Charity begins in town
Research by think tank Demos, highlighted in a recent Civil Society news report, has considered the social benefits of charity retail.
The report estimates that charity shops in the UK save their councils £27 million a year by diverting clothes from landfill, and two-thirds of volunteers believe their charity shop role improves their employment prospects, makes them more confident, improves self-esteem and enables them to gain new skills.
Yet over half of the public respondents said that they associate charity shops with high street decline, and half consider that a healthy high street should contain fewer charity shops.
We know the face of retail is changing, with the shift to the sale of new goods online, and the corresponding withdrawal of retailers from traditional high street space. So far, so 21st century. But perhaps as shoppers we need to start getting real about the impact our new consumer habits will have on our town centres, and as members of our community we could start to understand the new environment, and the opportunities that it presents. Charity shops seem to be a hugely beneficial use of community space. With online consumption of goods at an all-time high, there can be no shortage of pre-loved items to be recycled/re-used, for the benefit of the environment (less landfill), the charity shop customers (bargains) and the charities running the shops (profits). Not to mention the benefits of getting people into the workplace, and the roles that charity shops play in supporting vulnerable members of our society. Isn’t it time to rethink our perceptions of success and failure, and consider our high streets half full, rather than half empty?