Today, for the last time, we vacuumed the shop, opened the till and pushed the mannequin outside the shop to show that we are open.
For the last time, we sped down the narrow, creaking spiral staircase to fetch an item or take our shift.
For the last time, we greeted our regular customer with a “Hello sir, how are you today? Lovely weather isn’t it?”
And we could not say “See you tomorrow”…
For the last time, we pushed the “Z” button on our vintage till machine, to print the journal of sales of the day, and wrote our result on the wall.
For the last time, we are gathering in this place as friends of Children of the Mekong.
But when does this all started?
In 2013, 8 years ago, Children of the Mekong in the UK was growing, and we were looking for an office space. However, one of our core value is to keep admin costs as low as possible, and we didn’t want to pay for office space in London.
Julia and Jean-Marc came to me and suggested
“why don’t we open a charity shop?”
It was a crazy idea, but I like new adventures, so I said yes!
The idea was to have an office space at the rear or at the basement of the shop. After 6 months of market survey and business plans (where I even volunteered in a charity shop to get some experience), we started a pop-up shop in the corner shop of 32 Lavender Hill. The shop was big and nice, but the basement and backroom were too small.
A few months after, we found this lovely shop and we fell for its huge basement. We moved in on a warm summer day.
I know some of you like numbers, so here we go:
- 7 years
- 91 students came from all around the world, although mostly from France, to do internships. Most of them were staying for 5 months.
- 97 volunteers
- 1,570 registered Gift Aid donor, and probably more than twice that number of non- Gift Aid donors
- Thousands of sold items. Our best-ever sales were Ladies clothes, followed closely by Bric-a-Brac.
- And of course, the proceeds of the shop allowed supporting 5 education projects in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.
And now, despite the challenging year we just had, it is not COVID that forced us to close the shop, but BREXIT. How sad it can be, the new immigration law does not allow European students to carry out unpaid internships in the UK. Our business model won’t sustain without the interns, and this is why we are closing down today.
An Internship that matters
At Children of the Mekong, we care about people and we strongly believe in team spirit. I spent 6 months there working full-time and felt a hundred per cent like a member of a big family, one composed of interns, volunteers but also friends and managers of the Charity.
We are committed to helping children in South-East Asia but we also have a significant action at a local scale, providing cheap stuff for Londoners in need. Working in the shop, I was in touch with a strong and reliable customer base.
Customer relations, project management, accounting, community management through social media… All these were part of my wonderful experience at Children of the Mekong.
What is our legacy?
During those years, we brought a bit of Asia on Lavender Hill, and I hope our local community got to know better the Mekong area, and that they are now aware of the challenges many children face to get an education in those countries.
In the last few weeks, we have received numerous messages of thanks and regret. Our loyal customers like Wanda, who honour us with their presence tonight, are really sad to see their local charity shop closing down.
I am proud that we could provide to our local community affordable, and good quality second-hand items, and a place where they could simply come for a chat with a friendly volunteer.
I am extremely grateful to all the interns, volunteers, customers and donors who made this shop special.
A special thanks to Jean-Marc, who coached me for the opening 7 years ago, to Muneezay, who was always ready to give a hand when we needed, Camille who helped regularly with the logistics, and to Kiran, who replaced me during my second maternity leave.
It is the end of a chapter for Children of the Mekong, but not the end of the story!