Never mind being Poole’s best-kept secret, Forest Holme Hospice’s charity shops could be Dorset’s best-kept secret. If you love vintage clothes and snaffling a bargainous outfit. Which is probably most of us.

The Secret Wardrobe in Poole strives to maintain a true boutique atmosphere with a designed layout, its own dress agency and a reputation for selling on wonderful vintage creations.

The end result, says its energetic manager, Natalie Kenevan, is £120,000 raised in just the two years.

Not bad for a store that many shoppers don’t even know is there, lurking as it does on the first floor of the Dolphin Centre near the bus-station entrance.

“I come from a retail background and wanted the store to reflect that,” says Natalie, explaining that what attracted her was the idea that the shop and its sister concession at Wimborne’s Toad Hall should become known for its vintage and designer wares.

They certainly aren’t short of either. She whips out an exquisite Liberty straw hat, complete with box and bill of sale from 1966.

“Even the box is worth £90,” she says.

Then there’s the 1980s column crepe-de-chine wedding dress and a damson silk 1920s flapper frock sparkling with silver trumpet beads.

“It obviously needs some reconstruction – there is a slight tear and a few threads twiddled up – but that can be repaired,” says Natalie.

A few weeks ago they were given a 1930s opera coat with ‘huge, bell sleeves’.

“One of my favourite items was a 1950s fake leopardskin coat and matching pillbox,” says Natalie.

They also do a roaring trade in good quality second-hand clothes.

“The least we’d put out are Next or M&S although it’s more common to find Precis Petite, Jacques Vert, Principles and The White Company,” says Natalie.

Some of these creations start life as part of The Secret Cellar section at the back of the store, where they run their own designer dress agency.

Items here are sold for £50 or over, with half going to the donor. If a piece doesn’t sell donors frequently allow the garment to be sold for a lower price in the main part of the store. Unlike many similar stores,

Natalie rarely sends items for ragging. And they never examine donations in front of the customer.

“We think it’s rude – these are sometimes the clothes that belonged to their mum or their husband or wife who may have died in Forest Holme,” says Natalie. Primark, supermarket labels and other cheaper clothing is not rejected either.

“We are grateful to have them and every few months have a £1 and £2 sale of these items, many of which still have their tags,” she says. Customers’ names are remembered and so are their requirements:

“I keep a list of what customers have asked me to look out for,” says Natalie.

The staff, who include many who have connections to the hospice, always have time to chat and have a cup of tea.

“Sometimes we even have little socials in here,” she says.

She sees it as all part of the service and ethos of Forest Holme’s care for its patients and their families and many of their donations come from bereaved families who want their relative’s clothes to make money for the cause. The store’s assistants are equally enthusiastic.

Beryl says: “My husband passed away at Forest Holme and I started volunteering to support the hospice. I love it, there is no pressure.”

Marilyn says: “It gets me out of the house, lots of friendships have been made and I now have a busy diary. I can’t tell you how much working in the shop has helped me.”

The shop closed for a week recently while a refit took place because Natalie is not complacent. But, the minute it re-opens she knows it will be packed again, with customers eager to pick up that outfit to wear to a winter party or, indeed, their next ensemble for Goodwood Revival.

“There’s is always that excitement because you never know what will come in,” she says.

  • Contact The Secret Wardrobe and The Secret Something at