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Charity shops          

                            March 2009

Charity shops


charity shopAll of us will be aware of the various charity shops in every high street across the UK. Many of us will have bought clothes or other items from them; as well as cards and gifts at Christmas time.

Charity shops are very much a British institution and reflect the volunteering giving side that is one of the really good aspects of our society.

The concept started when charities took over empty premises or unlet shops on a temporary basis, often free of charge. To begin with, the shops were usually located in unpopular areas away from the main trading sites and they started on a very small scale indeed.

Over the years things have changed dramatically and now high street charity shops have permanent sites in prime shopping areas. Currently it is estimated that there are well over 7,000 charity shops across the United Kingdom with hundreds in London alone.

Each charity shop supports a different cause, or causes – if you are concerned that the charity might not be genuine, you can always call the Charity Commission to check (number below). But most of the charity shops support very well known and recognised national charities.

Most items in a charity shop are donated and volunteers check items for safety and cleanliness before putting them up for sale. Some shops, including Oxfam, sell both donated goods and also items purchased from various sources. However, in order to retain its status as a retail outlet for “charitable purposes” a designated charity shop must sell mainly donated goods.

The shops rely almost totally on volunteers to run them. There are some paid positions, but by far the majority of staff is voluntary – latest figures indicate there are over 120,000 volunteers working in charity shops at the moment.

With the modern downtown coupled with a desire to recycle as much as possible, charity shops are doing quite well. Last year they raised over £100 million for a very wide range of charities.

If you want to donate items to a charity shop, it is always worthwhile calling in first and checking they are interested and also the best time to deliver the items. Some shops now have such a stock of specific items that they are finding storage difficult; others have quite tight restrictions on quality - understandably most ask that all clothing be washed or cleaned before being donated.

Volunteering in a charity shop is easy, and can be fun as it is a way to make new friends and also find out more about the local area. Again the best way is to pop into a local shop that supports a charity in which you are interested. There is as Association of Charity Shops (details below) that have produced a leaflet on volunteering which can be downloaded. They also provide details of charity shops in local areas and some good contact details.

Setting up a charity shop is a very different matter entirely. You can set one up for a small local charity, but you need to adhere to all the normal retail regulations, health and safety laws and other requirements which means it is not a quick and simple process. That said, there are several small charity shops that have been set up for small charities and they can, of course, work very well as people have the added incentive of buying from the shop to support a very local cause.

Like any retail outlet, there may be occasions when the goods or service do not come up to expectations. If you have a problem, and the actual shop doesn’t address it to your satisfaction, you need to contact the head office of the charity supported by the shop. In most cases, they will have a system to help sort it out quickly; the last thing they want is a complaint because charity shops operate on a basis of goodwill. The shop will be able to give you the details of their head office or administration department.

Any charity with an income of £5000 or more has to be registered with the Charity Commission, so if you are encountering serious problems with a charity shop, or have doubts about their validity, you can call the Commission for more information and advice.


Useful contacts include:

Charity Commission 0845 300 0218

Association of Charity Shops  020 7255 4470,



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