2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the Hospice of St Francis. This year is a time to reflect on their history, look to the future, and most importantly, give thanks for all of the support that makes its work possible.

To think that it started with a church group who founded the hospice in Hertfordshire all those years ago. Nowadays, with more than1,000 volunteers, the charity helps more than 2,000 people live their final years or months in comfort and is supported by the public, businesses and also by the NHS.

The Marshalswick charity shop in the Quadrant also opened in 1979 and is one of more than 15 retail outlets in the UK. I linger outside and peer into the shop window. One of the volunteers is in the middle of hanging a fine art painting. As I step in, I can’t believe the eclectic mix of things from brooches and bracelets to collections of small vases. It looks like such a small shop from the outside but is pretty huge inside. There’s a buzz about the place and customers are busy having a good look at the clothing and shoes while others are bringing things in by the boxful.

Whenever I go to a charity shop, I usually head straight to the books and CDs. This is the only shop of this type where I enjoy having a leisurely look around at everything. I wind my way into the clothing area and try on a beret with a huge feather across it and a pair of shiny leather cowboy boots. I can’t believe the good quality of some of the ladies high-heeled shoes and tailored jackets.

I then venture to the men’s area passing by a basketful of colourful ties and a couple of shirts still in their cellophane wrappings. I pick up a backgammon travel set for my husband, who has always wanted to learn how to play the game.

White square shelving units overflow with ceramic candlesticks, some traditional Wedgwood and a small figurine of a very well dressed Mickey Mouse from the Walt Disney Classics Collection.

I suddenly realise that my daughter is not behind me, and walk around the shop to discover her crouched down in a corner up to her neck in records; she is utterly engrossed having already amassed a small pile including Cats The Musical and Satie’s piano sonatas.

The volunteers are all busy doing something. Having worked with books myself, I can see that the volunteer in charge of the section knows exactly what he’s doing as he adds more books matching specific genres while topping up the shelf.

I chat with the store manager, Jo, who has been working here since the shop opened about ten years ago. She’s seems very organised and has an army of industrious volunteers behind her. Each volunteer works about one four-hour shift a week.

Jo says: “We take in about 200 bags a week so the biggest challenge is getting everything organised.”

I can see that from the sheer quantity of items that one of her greatest challenges must be to get things cleaned, looking all shiny and neatly displayed. I sympathise as even in the past 15 minutes I’ve seen at least three or four people carrying large boxfuls of donations toing and froing to the stock room.

For Jo, receiving this much merchandise is just a normal weekday. The place is chock full of an ever-changing selection of quality donated goods.

“Fortunately we have regular donators and customers," she says. "We’re hugely grateful and simply wouldn’t be here without their generosity.”

We move onto chatting about the psychology of shopping: “In a well-stocked charity shop like this, I love the fact that you just never know what you’re going to find,” she says.

“Yes that’s the whole buzz of it, all that rummaging around,” I agree.

Meanwhile my daughter is looking pleased with herself and carrying a pile of records to the till.

As I step outside I see that there’ll be a fashion show at Shendish Manor in September showcasing the latest styles over the past 40 years modelled by staff and volunteers. I’d love to go along as there’s no better feeling than shopping and raising money for an important cause over a glass of bubbly. Now I just need to decide who to bring!

  • Marisa Laycock moved from south west London to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city.