BLOG: The story of a St Luke’s collecting can

The story of a St Luke’s collecting can

What’s orange and black and (hopefully) full of cash? It’s me, of course. I’m a St Luke’s collecting can. I sit on the counter in shops, pubs, clubs, cafes, garages, pharmacies, betting shops and takeaways – anywhere with generous customers who like to fill my tummy with their spare change.

I don’t suppose you think about me much. I’m just there, instantly recognisable, wearing my distinctive St Luke’s logo with pride, as people kindly pop a few coins, and occasionally a paper note or two, through the slit in my head, knowing that their donation is going to support local families at a really difficult time in their lives.

That’s all you probably need to know, but there’s actually a lot more to discover about me and my hundreds of friends who are at this very moment dotted all over an area of more than 700 square miles around Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall.

We don’t just hang around in one place, you know. We’re vital cogs in St Luke’s well-oiled community fundraising machine and we’re constantly on the move. So, what does go on in the life of a collecting can like me? As I can only speak from my own experience – and I really do love almost every minute of it – I decided to spend a bit of time with someone who knows the ins and outs of the whole journey.

It usually starts with me and some of my mates in a big bag in a car boot (where I can feel a bit queasy, to be honest). But for one day only I was allowed to sit up front next to Ray Satchell, St Luke’s esteemed can collector, to follow him on his rounds and ask a few questions about the bigger picture.

Ray’s our boss. I’ll never understand how he keeps tabs on us all, but he’s very organised and has lots of charts and tick boxes and tools to work out when and where he needs to pick us up or drop us off.

Anyone can tell that he’s passionate about his job. Starting off as St Luke’s official can collector back in 2015, he hangs out with us three days a week, and then, as part of his new title of supporter adviser, he spends a fourth day out and about delivering leaflets and posters to promote St Luke’s big fundraising events, like Midnight Walk, Tour de Moor and Men’s Day Out. I’m not sure his brain ever switches off.

Ray always has his eye out for new supporters and one thing that really puts a smile on his face is delivering a St Luke’s can like me to a place that’s never had one before. He’s done that 78 times in the past year, and that’s 78 more opportunities for me and my friends to fill up with cash to support the heartfelt and comforting end of life care our organisation provides.

Like everyone else, we’ve just been through a bit of a tough patch. It was all going great guns until something called Covid put a spanner in the works. When all the shops, pubs and restaurants shut, and people had to stay indoors, it was pretty lonely – and hungry – for us cans. I know my stomach was rumbling.

Four years ago, we brought in £87,000 in 12 months. After Covid, our totals had dropped 25 to 30 per cent. Ray was a bit worried about how more people using contactless cards rather than carrying cash would affect donations, but he’s delighted that the cans are rattling well again now, and the amounts are starting to creep up.

He’s hoping this year’s can collection total will be around £60,000 – that’s enough to care for around 60 St Luke’s patients and their families at home. How brilliant is that?

But it’s not just about the money. We are the familiar face of St Luke’s that people see most often when they’re out and about in their local communities. We remind them that our wonderful hospice care teams are there to help when they need it most.

Quite often we’ll find ourselves sitting next to a can from another national or local charity, like the Air Ambulance or the lifeboats. I don’t mind that too much. It stirs up a bit of friendly rivalry and a certain satisfaction if you fill up faster than your neighbour, but we definitely fare better on solo duty!

Ray has divided the huge area he covers into 17 distinct patches, with a total of around 1100 businesses with cans displayed at any one time. There are between 700 and 800 cans in the city of Plymouth alone, with a few outreach areas – places like Looe and Torpoint, Kingsbridge and Salcombe on the fringes of St Luke’s catchment area. Each day he’ll make 20 to 30 visits with the aim of bringing back at least 15 full cans.

At quick win locations we cans are jam-packed within a couple of weeks – corner shops like Costcutter, Premier and the local Co ops are all reliable, apparently. In a lot of places it will take three to six months, or longer, before we’re ready to collect.

People’s generosity never ceases to amaze Ray, he says. The average amount inside a full collecting can is £25. In corner shops I’m used to people popping in their change when they come in to buy a paper or a pint of milk. Children can be really big-hearted too, giving me the 20p or 30p left over when they buy their sweets or crisps.

In the pub sometimes a group of pals will spot me and start chatting about a friend or family member who was cared for by St Luke’s before they died and then they’ll decide to show their appreciation by stuffing me with five and ten pound notes. I fill up pretty quickly then, I can tell you! People do feel very strongly about supporting their local hospice and that’s great for me.

Today Ray and I are on one of the long-distance runs, starting just over the Cornwall border in Launceston. A full can often weighs more than 3kg, so when Ray parks up in a town centre like this where there are quite a lot of stops, we get to ride on the trolley he keeps in the car. It certainly saves his back on a day when he could end up hauling around 30-40kg.

There are some lovely loyal supporters all around this North Cornwall community. At Westgate Greetings Cards a full can is waiting out the back and there’s another out on the counter with plenty of coins in.

Owner Trish Sampson agrees that St Luke’s is really popular with her customers.
Around the square at Finlay’s newsagents another of my pals is almost brimming over. They only ever collect for St Luke’s in there, apart from supporting the Poppy Appeal each autumn.

The local Coop, where they keep a can beside each of the two tills, the White Hart pub, the Co-op Garage on Western Road, and Greenaway’s Garage at Newport all hand over a full can and Ray replaces them with empty ones.

Of course, there’s always one of us on the counter in St Luke’s own shops, like the big store at Hendra Way in Launceston. Ray pops in there for a chat with staff member Colette Hardy and comes away with another of my well-fed mates.

With his heavy load safely locked in the boot, Ray drives us across into Devon and along the old A30 to Lifton’s Strawberry Fields farm shop and café where they hand over three weighty cans – an excellent result.

Our next stop is a trip down memory lane for me. I’ve enjoyed a couple of happy stays on the counter at Lewdown Village Stores in my time. It’s a fabulous, old-fashioned little sweet shop and grocery with a post office counter, and it’s great to see owner Elizabeth Copper still collecting for St Luke’s. She and her husband David have been running the place since 1969!

That’s 13 years longer than St Luke’s has been going! After a quick break to stretch our legs, get a breath of fresh air and say hello to the ponies in the beautiful and dramatic landscape of Dartmoor, we reach Princetown post office, our final call, and our last full can changeover.

As we drive back towards Plymouth and St Luke’s HQ at Turnchapel, I feel sad that my special adventure is coming to an end, but there are still a couple of important elements of my story to tell you about.

After Ray has locked us away safely at the hospice, trusty finance office volunteer Otto will come and relieve us of our heavy cargo, tipping out all the coins and notes – not to mention the occasional unwanted boiled sweet or bus ticket – bagging and totting up the cash, and recording the total for each can. It’s important that all our supporters know how much their cans raise and our supporter care team sends each of them a personal thank you letter.

Once Otto has emptied our bellies, we wait patiently in big plastic bags for Ian and Sue to fish us out. By the time these hard-working volunteers get their hands on us we can be pretty grubby, to be fair. It’s an amazing feeling when they give us a wash and a spruce up, with fresh labels ready for our next assignment.

These two clean around 2,500 cans a year, and they’ve been doing it for ten years now, getting through 60 or 70 collecting cans a day, as well as fitting in some of the big buckets that go round at events like Men’s Day Out.

That’s it, then… we’re back to the beginning of the story and we’re back in the boot of Ray’s car (feeling a bit queasy), excited to represent St Luke’s out in the community, each of us making a small but significant difference as part of the big fundraising jigsaw.

Before I go, I’d just like to remind you that however large or small the donation you drop into a can, we treat it with the care and respect it deserves, knowing that every penny counts when there’s such important work to be done.If you know someone who would welcome a collecting can like me for their business, just give St Luke’s Supporter Care a call on 01752 492626, email info@stlukes-hospice.org.uk or send us a direct message on our social media channels.