Saint Francis Hospice director of retail and trading Michelle Nicholls discusses the reopening of the charity's shops after lockdown.

There is no question that the Covid-19 pandemic had a huge impact on retail and we were hit hard with our 15 charity shops having to close for more than eight months.

We were thrilled when the government announced that non-essential shops could reopen last month.

We have been busy in lockdown and used the time to refresh our stores and come up with new ways to ensure our customers enjoy the best shopping experience.

We have charity shops across Havering, Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge and Brentwood – all the areas where we provide care and support to people living with life-limiting illnesses, along with their loved ones.

Social distancing and safety measures remain in place and we are still only able to allow a reduced number of customers in our shops, but we are hoping to be back to full occupancy in the coming months.

We’ve missed our customers terribly and we’re so grateful for their continued support.

It’s been wonderful to see them pop in to shop and have a chat. Some have even brought us tea and biscuits.

Our retail stores have really bounced back from lockdown and there are so many reasons why we are thriving at the moment.

We offer high quality and unique finds at affordable prices and at the same time we are protecting our environment.

But it is much more than this. Charity shops are community hubs and when people shop in our stores, they are supporting their local community.

Our retail team is always there to greet people with a smile and a friendly chat. We love getting to know our customers and supporting them in any way we can.

It goes without saying that our volunteers are the lifeblood of the hospice. We simply couldn’t run our retail shops without all the time they give and the energy they bring.

Sadly, some of our volunteers died over the past year but while they are no longer with us, they will never be forgotten.

We are always looking for more volunteers and we have such a variety of roles on offer. You don’t need experience as full training is given.

Your donations are also needed more than ever. If you’ve had a spring clean over lockdown, please donate your preloved goods by dropping them off to one of our stores.

To find your nearest charity shop or more about volunteering, visit