A new venture taking place in a Midsomer Norton office has seen a charity’s income from donated goods rocket thanks to a popular auction site and unusual donations.

Above Cats Protection’s shop on the High Street, a small team of staff and volunteers has been trialling the use of eBay to harness the power of a worldwide marketplace and make the most of rare items donated by supporters to great success.

Since September the team’s efforts have generated over £50,000 for the charity with little sign of sales slowing down, and they are keen to hear from potential volunteers to join them as the operation grows.

David Chan-Baker, Cats Protection’s Retail Online Hub Manager, says: “We take in items that have been donated to any of Cats Protection’s shops across the country. We look for pieces that would have value in the shops but where we can add extra value online, for example designer goods might make £60 in a shop whereas we can make over £100 online. It’s about using our knowledge of the items to make the most of our donors’ generous gifts. We aim to sell each item for above £20 if possible, to help justify the time we spend researching and creating the listings.”

The team looks into the history of each item it sells online, cataloguing the details, heritage and any previous sales of similar items to help guide the pricing.

David adds: “We try to find specifics about items that will add value, for example if we have a games console, we will look at the version, which games come with it and how others have sold so that we can pitch just below the higher end of the pricing scale to improve turnover. We’re currently struggling to keep up with demand which is a lovely problem to have!”

Jewellery has sold well for the charity and train sets have proven to have an enduring appeal. Current rare items for sale include a vintage Italian Luigi Dorigo mandolin from the 1900s and Jean Patou velvet coat from the 1960s.

David says: “The variety of items that come in and the prices they reach can be astonishing. It’s about finding the perfect customer for each item and being online is fantastic for that. We had a Bernina sewing machine go for £600 and a saxophone went to a customer in Europe for £549, which we are unlikely to have made in any of our shops as we’d have needed a jazz musician to walk in and know its value.

“Chanel earrings have made £400 and model trains have really taken us by surprise, we’ve sold around 100 trains so far and made over £8000! It’s been great to see so many sales of Christmas cards too, we’ve made over £3000 with sales to people worldwide who love the cards and seemingly want to send out something different to what’s available in their area. This has led to excellent feedback and a lot of new supporters - people don’t even need to know the charity initially to find us, but often want to learn more about the work we do when they see the items available.”

David is now looking to hear from volunteers who have capacity to donate a few hours or more to the project. He says: “There are lots of different areas of the operation, so a wide range of skills can apply, but we also provide full training for anyone interested in helping out. We’d be especially glad to hear from somebody who would like to photograph items using our lightboxes; someone to research the items or somebody else to add them onto eBay or pack them up.

“You don’t have to be a cat-lover but if you are, you’ll know you’re helping cats nationwide. We’ve had people helping out who are keen on photography and can identify the variety of donated cameras. We’d love to hear from any experts in model trains, fashion students or somebody with an interest or knowledge of books would be brilliant. If you have a skill or an area of expertise and would like to share it, please get in touch. There’s a real sense of responsibility for the sales, you get to say ‘I’ve made £549 for the charity!’, it’s a real buzz.”

Shoppers can visit the charity’s store at https://www.ebay.co.uk/str/catsprotectiononline

To enquire about volunteering for the hub, call into the store at 15 High Street for an application form or an informal chat, alternatively email [email protected]