Neil Gascoyne: Scotland's oldest charity shop hits 60

Edinburgh is a beautiful city, littered with historic monuments, magnificent views and incredible architecture. It's sometimes hard to walk just a few hundred yards without seeing something amazing. The areas of Bruntsfield and Tollcross are no exceptions.
Birthlink Thrift Shop 2Birthlink Thrift Shop 2
Birthlink Thrift Shop 2

If you were to take a stroll from Bruntsfield you’d be greeted by one of the first places golf was played in Scotland, Bruntsfield Links, with its picture-postcard views and tranquil atmosphere, it’s a perfect place to work on your short game. If playing golf isn’t your thing, then perhaps a wee dram in the 500-year-old Golf Tavern is more appealing. All the while, Edinburgh Castle looms in the distance looking as imposing and dramatic as any fairy tale structure. With all this in a space of 300 yards, it can be understandable that you may have missed another important part of Edinburgh’s history – nestling in the shadow of the mesmerising Barclay Viewforth Church is Scotland’s oldest charity shop, Birthlink’s Thrift Shop. This month it celebrates its 60th birthday.

With charity shops now a staple on high streets all across Scotland (there are around 100 in Edinburgh alone) it’s difficult to imagine a time when it wasn’t this way. In 1957 we opened Scotland’s first charity shop. Originally called “The Thrift Centre” it operated from a basement flat on Darnaway Street. Despite being open only two evenings a week, Wednesday and Thursday 7pm-9pm, The Thrift Centre was such a tremendous success that it wasn’t long before we moved into our forever home – and an actual shop at 6 Bruntsfield Place. In 1976 we were gifted another premises, in which we opened Thrift Shop 2; the scruffy younger brother fitted in well, and still does to this day.

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Since the year that Buddy Holly first sang That’ll Be The Day, our thrift shops have been synonymous with charity shopping in Edinburgh; Thrift Shop 1 has become a sort of institution, or rite of passage amongst avid charity shoppers. We are regularly described as one of the only true charity shops left in town. Maybe that’s because you can still find a bargain in our shop, or perhaps it’s the fact you can have a proper rummage! Maybe it’s the décor, including display drawers reminiscent of Are You Being Served? (which I think we’ve had since we first opened).

But I like to think it’s our true sense of what it is to be a part of a community. When The Thrift Centre opened it had dozens of volunteers, engaging in a real community spirit to help those who needed it most. It’s not a responsibility we take lightly – if we can make a difference we will. With pride I can say that if someone comes into our shop and really needs a winter jacket, but genuinely can’t afford the full price, they will not leave our shop cold. Only this year we made the decision to donate bags full of children’s clothes, and thick jackets to refugees in Calais.

In 60 years our little shop has seen a great many changes, some for the better and some for worse, but we have endured, and it is entirely down to the volunteers who give up their free time and pour so much love and heart in to our shops. It’s that love above all else that has kept us going. So from the bottom of my heart, I’d like to thank all those who have ever volunteered with us, in whatever form. I’d like to thank our donors, who regularly choose us over the bigger name charity shops, and I’d like to thank our customers. Without any of you this 60 years would not have been possible. Here’s to another 60!

Neil Gascoyne, Birthlink