How to manipulate the receipt variables?

I am modifying the account statement receipt template. There is a variable AccountStatement.Activities.Description that gives something like: Store Name - New Charge -- Transaction #77
I am interested in breaking down this 'atomic' piece of data to remove/edit parts of it. I tried to use vb string functions such as substring but the renderer does not like it. Is there a trick I am not aware of?
Thanks.
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