafront and is surrounded by cafes and establishments offering classic seaside delicacies. "Forget losing weight" Daniel laughs. Continuing: "Even after volunteering from 08:30 to 15:00 - as there are cookies galore, and we have a bakery and fish and chip shop nearby too!" - (Sounds perfect to us!).

"After day one – I went home, lay on the sofa and fell asleep. Nine months later, I go home, lay on the sofa and fall asleep!!! Glorious!"

Till point in Demelza's Herne Bay Bookshop.

Learning the ropes

Week three came around quickly and for Daniel, it was time to learn 'the dreaded till'!

"Week three - I quickly culled and filled fiction, I also had come to grips with other categories, but the added difference here is you have to price each book. You can look at how other volunteers valued books to guide you, but it is mostly gut. What will the customers of Herne Bay pay? If too much, can you bargain, always keeping the kids in mind?

"Then Brian uttered those words: let me show you THE TILL! AAARRGGGHH!"

As a man with 50 years of IT experience behind him, Daniel quips: "Evil nasty thing with an IT application that needs rewriting (sorry, it does)."

Continuing: "But it is the place of power. Behind the counter, interacting with each buying customer, asking them if they’d like to add up to give us more money from £1.50 to £2, handing out change, giving out card receipts. Making mistakes, getting nervous, and constantly checking to see if you are on target.

"Targets are magically derived numbers. Each month gets a new target by day, and Saturday is the last chance to make the target for the week. No pressure! Master the till, and you can till, cull, fill, point, look for, replace, coffee, cookie, to your heart's content!"

Meeting and greeting customers

Discussing the wide range of customers, he sees coming through the doors of Demelza's Herne Bay Bookshop, Daniel says: "We have the lot: dog walkers, kids crying, cute kids, the lookers, the ones who can't decide and those with a list. We have the Saturday regulars, and of those, I like the Mills and Boon's ladies the best. I had never heard of M&B [pubishers of romance and escapist fiction], so I asked this elderly lady why she wanted them. She smirked and said: 'old lady entertainment'!

"She was part of a group that got together, shared the books, discussed them, had sherry and cake, and then passed them on to other groups. If there was no M&B, they were not interested in the competitors. We are always out of M & B! Sigh!"

Join Demelza's team of dedicated volunteers

Speaking about his fellow volunteers, Daniel tells us: "The Herne Bay Bookshop has the best! I work with the ever knowledgeable on all subjects, Les, who makes us laugh. Every day there is a mix of personalities who get along very well. We have the things we want to do and prefer, but in the end, we are there for the kids."

"That sums up volunteering: there for the kids. Rain, shine, selling, bargaining – it all for the kids. Come join us!"

Learn more about volunteering at Demelza, our current vacancies and how you can make a difference in the lives of the children and families who need us most.