HEXHAM’S RSPCA shop was officially reopened by one of its most dedicated volunteers last week after undergoing a refurbishment.

Val Dodd (81) has been volunteering at the shop on Battle Hill for more than 20 years, but after falling down the her stairs – after tripping over her cat Merlin – she suffered a broken shoulder and had to step back from her volunteering duties for the time being.

The shop had been closed for two weeks prior to its reopening ceremony last Wednesday, to allow for new carpets to be fitted and painting to be done.

And to mark the occasion Val dropped in to cut the ribbon and mark it officially open, and to mark her dedication to the charity she was also presented with a long-service award.

“I love animals and have rescued them all my life, so I love volunteering here,” said Val.

“I didn’t know I was getting this – it is very kind.”

As well as becoming well-known to visitors in the Hexham shop, she said she also had helped out at the Prudhoe store when it first opened, working on the till and looking after the shop until it built up its own volunteers.

The Hexham shop’s refurbishment comes following similar improvements to other stores across Northumberland. To mark the occasion John Billany, rehoming officer, brought along some of the animals in Tynedale who are in need of homes.

He said that the branch had rehomed 308 animals last year, making it the top rehoming branch in the North-East. However, with kennelling and vets fees costing over £119,000 for the year, it was in constant need of support.

“We have really loyal customers and people who make donations, and it’s really important that people continue to support us – we really depend on the donations,” he said.

With the shop now open after being brought up to date, manager Sarah Allan, said the staff had had lots of support from the shop’s customers.

“We have so many people who have called at the shop to see how we are doing and when we are going to reopen,” she explained.

“It really feels like part of the community and people feel quite strongly about what we are doing here.

“With it being a country area I think there’s quite an affinity with animals.”

The work has seen volunteers in their 70s pulling up carpets and painting the walls, determined to get the work finished the the shop back open as soon as possible.

Meanwhile local firm Prudhoe carpets helped out with fitting the new carpet as part of the refurbishment.

“The volunteers have been fantastic – it wouldn’t have been possible without them,” added Sarah. “And Prudhoe carpets did a fabulous job and did us a fabulous deal, and they actually did it at a loss because they wanted to support us. They really went above and beyond.”