The Covid-19 impact on the retail team at Age UK

Third Sector Promotion Age UK

Nick Smith, head of retail at Age UK, describes how his team has been affected by the pandemic, the challenges that lie ahead and the exciting career opportunities on offer.

Age UK shop front, North Finchley, London

The retail division at Age UK contributes a vital level of income that in turn supports the Age UK network to deliver help, advice, support and services to those that need it the most.

Nick, how has the pandemic impacted Age UK’s retail arm?

At Age UK, we were forced to close all of our shops overnight when the first national lockdown came into force in March 2020, which created enormous financial challenges for the charity.

Unfortunately, as a result, we took the difficult decision to close a number of our shops last year on a permanent basis. However, the pandemic also acted as a catalyst to accelerate retail evolution reflected by the changes we have seen in consumer behaviour and our own strategic ambition.

Looking ahead, our operation will be more tech-enabled to appeal to younger shoppers, data-driven and less reliant only on our ‘bricks and mortar’ trading as we look to develop alternative income streams and grow our multichannel operation.

In what ways have you prepared for the big reopening of shops?

The retail team has been planning and preparing for the re-opening since the beginning of the third lockdown on Jan 5th. Although benefitting from the experience of having been through the reopening process twice before, we are leaving no stone unturned in our preparations.

Shop staff were back in for a week prior to opening, transforming the shops from the ‘tinsel and turkey’ of winter to the ‘sun and sandals’ of spring, whilst also retraining and refreshing to maintain a Covid-secure trading environment for our supporters.

What further challenges do you think may lie ahead for your team?

As I see it there are at least three key challenges that we face in terms of reopening. Firstly, volunteer numbers. Age UK and the charity sector are so reliant and grateful for the time and dedication of our huge team of volunteers. We know that Covid has brought about many challenges for our volunteers and we know that in recent times the number of volunteers has reduced by up to 50% compared to pre-Covid numbers.

Register your interest in future job vacancies at Age UK

We also know that many people are now affected by new challenges either from being placed on furlough by their existing employer or through redundancy and we hope to be able to offer volunteering opportunities and experience to those who may be impacted. We appeal to anyone who may be able to give up some of their time to help out by volunteering in one of our shops and those who are interested can find out more by visiting our website.

Secondly, stock donations. We are always grateful for the generosity that our supporters show by bringing donations to us. We expect, as previously, that there may be a pent-up demand to donate as many have used lockdown to have a clear out and so we face the challenge (albeit a positive one) to handle the volumes that we are expecting.

Age UK Parc Cwmdu shop, Swansea, Wales

And finally, potentially the biggest challenge of all is the ongoing uncertainty that the pandemic brings. We are optimistic that the roadmap, driven by the tremendous work undertaken with the vaccine programme, will continue to help all of us move forward to a more recognised way of life, but equally appreciate we remain within the confines of a pandemic that potentially could bring further disruption in the months ahead.

What do you love most about your role?

The ability to play an active part in making a real difference to the lives of older people. The retail division at Age UK contributes a considerable and vital level of income that in turn supports the Age UK network to deliver help, advice, support and services to those that need it the most. This increasing need inspires all of us within the retail division to continuously evolve, develop and improve what we do to make an even greater contribution in the future.

What other kind of roles do you have in your team?

The retail team comprises a field team of divisional and area managers supported by a retail support team based in Warrington. We also retain a store development function which supports shop development, acquisitions and income generation.

Are you recruiting?

Retail at Age UK is forever evolving and we are always looking for new and exciting talent to add to the team. We have recently embarked on recruitment for critical shop vacancies and van drivers, which have generated great interest and a large number of applicants. All of our current vacancies can be seen here.

What makes Age UK a great charity to work for?

Everybody at Age UK is passionate about what they do and work together to support, inspire and motivate each other to make a real difference to the lives of older people. Despite the challenges of the last twelve months the culture has become even more inclusive, supportive and collaborative recognising the challenges that not just the organisation but individuals have faced, working hard to ensure the wellbeing of employees and their families is fundamental in everything that we do.

Explore career opportunities at Age UK on Third Sector Jobs, the specialist charity jobs board

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