Esther Choules outside the Age UK shop

Esther Choules, the manager at the Age UK charity shop on Whitley Street has been working there for 24 years. The Whitley Pump interviewed her at the shop on a Wednesday afternoon.

Esther told us about her early life in Reading. “I was born in Wincanton Road and I went Geoffrey Field Infants and Junior School and Southlands Secondary School, now Reading Girls’ School. I lived in Lower Whitley until I was 21 and then moved to Elizabeth Walk. I have one son and he lives in Tilehurst.”

The Age UK shop has two paid members of staff, Esther and an assistant manager, and about 12 volunteers. The shop at 3 Whitley Street was once Pottinger’s barber shop. The barber shop fixtures and fittings are now in Reading Museum’s collection.

The shop is popular with people who live locally, people who work locally and people who come on a regular basis from other parts of town and even from outside Reading.

Esther is very proud of the ever changing window displays that attract customers. She had an earlier career as a window dresser at Heelas, now John Lewis, and at C & A which was in Friar Street.

The shop has a problem with donations left outside the shop, and bags of rubbish.

“People go through the bags in the evening and the rubbish bags we put out for the council on a Thursday evening,” said Esther. The shop is also currently suffering a spate of shoplifting. Customers caught shoplifting are asked not to come back. “Why would you want steal something for 99p? They must be desperate.”

Esther has seen lots of changes since she started working at the shop. “It has become very multi-cultural. Language can be a problem but we get there in the end.”

The shops and businesses on Whitley Street have also changed. “It used to have two banks, a chemist, two cake shops, a Londis supermarket, two fruit and veg shops, a clock & watch shop, bicycle shop, a picture and framing shop (now Pau Brasil), previously the Hole in the Wall flower shop.”