As social awareness increases, rehoming second-hand items can not only be environmentally friendly, it can also benefit your local community, writes Rachel Blair
Charity shops are a unique and treasured part of Scotland’s town centres. There are over 960 charity retail units in Scotland serving shoppers across the country from Glasgow to Lerwick. We now have a huge variety of charity shops to choose from, be it furniture superstores for redecorating the spare room, book shops for a quiet weekend wander, bridal boutiques for the big day, discount shops for affordable outfits, or mixed bric-a-brac shelves for fabulous retro homeware goods.
When it comes to charity shops – we can be picky if we want to. Decide what you’re looking for, choose your favourite charities and begin your journey to purchasing something special.
Last year charity retail in the UK contributed £278m to charitable causes. The opportunity to donate to the activities of the parent charity is attractive. Charity retail funds go towards supporting a variety of vital causes including medical research, environmental initiatives, supporting sick children, homeless people, mentally and physically disabled people, for animal welfare and for many other causes. This gives shoppers the chance to feel good – receiving a product they want while contributing to a cause which is important to them.
Social value is important to many shoppers, many of whom are becoming more tuned into the key issues facing their community and indeed the world. A growing number of people are using charity shops to reduce their environmental impact. Consumers are more aware of their influence on the environment, particularly following the introduction of the plastic bag levy, plastic straw ban and more recently with insight into the effects of “fast fashion”. As a result of charity retail, 330,000 tonnes of textiles were kept out of landfill in 2017, reducing the UK’s carbon emissions by nearly seven million tonnes.
The community benefit of charity shops is not something to ignore either. Charity retail is the biggest source of volunteer opportunities in the UK, with 230,000 people currently volunteering in the sector. Feedback has shown that many volunteers are elderly people who benefit greatly from social interaction and boosts to self-esteem and confidence. Younger volunteers cite gaining work experience and an opportunity to learn new skills as key benefits of their voluntary role. Research also reveals the positive impact charity shops have on high streets – they help to attract footfall and keep them thriving. As society becomes more savvy to the social value of products, charity shops will appeal to more and more shoppers.
This year alone we have seen a diverse range of unique items donated and bought in charity shops across Scotland. In Fife, a shopper picked up a rare edition of a Robert Burns book – for just £2. Recently in Edinburgh, national media became invested in the story of a photographer who bought a lovely 1950s camera, developed the never-seen-before photos and sought to find the original owner. The heart-warming tale resulted in the photographer meeting the son of the original owner, presenting him framed copies of the photographs which pictured his late mother.
We cannot forget that there is also great emotional and practical value in the charity shop goods which don’t make the papers. The retro homeware, children’s toys, affordable clothing and bargain books are some of the favourite purchases for shoppers. Our research tells us that high street shoppers enjoy a diversity of products which is exactly what charity shops offer. They provide an unpredictable and ever-changing choice of products which makes for a satisfying shopping experience.
A seasonal favourite in charity shops is the Christmas card selection usually on offer from the early autumn. With proceeds going to a charitable cause, purchasing these can be a festive good deed. Some charities sell greetings cards throughout the year including Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland who have several Scottish artists on board to produce unique designs. Many charity shops also source a wider range of Christmas products including stockings, decorations, wrapping paper, gift bags, hampers and crackers. The seasoned charity shoppers will know that not everything in store is second hand. Some charity shops source new products to sell – Sue Ryder which has a large superstore in Seafield, Edinburgh offers new furniture including contemporary style bedside tables and chests of drawers.
With just a few weeks until Christmas, The Charity Retail Association (the trade body for charity shops in the UK, representing 80 per cent of the sector) is asking people to consider taking part in Good Cause Santa Claus. Secret Santa is a popular game amongst families, friends and work colleagues in which participants randomly assign another member of the group to buy an anonymous gift for. For Good Cause Santa Claus, participants are asked to set a spending limit for the Secret Santa gifts which are to be purchased only in charity shops. A range of gifts await eager shoppers – the wonderful, the quirky, the practical, the unique – there is something for every friend, family member and colleague. This is a fun challenge particularly for colleagues who may be feeling competitive over finding the best gifts to present at the office Christmas party.
With support of MSPs, the Good Cause Santa Claus campaign is building momentum.
The hope is to expose more people to the benefits of purchasing from charity shops. Some people don’t realise the high quality of goods on offer – designer brands are not uncommon sights. Once people have given and received their Secret Santa gifts perhaps they might consider shopping in their local charity shops in the new year.
At this time of year, people are eager to give back and be more environmentally friendly. Charity shops provide a plentiful choice so the Secret Santa challenge is something fun to do as part of Christmas shopping. The Charity Retail Association works with organisations with a stake in the environment including Zero Waste Scotland. One of the interesting things going on in charity shops right now is a programme run by Zero Waste called Revolve. Unique to Scotland, Revolve is a re-use quality standard scheme for second-hand goods. This may help remind shoppers that second-hand products go through vigorous checks before reaching the shelves. As the Scottish Government leans towards an approach to the economy focusing on “low-carbon” initiatives, charity shops become more crucial to the function of our towns. At Christmastime when waste levels rise, a place to buy and donate second-hand goods is exactly what we need.
There is huge value in the charity shop products with the small price tags. These products are special for the charity funding key medical research, for the volunteers gaining confidence, for the high street in need of increased footfall and for the environment which so desperately needs a break from dangerous landfill gas emissions. What would make a better gift this year than something which benefits us all so greatly?