Charity shops are good for local businesses, residents and communities

Categories: Community Engagement.

An in-depth study into the value of charity shops has found that they keep people shopping on their high street and drastically reduce the number of empty shops, challenging the perception that they fuel high street decline.

Figures from the Charity Retail Association show charity shops also contribute to the British economy by hiring 17,300 paid staff, with an extra 210,000 people choosing to volunteer.

The Demos study also highlights how charity shops benefit these volunteers, as well as other local residents and the wider community.

A survey of charity shops volunteers found that over 80% were using their shifts as an opportunity to ‘skill up’, gaining retail experience as a path to paid employment.

Additionally, 91% of volunteers cited ‘socialising and meeting new people’ as a benefit of volunteering, while 61% also felt their volunteering led to improved physical and mental health.

The report also shows how charity shops can help to combat the health and social problems associated with the UK’s rapidly ageing population, especially social isolation.

A number of charity shop staff reported that their shops often acted as a form of community centre for older and vulnerable people to simply ‘drop in for a chat’. In some cases shops even act as service providers for their charities, offering advice and support for those in need.

Demos is challenging charity shops to better publicise the impact that money spent in their stores has on the local community and beyond. It suggests this could be done through prominent displays detailing how money spent directly equates to total hours of support provided.

The report also recommends:

  • Local Health and Wellbeing Boards and Job Centre Plus should promote volunteering in charity shops to more jobseekers so they are aware of the experience opportunities.
  • More data should be gathered by local authorities on high street footfall and how the presence of charity shops affects local businesses, to better inform future policies.

Ally Paget, researcher at Demos and author of the report, said: “It is a real shame that the multitude of benefits offered by charity shops is so often unrecognised and under-used, especially in this time of austerity.

“Local authorities can and should do more to support charity shops at a business level, and to draw on the capacity of charity shops to spur local regeneration.

“Charity shops themselves must also do more to prove their worth by addressing negative public perceptions and highlighting the huge contributions they make to communities.”

Warren Alexander, of the Charity Retail Association, said: “Charity shops not only raise vital money for their parent charities but they bring huge value to their local communities and this report gives some clear insight into those benefits. Charity shops offer a space for individuals to learn new skills and experience through volunteering and work.

“It is great to see charities using their space in imaginative and resourceful ways to not only be retail operations but act as community centres, bases for service delivery and hubs for vulnerable people.”

The report, ‘Giving something back‘, can be downloaded from the Demos website.

There are more than 2,000 charity shops run by hospices in the UK, which collectively raise over £60 million each year.

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