ellenor’s Director of Operations Liam Stone manages the hospice charity’s day-to-day operations.

His remit? IT, health and safety, the construction of ellenor’s new Wellbeing Centre …and its 10 shops throughout Kent and Bexley.

At the moment, ellenor has retail presences in Bexley, Blackfen, Crayford, Gravesend, Northfleet, Swanscombe, and Welling, plus three locations in Dartford – on the High Street, at The Priory Shopping Centre, and in Darent Valley Hospital.

If there’s not an ellenor shop near where you live, though, don’t worry – chances are there will be soon.

That’s because, Liam explains, ellenor plans to open three shops each year, for the next three years: a strategic expansion which, by 2027, will almost double the amount of shops the hospice charity has on the high street today.

“I want us to be able to reach more people, drive more sales, have a presence in more locations – to push beyond our usual ‘fenced’ area. What we’re finding is that many of our usual clientele – Gravesend and Dartford locals in particular – are being forced by the cost of living crisis to move further out, to places like Gillingham and Rochester. We want to ensure they’re still able to come and shop with us, without having to travel too far.”

Combined, ellenor’s shops bring in almost £2 million per year, with all profits – around £600,000, or close to a third, of that figure going towards ellenor’s services. These funds help the hospice charity provide vital palliative and end-of-life care for patients with life-limiting conditions: both from its Northfleet-based inpatient and outpatient services, as well as the homes of its patients throughout the Kent and Bexley areas.

“The ambitions and aspirations of our care team are tied directly to what we do,” Liam says, “– and to what our shops are able to achieve. If we don’t deliver our retail targets, it limits their ability to provide that care. By contrast, though, by us pushing the boundaries – adding more shops, and generating more income – we’re actually bringing the rest of the charity with us.”

Yet the income ellenor’s charity shops generate – all of which flows, via enabling the care and support ellenor provides, back into the community – isn’t the only service they provide to their local surrounds.

They fulfil a vital social function, too.

“Our charity shops are more than a place to grab a bargain,” says Liam. “They’re a social hub. We find that, for many people in our community – particularly those struggling with isolation – they’ll pop into our charity shops not to buy, necessarily, but simply to check in with different people and have a chat.”

Now, with ellenor’s retail presence increasing to reflect the greater demand for the charity’ services, even more people will benefit from an ellenor shop on their doorstep.

And there’s plenty more to look forward to where that came from.

Liam is, for example, in the process of securing a local warehouse, where clothes can be sorted, washed, dried, and steam-cleaned; and where goods can be stored before being sent to a particular shop. ellenor is also in the process of launching an ecommerce shop to sell online, and on the cusp of an exciting partnership with a company called Shopiago.

By partnering with Shopiago, ellenor will avoid having to send bags of unwanted books, CDs, and DVDs ‘to rag’ (a process for which ellenor receives between 20p and 30p per bag), and instead receive between 20p and 30p – per item. It’s a system that’s already helped charities like Sue Ryder see an increase of 260% to its retail income – and the hope is it could have a similarly striking impact on ellenor’s, too.

ellenor’s award-winning work with Gravesham council. Under the pioneering scheme, the council refers people in need of essential items (such as clothes, furniture, and appliances) to ellenor, where shop staff handpick the goods and deliver them to the recipients’ homes.

Amid these exciting developments, Liam has committed to a 5% increase across all ellenor’s retail locations this year – a target which, if met, could see the shops generate over £1 million to fund ellenor’s services to life-limited patients and their families.

Liam notes that, traditionally, charity shops haven’t held the same status as high-street retail brands – and that sometimes, when a charity announces a new shop location, it can be met with public criticism. While big brand names thrived, charity shops – dogged, perhaps, by the misconception that they pay less rent, or rates, than those household names – were looked down on.

Now, however, Liam believes the tide is turning. That in 2024, it’s now many of the big names dropping off the high-street radar, while charity shops – fuelled by their affordable prices, wide selection of items, and warm, inclusive feel – are surging back to popularity.

“What we’re trying to do is get past the stigma of ‘oh, another charity shop’, and reframe it as a positive force in our community. A place that, if someone you loved was supported by ellenor before they died, you can walk into and feel closer to that person.

“Even making the smallest purchase in one of our shops allows you to feel part of that journey of raising money for ellenor, and giving back to your community. Which is an incredible feeling.”

Hunting for a bargain? Find your local ellenor shop. Want to donate any clothes, bric-a-brac, or furniture you no longer need? Pop in to say hi, or book a free furniture collection. Keen to get

involved with your local ellenor shop to make a difference to families facing life-limiting illness in your community? Volunteer with us.

Or, make a tax-free donation to ellenor, and enable the charity to continue providing palliative and end-of-life services throughout Kent and Bexley. Every penny counts – thank you.