whatCharity interviewed Matt Kelcher, Head of Public Affairs and Research from Charity Retail Association to learn more on charity retailing, the volunteering opportunities within and the benefits of the industry to the whole UK society. 

Charity shops are a familiar sight in town and city centres. How many shops are there in the UK and how many charities run these shops?

 There are over 11,000 charity shops in the UK overall, which represents 3.7% of all retail units. Around 1,000 different charities have a retail operation and these are distributed throughout the UK.

These cumulative figures include a small number of very large retail chains, household names with shops in high streets across the country, and a larger number of medium sized chains active in many regions. It also includes around 840 charities – often supporting local causes or hospices – with a very small retail operation, perhaps only one shop.

What is the impact of charity retailing in general? How much money do they generate to the beneficiary work and what are the other impact factors for our society?

 The charity retail sector contributes a huge amount to charitable causes in the UK – from medical research, to international development, to animal rescue – amounting to £295m in 2018. They do this by providing quality goods and a price people can afford, with the average transaction value in a charity shop standing at just £4.05 in 2018.

In addition, there is a huge amount of social value generated by charity retail. In particular, our shops make a huge contribution to the promotion of re-use and recycling across the UK.

  1. Re-use is one of the highest points on the waste hierarchy. Charity shops provide everyone with a sustainable and ethical option when they wish to dispose of unwanted clothes, books, furniture and other household items. A charity shop’s first choice is always to ensure these items are re-used by selling them on to local shoppers.
  2. The next most sustainable option on the waste pyramid is to recycle. If a charity retailer cannot sell an item, they will seek to recycle it directly or through a textile recycler. This is why charity shops are able to reuse or recycle over 90% of donated clothing, over 90% of donated books and 85% of donated electrical goods.
  3. By boosting re-use and recycling, charity retail helps to reduce the overall amount of waste that ends up in landfill. In 2018, 327,000 tonnes of textiles alone were kept out of landfill as a result of charity retail in the UK.
  4. Councils in Britain have to pay £86.20 in Landfill Tax for every tonne of waste they put into the ground. By reducing this amount of waste, charity shops saved local authorities around £28m in 2018 – money they can retain to spend on services for local residents instead.
  5. The reduction in landfill also makes a positive difference to the UK’s carbon footprint. In 2017 charity retail helped to reduce CO2 emissions in our country by around 7m tonnes.

How can the public help via charity shops?

Every time a member of the public volunteers, shops, or donates with a charity shop they are helping them to raise vital unrestricted funds for their cause, and also contribute to wider benefits in the economy, environment and society.

What are the misconception of volunteering in the charity shop? What kind of opportunities do charity shops offer?

Volunteering with charity shops is not just about standing on a till! Consider the following:

  • Nearly a quarter of a million people currently volunteer in Britain’s charity shops
  • Six% of Britons have worked or volunteered in a charity shop at some point in their lives

The average time a charity shop volunteer gives is 5.9 hours per week. However, some chains have a far higher level of engagement; with Islamic Relief benefitting from an average of 18 weekly hours per volunteer; and Mind and Cats Protection getting 16 weekly hours from their average volunteer.

There are huge variety of roles on offer whatever your skill set, confidence or time commitments. We know of people who volunteer just a couple of hours a week from home to manage a shop’s eBay account or social media presence.

Speak to your local charity shop manager and see how you can help and how they can help you.

What are the benefits of volunteering in a charity shop or charity retail organisation?

Those who volunteer in charity shops find it to be a rich and rewarding experience. Overall, 93% of volunteers say they are satisfied with their current volunteering role, and 90% say they would recommend their organisation as a ‘great place to work’.

These positive feelings are consistent across all groups and ages of volunteers. However, we find the specific reasons that people volunteer, and the exact positive outcomes they get from doing so do vary considerably by age.

For those under 25, the 3 key benefits cited – general work experience; experience in retailing and improved self-esteem/confidence are all related to employability. So, there is a perception amongst young volunteers that they are doing something which will help them find long term work.

These assumptions are born out in the facts about volunteering outcomes. A recent report by the cross-party think tank Demos, found that a significant proportion of job-seeking volunteers find secure paid employment within their current charity or the wider charity retail sector. 1 in 5 shop managers have previously been a volunteer in their shop, and just under half of all shop managers (47%) had some experience of volunteering in charity retail before becoming a paid employee.

These benefits are not just felt by young volunteers. Older people who have dropped out of the job market for some reason also find that volunteering can help them transition back into work. Nearly a quarter of jobseekers considered their improved confidence was the most significant benefit of volunteering.

As one volunteer told Demos: One of the main things they do is give you some confidence back, you get such a hard knock all the time looking [for work], it’s nice to go to somewhere like that, you get recognised for the fact that you are a good worker.’

As well as boosting the confidence of volunteers looking for work, volunteering in a charity shop also enables jobseekers to develop core employability skills that can improve their future prospects. When asked about the kinds of skills they have developed through their charity shop volunteering, a significant majority said they had improved their communication, team-working, problem-solving, organisational and numeracy skills.

By contrast to young job-seekers, older people (in particular retired people who have no need to seek employability related skills) most commonly cite contribution to the charity they are volunteering for, and also the social benefits of their work.

It is also clear that that volunteering can play a key role in combatting social isolation. 92% of volunteers agree that a clear benefit of volunteering is the opportunities provided by social interaction and many have lived these benefits themselves. Over three-quarters of volunteers believe that their role has improved their self-esteem and confidence (77%), and improved their physical and/or mental health (73%).

Such positive outcomes are why Community Service Volunteers (CSV) estimate that for every £1 spent on volunteers, £3.38 of value was created including through improved health outcomes.

What are the latest innovations within charity retailing?

Charity retail is a sector which is always evolving and innovating. Over half of charity retailers now have an online sales presence.

In this increasingly challenging market, charity shops are also beginning to offer more than simply being a shop. Some are using their shop space to also promote their charitable causes.

For example, the British Heart Foundation offer free CPR training events in some of their stores while other charities are engaging with their local communities to put on events such as festivals or community cookery classes and tasting evenings in their shop spaces. Mind use volunteering in their stores as part of the recovery programme for people they have treated for mental illness.

Shops are increasingly specialising, selling unusual items or offering specific services to their customers.

Innovations to mention: 

Teesside Hospice charity shop in Redcar is the first charity shop in the country with its own apiary. Volunteers look after 3 beehives which were donated to the charity and the honey produced is sold in the charity shop.

Tŷ Hafan, the family hospice for young lives in South Wales have established an “Emporium” in Cowbridge to meet the specific demographics of the town. The shop is fitted out in a completely different way to any of their existing shops, using vintage-style shop fittings and new branding. The stock was specially selected from their existing shops, ensuring that the stock fitted with the vintage, boutique theme. Average Transaction Value (measured on a weekly basis) at a standard Tŷ Hafan shop is £3.60, but the ATV in the Emporium is £7.70 – more than double.

The Conservation Volunteers organisation sell gardening equipment for children, as well as seeds, in their shops to help young people take up gardening.

The Air Ambulance have developed an “Aviation Vintage” pop up shop which they can take anywhere. They pop this at high impact events such as festivals, exhibitions, charity events and in towns prior to shop opening and also cold areas. The Pop up shop is a mobile charity shop. Rather than just been a fundraising stand you would normally find at events, this is a full mobile charity shop, selling clothing, bric a brac, accessories, handbags, shoes and books etc.

And Cancer Research Wales have opened a specialist Bridal Suite above one of their existing Charity Shops at Penlline Road, Cardiff. It is set out like a regular bridal suit area with space to try on and mirrors to examine the second hand gowns.