Shop & save in Kent

PUBLISHED: 08:21 25 April 2016 | UPDATED: 08:21 25 April 2016

The Dartford ellenor team

The Dartford ellenor team

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Kent Life shows how to save money and help a great cause on a trip to ellenor’s refurbished Dartford shop

Charity shops have had a major revamp in the last decade. Out are the pile ‘em high, jumble-sale like counters of old, in are window displays of a professional standard, garments steamed, properly tagged and hung – and the added bonus that you’re helping your favourite cause.

One such exemplar is the ellenor shop in Dartford High Street, which has undergone a full refurbishment this year and opened its doors again to shoppers on 1 February. An ellenor outlet for 25 years, it’s a Dartford landmark, housed in one of the town’s oldest buildings, which had to be taken into account during the refurbishment.

This historic store is part of a chain of 16 run by ellenor, which supports families facing terminal illness and is Kent’s only charity to provide hospice care for people of all ages and their families.

Kent Life’s Charity of the Year needs to raise £6.7m each year to continue providing this support, 90 per cent of which takes place in the patient’s own home. The retail arm of ellenor raised £1.5m last year, which was only made possible by the huge number of volunteers who support this operation. Of the nearly 300 people in the retail team, more than 260 are volunteers.

Number 82 The High Street is Grade II listed and Dartford’s only surviving example of a 16th-century timber-framed town house. The front portion of the building, where ellenor is based, contains the remnants of the building dating back to the 15th century and subsequently 
remodelled in the 16th century.

The earliest building was the home of John Groveherst who, in 1465, obtained a licence, confirmed by the Bishop of Rochester, to use part of the next-door churchyard for building purposes. John erected a chimney there and straightened his house wall, but in return he had to provide a lamp to ‘burn perpetually during the celebration of divine service at the Holy Trinity Church’.

In 1968 Peter Tester FSA did a thorough survey and suggested features of interest which should be left exposed and highlighted.

Visitors to the shop can now see a three-light window dating from the 16th century above a section of flint rubble walling which 
supports the timber framework. The wall by the cash desk has been made a feature and is protected by Perspex now and lit for shoppers to admire.

Outside, you can see the overhanging upper floor, which increased the floor area of the upper storeys as well as being a status symbol. A blocked 16th-century doorway can also be seen in Bullace Lane on the side of the building, which enjoys a prominent corner position.

From 1823, 82 High Street was occupied by the Stidolph family, who were upholsterers, auctioneers and furnishers. In the late 19th and early 20th century they added undertakers to the list. Stidolph’s closed down in 1930 and the building was occupied by A.C. Fish & Co, furniture dealers, who were still there until at least 1962. ellenor has been the proud occupant for the last quarter of a century and, with the recent refurbishment completed, hopes to be there for at least another 25 years.

“We are thrilled with the new look of the shop and have worked hard to ensure the historically significant features have been retained and highlighted in the refurbishment,” says Tim Stewart, Head of Retail at ellenor. “It was very important to us to maintain these key features in one of the oldest buildings in Dartford. We have been able to modernise the shop yet retain the ‘olde worlde’ look and charm of the building.”

Some of the more quirky features include a shoe ladder and the cash desk created from old books. And shop manager Lynn Cotterell’s weekly changing window displays are always worth admiring. On the morning of my visit she had created a crafts special starring an old Singer sewing machine and a sewing box.

Lynn regularly gets customers coming in for outfits they can dress up in for Book Week and the Dickens Festival at Rochester, so is always on the look out for flat caps and Victorian-style children’s clothes she can squirrel away in anticipation of demand. “Very often we get people come in and ask for specific things and nine times out of 10 we have it,” she says with pride.

I was headed there to Gift Aid some of my own pieces and to hunt for stylish bargains to form a special outfit. With Lynn’s expert help (she has been in retail all her life, and that experience shows), my mission was swiftly achieved.

A fabulous Coast skirt formed the starting point, we added a red top, black cardigan, silver necklace and bracelet and I was ready to party – and all this for under £20! It was time to draw breath over a coffee and the biscuit tin out the back, the ‘business end’ of the shop, where the team (22 in total, most volunteers) is ever-busy.

Lynn explains why: “We put about 100-150 items of new stock out every day, it’s not like M&S, we don’t have that wide a choice so we have to refresh that often – especially as some of our customers come in every day.

“We sort what we’re going to keep, then it’s all tagged, priced and steamed – we all muck in, nobody has a set job, we’re such a good team here and we always help each other.”

Dover-based Tim joined ellenor four years ago when he was made redundant after 32 years with P&O Ferries as Head of Retail Operations. He saw the job, successfully applied and has been here every since. “The retail world is different every day, the stuff that comes in is fascinating; we had a Chanel handbag donated to our Westerham shop and a brand-new Diane von Furstenberg dress, still with its £1,400 tag on!”

The Dartford shop’s weekly turnover is around £1,600, sometimes rising to £2,000 at busy times such as Christmas. “We are at the higher end for a shop of this size, but this branch is the hub of our area, it’s the closest to the hospice itself and we’re often the first choice for local donations.

“We also have a great position on the high street, assets like Lynn and loyal volunteers such as Betty, who has been here for over 23 years; we couldn’t do what we do without them.

“We meet often with other managers to share what’s working well; we’re not in competition, so if something comes in that we know will work better in another shop, we’ll send it to them. The aim is to make money for ellenor after all.”

Find out more

• ellenor is a charity funded by the generosity of the local community, offering the best care and support to families facing terminal illness in Kent and south-east London.

• It is the only charity in the county that provides hospice care for people of all ages – babies, children and adults - and their families. This includes pain and symptom relief, end of life care, respite, bereavement support and emotional and spiritual care.

• ellenor’s Children’s Hospice Care, formerly known as chYps, is provided in the comfort of the family home and spans across North and West Kent and the London Borough of Bexley.

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