Our Seaham colleague Julie Garbutt has helped to raise thousands of pounds for good causes over the years thanks to her love of crochet.
She’s known throughout the store and local community as the 'Crochet Lady’ and is famous for her stunning designs that take more than four hours each to make.
Since she asked a customer to make a donation to the Poppy Appeal in exchange for one of her poppy badges six years ago, she’s spent countless hours making personalised items to satisfy the growing number of requests she receives each year.
During lockdown she created crocheted rainbow badges, raising £652 for the Covid-19 unit at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
She says it was worth the effort and late nights after the store received an email from nurses thanking them for their contribution.
Julie, who’s worked as a service host at the store since it opened 13 years ago, said: "It started with a customer who asked if she could buy the poppy I was wearing when I was queue marshalling at the front of the store.
"It’s my own design and it’s taken me about five years to perfect it. The design I have had for the last two years is my favourite.
"I started making rainbows at the beginning of the summer and I paused to make poppies, but I’ve still got requests for rainbows, so I’ll be back to them soon. It’s all year round and I still have people asking for them."
She added: "It’s great when you’re in store and you see people wearing one of your badges. It brought me to tears one Sunday when every single checkout operator had a poppy on that was one of my designs."
The 53 year-old mum of two, who recently received a British Citizen Award for her charity work, says she couldn’t do it without the support of her family, colleagues and customers at the store, who have been incredibly generous over the years and raised what she estimates to be thousands of pounds for charity.
"The customers in this store are just brilliant,” Julie says. “It’s so nice when you see someone shopping in store wearing one of my badges. It’s amazing. They’re exclusive to our store. I customise each one of them.
"It takes three or four hours to make just one of my designs and I have a husband who watches football, so he doesn’t mind. I know the patterns by heart!
"I leave the badges behind the checkout for customers to collect. If you live near the store I often get my poor husband to go out and deliver them too!"
This year one of her angels will be gracing the top of a customer’s tree, with 'bling' forming an essential part of her personalised patterns.
She says: "I don’t know why, but the angels seem to have turned out bigger this year. This is the time of year when you want a bit of sparkle, so I use sparkly thread, sequins and Swarovski beads in them. You’ve got to have a bit of bling under the lights in here."
She adds: "I have people find me in the store and say ‘you’re the lady that crochets’. I always end up selling whatever I have on as people say ‘oh what about the one you’re wearing?'
"I’m a giver and I like to support charities and give things. I don’t want to be paid for it. I just ask for a donation.”"
Although Julie insists that it is the customers and colleagues who are responsible for helping to raise cash for good causes, Store Manager Christine Hart says Julie has a heart of gold and puts time care and attention into every piece she creates.
Christine said: “Julie has raised so much money for things like the Poppy Appeal and Tickled Pink over the last five or six years.
“The things she makes are so lovely – she’s making me an angel this year for my granddaughter.
“She does it all in her own time to help others and is a bit of celebrity in the local community because of the crochet badges.
“She would never say that she does anything special or different, but she puts so much time and effort into every one. She has a heart of gold.”