'We wanted to do more for our pupils (who have complex needs) to get them ready for the world of work, while at the same time raising funds for the school. Being based in a small, touristy town, there are limited opportunities locally for our pupils to gain work experience.
In 2010, we were lucky enough to acquire a premises from which we could run our own charity shop. After some initial PR to explain how it would benefit the local community and our school, it didn't take much for the donations to start rolling in, and the project really mushroomed - we soon ran out of space!
Five years ago, Tesco wanted to open a store in the town. There was some initial opposition to their plans, but I saw this as an opportunity to set up a mutually beneficial partnership. I approached them with a proposal that would allow Tesco to give back to the local community, and would give us a bigger and better shop premises. So when they built their supermarket they very generously built us a unit next door! Tesco were very supportive and helpful during the build, tailoring it to our requirements, and as a landlord they are great too. They charge us a peppercorn rent, and just allow us to get on with it. They also regularly donate old stock to the store.
We sell everything from books, DVDs and vinyl to clothing and crockery, as well as upcyled furniture and items that our pupils have made. The shop is open six days a week and is manned by school staff and pupils, who each work there for at least half a day per week. Pupils take part in all aspects of running a shop, from stock-taking and stock rotation to merchandising and window dressing, as well as banking. They also help run our website, Facebook page and eBay account.
We make around £15,000-£20,000 profit per year, and this is invested back into the school via our registered 'Friends of' charity. The pupils help choose how the money is spent, and this has included a London theatre trip, new playground equipment and a sensory room refurb.
I've been bowled over by the success of the project. It has given our pupils an amazing opportunity to learn and practise life skills, gain qualifications and work experience, and meet and interact with members of the community.'
Matthew Smith, Business Manager, Sheringham Woodfields School, Sheringham, Norfolk (110 pupils)