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Depop listings and postal donations: how charity shops have changed during lockdown

UK charity shops are making it easier to donate remotely and are searching for teenage volunteers to help them survive

Written by
Alexandra Sims

Londoners wanting to snaffle a second-hand bargain, or offload all the clutter they’ve accumulated from lockdown clearouts, will be pleased to hear that charity shops are rolling up their shutters and welcoming customers again for the first time in twelve weeks.

All non-essential shops have been given the green light by the government to reopen this week as lockdown measures are gradually eased, but just as we’ve become accustomed to socially distanced supermarket shops and perspex screens at the newsagent’s, charity shops will also operate a little differently right now. 

Like many high-street chains and department stores, most charity shops will be reopening in phases. Mind is opening more than 30 stores nationwide this week, British Heart Foundation (BHF) will open nine stores and Oxfam will open just eight initially. Other charities, such as Cancer Research UK – which estimates it’s had a 20 to 25 percent drop in fundraising income due to the pandemic – is not planning to reopen shops until June 29 and Traid will be opening only its largest stores from June 18. So your trusty local treasure trove of bargains may not be accessible right away.

Shops that are back in business will mostly be accepting donations, but to keep in line with the government’s guidelines, all new donations must be quarantined for 72 hours before being allowed on the shop floor.

Shops are preparing for an influx of donations from people’s lockdown sort-outs, so most charities, such as Barnardo’s and Oxfam, are asking people to ring ahead to check the best time to drop off any items to avoid overcrowding. Oxfam will also be opening some shops for donations only and British Heart Foundation will open separate donation points at their shops where people can drop off items. It will also install collection banks and offer pick-up services and a postal donation service for smaller items. Donations of larger items, such as furniture, will be limited as these are usually collected by the charity. Collections will only be able to be made outside of households.

Many organisations including Love Not Landfill and the Charity Retail Association have warned people not to leave bags of stuff in front of closed shops as this is technically fly-tipping and they may be removed and end up in landfill.

Inside, charity shops will be implementing the same cleaning and social distancing measures as other shops. For most charity shops this means providing staff and volunteers with masks, visors, gloves and till screens, suppling hand sanitiser on entry and limiting the number of people in the shop at one time. Changing rooms will be shut, but as British Heart Foundation’s commercial director Mike Taylor explains: ‘We sell a whole variety of items, so we’re encouraging people not to touch things unnecessarily, but we understand that if customers are going to buy stuff they’ll want to engage with it. You’ve got to pick the hanger up to look at the dress, or sit on a sofa, or lie on a mattress.’ 

Many shops will be reopening in a totally different retail landscape from when they closed in March. One of the major changes for shops to contend with is an unprecedented rise in online shopping during lockdown. Charity shops will be affected by this, so much so that you might end up buying second-hand treasures from virtual bargain bins in the future.

Online is only going to grow,’ says Taylor. ‘[Lockdown] has accelerated several years of development in online shopping into a few months. BHF already has a big eBay operation where we sell high-value and unusual items, 50 of our stores list products on Gumtree and a lot of others use social media. It’s going to become increasingly important that our shops list and dispatch stuff directly online. There are a number of different channels like Depop and Instagram we’ll probably be using a lot more.’ 

After the government’s NHS Covid-19 volunteer scheme attracted three times the intended number of participants, it’s hoped this morale will continue as lockdown eases. ‘If anything good is going to come out of coronavirus, it’s increased community spirit and we are very much a community-based retailer,’ says Taylor. ‘We hope that when we do go back there will be a lot of people interested in volunteering. Hopefully, increasing our online sales will appeal to a younger generation of volunteers who are really interested in things like Depop.’ 

At the moment, only 17 percent of charity shop volunteers in the UK are under 25 and there are fears from the Charity Retail Association (CRA) that many volunteers will not be able to return to work immediately due to shielding and transport struggles. This has prompted a drive to encourage more young people to volunteer in charity shops. The CRA has just launched a partnership with the National Citizen Service, a social development programme for 16- to 17-year-olds, to link up young volunteers with charity shops that will most suit them, and in the process, help fill the volunteering gaps which have appeared as a result of the pandemic. 

‘Charity shops contribute immeasurable value to the community,’ says Taylor. ‘It’s a model where the stock comes from the community, the customers and volunteers come from the community and a lot of the money raised is spent within communities – plus we’re keeping 80,000 tonnes of stuff from being thrown into landfill each year. It’s important in every respect that we have vibrant charity shops.’ 

 Find out more about what shops will look like when they reopen.  

Check out our list of the best charity shops in London

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