“OUR volunteers are the backbone of what we do,” says Tina Nagle, shop supervisor at the Irish Wheelchair Association’s charity shop in Ennis’ Elevation Business Park.
Tina was speaking to The Champion as the shop’s team celebrated scooping an impressive four national awards from the Irish Charity Shop Association, including Volunteer of the Year for Margaret Hurley.
And she revealed the success of the Ennis shop, which has expanded to 3,000 square feet at its base on the Clon Road, is set to become the model for any new shops to be opened by the charity in the future.
According to Tina they were “thrilled” to receive accolades from the Irish Charity Shop Association at their recent awards ceremony in Dublin.
As well as Margaret’s national Volunteer of the Year award, selected from charity shops all over Ireland, volunteer Hasibullah Darwish was runner up in the Volunteer throughout Ireland category; Teresa Marshall received a special Volunteer Recognition award and Tina came in second place in the Shop Manager of the Year award.
“I’m delighted for the volunteers, it’s brilliant for a small unit in Ennis, County Clare that out of all of Ireland to come home with four awards. It’s a huge achievement for us and it’s a great boost and it will give us a great burst of energy to keep going,” said Tina.
Margaret, known to her friends as Mags, has been involved with the charity since 2006 and was one of the founding members of the local IWA branch.
She described volunteering with the charity as “very addictive” explaining, “It’s rewarding, when you know that you’ve helped somebody, you just get a buzz out of it.
“If you see someone happy because of something you did, wouldn’t that give you inspiration to go and do another bit. It’s great satisfaction, and when you have job satisfaction you have everything really.”
She first became involved with the charity while receiving treatment for health issues. “I’d had my own business, a pub, then I got sick and started treatment so I decided to change my life around. I was sick of just sitting at home and I was getting better.
“When I had the pub, the Irish Wheelchair Association used to come in on a Friday for a cup of tea and play a game of cards and I got to know them and they were looking for people to join them.”
From there she was involved in the setting up of the IWA’s first shop on Francis Street and the local IWA branch.
Speaking about the award she modestly said, “I gladly accepted it, but I didn’t just win it, we have a whole team here and I just happen to be a part of that team and I’m lucky to be so.
“We have great camaradarie here, great fun. We all get on like a big happy family really. I wouldn’t have got the award without every one of the other volunteers.”
“Every time anybody does even an hour volunteering, it all helps, it’s part of a jigsaw and every hour helps to complete that jigsaw.”
In nominating Mags for the award Tina described her years of dedicated work not only in the shop but with the branch and in the IWA’s Outreach Centre.
Also taking home honours was Hasibullah, known as Hasib, an asylum seeker from Afghanistan who has been making a big contribution to the charity shop.
“He volunteers up to 35 hours a week and is hugely helping us with our admin, his computer skills would be a lot better than ours,” smiled Tina.
“He does so much here and he loves helping the service users. He has introduced us to things from his home country of Afghanistan. He has really settled in and is part of the family.”
Teresa Marshall, was highly commended with a special Volunteer Recognition award.
“She is our China and furniture expert, we wouldn’t have much experience in that side of things and she has taught us so much.
“She has a full time job but comes in in the evenings and at weekends. She also helps with our online business, she gives so much time,” said Tina.
Of course Tina herself was honoured to come in second place for manager of the year saying, “I was delighted, it’s lovely to get these awards.”
The IWA charity shop has been operating at the Elevation Business Park since 2019.
Tina recalled when she first started working with the charity they were operating a 600 square foot charity shop on Francis Street.
“I saw a huge potential for the shop to expand so we started taking in bits of furniture and other items then we moved down the lane and were running two shops. Still we were expanding and we came up here in 2019 and it just took off.”
They outgrew a 1,500 sq feet premises within a year and then moved to take over the current 3,000 sq feet location.
“We’re here about 15 or 16 months and it’s been brilliant. We’ve been so busy, it’s great. And any penny that’s spent or any donations that come in through our door goes straight back into the services of the IWA including personal assistants, assisted living, the outreach centre.
“We’ve three buses on the road where we pick up service users and bring them to the outreach centre. The shop has been a huge support to IWA and we all work together.”
She added that they have received “great support” from the local community and the people of Clare.
The shop has a number of volunteers who come in on a weekly basis. Alongside Mags, Teresa and Hasib are Maria Obinque, Iwona Karwowska, Noreen Lee, Magda Domanska, Karinah Lek Houlihan, Colm Quigley, Sinead Carroll, Ellamarie Lynch, Karen Healy, Fidelma Killeen working together to help both the charity and customers.
“They are a brilliant crowd. We couldn’t have done any of this without them, and I have got huge support from management in Dublin and Paul Reck my area manager. We’ve brought this shop to where it is now, which is thriving phenomenally, it’s brilliant,” said Tina.
She added, “We’re very proud of our shop here in Ennis because all of the other IWA charity shops are now going to be modelled on ours.
“It has been seen how we have brought it from 600sq feet up to 3,000 sq feet and so any new shops that are going to be opened around the country are going to be modelled on ours.”
The charity shop accepts donations of most things with everything checked to ensure they are in working order.
Mags said, “You name it we take it, from a needle to an anchor. From a small bag of clothes to a huge item, it all makes a difference.”
Among the eclectic mix of donations in recent weeks has been a pulpit for a chapel and a vintage sun lamp. The shop also collects second hand mobility aids and electric hospital beds.
“These can be very expensive and hard to source but if we get them we take them to help people in need,” said Tina.
The size of the store isn’t the only thing that has expanded, with the shop now able to appeal to a broader customer base through the launch of their online shop.
They have also been involved in corporate hotel clearances and office clearances taking donations from outside the county.
“We have two vans on the road and we move outside of Clare, we recently went to Dublin for an office clearance. We basically go where we can get items and it’s a lot of work.
“The volunteers have to go and load everything and take it back and unload. It’s phenomenal that we’re expanding outside of Clare.”
For Mags she loves helping to make a difference not just in the lives of the service users of the IWA but also those who shop and donate to the charity.
“It’s all about the people really, without customers and donations we there wouldn’t be a charity shop, simple as. We have to meet people’s needs.
“We had a man here last week who told us he was downsizing because his family were gone and his wife had died.
“He didn’t know what to do with all of the stuff in his house and he asked if we’d take a look. He gave us nearly everything, and he was just so delighted. He couldn’t believe there was a shop that would come out and look at it and take it.
“We bagged up the clothes as he had no way of doing it himself, but that’s what we do if it helps somebody make their life a bit easier.
“That man was so delighted and that’s what we’re about. It made a difference to him that we could help with things he didn’t want anymore, but the funds raised from those items will make a difference to the service users as well. It’s like a big circle.”
Tina has seen an increase in the popularity of charity shops, saying it “took off” during the recession with people of all ages coming to check out the bargains.
She concluded, “We wouldn’t be where we are without the huge support we have got from people all over the county. People have been so generous with their time and donations and we are so grateful.”