A charity shop has been forced to close after the volunteers who run it were ordered to employ a £25,000-a-year manager – to implement health and safety regulations.
The Cancer Research UK store is run by 30 pensioner volunteers who have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds over the last 20 years.
But it has closed down after the Health and Safety Executive ruled that a paid manager must be appointed to plug ‘significant gaps” in regulatory compliance.
The position, which would cost around £25,000 a year to subsidise, would ”swallow up” most of the shop’s £30,000-a-year in takings.
Terry Allen, 80, was among 30 pensioners who took over the running of the shop in Cullompton, Devon, in 2006, when Cancer Research ceased to fund staff salaries.
Since then, the team have effectively managed the shop until last week, when they were told they had to close the shop ”immediately because of health and safety risks”.
Mr Allen, who is the secretary of Cullompton Friends of Cancer Research UK, said: ”We’re devastated over the decision.
”One person has fallen down in four years and they were quite happy to get up and walk home, but the charity contacted us to say it was frightened to death somebody would take legal action against us.
”At the moment we have a volunteer manageress who does an amazing job, but we have been told we need someone on a paid full-time basis.
‘Since we took over the shop, we assumed we were independent but, as the Cancer Research UK name is above the door, they claim they have the right to invoke observation of the health and safety risks, which they felt were not being dealt with adequately.”
The pensioners took over the running of the shop five years ago after Cancer Research UK announced plans to close the shop because it was not making enough profit.
The outlet has become a ‘hub’ for the community where dozens of pensioners meet every day and pore through the items on sale.
It has also raised an average of £30,000 every year since they took over, and turned a profit of £42,000 in 2010.
But Cancer Research UK announced last year they were carrying out health and safety checks at all of their seven shops in the South West.
A member of the Health and Safety Executive visited the shop and outlined ten areas which needed to be monitored in order to fulfil insurance criteria.
And last week the volunteers were told they had to install a paid manager, at a cost of around £25,000 a year, or cease trading immediately.
Mr Allen added: ”Staff now need to be instructed on how to use cleaning products properly, but these people have been using them for at least 50 years.
”It seems like common sense to me and other volunteers but somebody needs to assess it every so often and write a report about it in a management position.”
The pensioners each put in around £100 of their own money since taking over the shop for ”every day expenses” and calculate they have made around £150,000 profit for the charity in that time.
Simon O’Leary, head of volunteer fundraising for Cancer Research UK, said: ”We recently commissioned a detailed survey to assess the condition and review health and safety and compliance of this shop.
”Unfortunately a number of significant gaps were identified and the Cullompton Friends came to the difficult decision to close their shop.
”We would like to send our heartfelt thanks to everyone at Cullompton Cancer Research UK Friends committee, whose members have given a huge amount of time and commitment to the charity for many years.”