|14 Oct 2021
“Any outsider looking at the start-up of the Christmas Shops in 1971 would have dismissed it as ridiculous. Business plan? None! Finance? None! Equipment? None!
So, 49 years later, how come has it morphed from a small side street shop with 10 charities, to six pop up shops in five libraries (Wilmslow, Macclesfield, Altrincham, Hale, Sale, and the Curzon Cinema in Knutsford)? We now sell cards for 50 odd charities in our shops and have a website with 30 more.
Well, it was a one-off originally. A chance remark while buying an old rocking chair. I said I couldn’t find a shop selling charity Christmas cards. The reply? “Well you can have this shop if you like, I am moving round the corner…”
Er-r ? Could I do that? I did! Some 10 charities came for 10 days. A pasting table, a Candlewick bedspread , a cash box and a paraffin heater. £700 later I opened an account with Barclays. For the next nine years, I found empty shops, haggling for free use. Still no money.
From the start, I knew that everything would be free for charities; that no one would be paid; that charities would get 100% of their sales back. I think that makes us unique. Other organisations charge for entry, have paid establishments and take a slice of sales.
There are many challenges. Just how to pay for insurance, publicity, equipment and rent? No one gives us any money, we have to be self-sufficient. I had to finance everything from the sale of gifts.
So for years I sourced those from going to the International Spring Fair at the NEC, and the Home and Gift Show in Harrogate on my own. Now I have a great colleague and we do this together.
Our volunteers are now in their hundreds. Often eight volunteers in each pop up shop a day for five to six weeks. Do the maths!
Charities come to us, we don’t choose. Over the years, we have hosted over 120 charities. I launched the website in the early days of 1990. Many charities saw the opportunity of another market place and joined us at www.christmas-cards.org.uk.
In 1995, I was awarded an MBE. My family were with me as Prince Charles took the Investiture. It really was quite nerve wracking! Particularly as bobbing my curtsey, my shoe nearly came off! I blurted out: “I nearly lost my shoe”! Prince Charles said with a smile: “Yes, it is a nightmare isn’t it?!”
So no, I am not retired. This keeps me out of mischief from July to March. People are lovely, it is rewarding.
One stand out observation: recognise an opportunity when one pops up. It will be a challenge. It may take you on a different course from your intended one. But, be flexible and remember the LEH motto... Hope Favours The Bold!
PS I still have the old rocking chair!
We have made over £5m and counting.”
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