A team of volunteers from Bunzl Cleaning and Hygiene Supplies visited Emmaus Bolton for a volunteering day. Paul Benson, Sales Manager at Bunzl, reflects on his experience.

It was a very worthwhile experience and a real eye opener in terms of how the staff and companions deal with the day-to-day realities of the situations they face versus the preconceived perceptions I think that people can have, and indeed I had, before going on site.

I assumed a lot the work the charity performed was awaiting the input of donated funds and how best that can then be spread, managed, and apportioned across the organisation. However, what I found at Bolton was a great entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to self-generate as much value and commercial enterprise as possible from the donations and business trading relationships that have been established.

The Bolton site has a café, a shop, mini garden centre, furniture and white goods outlet, workshop and craft shop. Each area tries to maximise the resources made available to them to be self-reliant and sustainable on an ongoing basis.

The craft shop was particularly interesting as rather than just trying to resell donated clothes, which can often end up in Landfill if they are too dated or beyond sale condition, they take value from the clothes – buttons, zips etc or made scraps and rags from the clothing which will have a resale value for art and crafts.

The in-house workshop also takes in damaged donated furniture and adds value to it by repairing or repainting in order to generate income for the upkeep of the Bolton site. In addition to this they also take instruction and commissions from the general public to design bespoke pieces of furniture.

Despite all the above a big challenge the site faces the further challenge of getting people in through the gates to transaction with them.

I have passed the location in Bolton on many occasions in the past and had just assumed it was not for general public or maybe not a place where there was anything necessarily for me. I guess that is a shared experience across many of the general public. The site tries to address this through social media, PR and word of mouth but every stage is a challenge for the team in order to keep the operation running.

The above does not really do any justice to the efforts being made, in addition to the companions providing their own labour in return for their keep. Congratulations to all involved at Emmaus Bolton.