Seasonal and good quality donations will help charity shops succeed as they reopen

Charity shop open after COVID-19
11 June, 2020


As many English charity shops look to reopen their doors from Monday 15 June, with social distancing regulations and COVID-secure guidelines in place and a likely reduction in volunteer numbers, the VCSE sector is calling for donors to consider the relevance and quality of the goods they donate.

Lockdown has been a good opportunity for households up and down the country to sort through clothing and homeware and decide which items are destined for the charity shop, and it’s likely that many stores will be inundated with bags of donations.

On paper, this looks like a good thing – stockrooms piled high, and lots of choice for customers. However, the limits placed on our reopening charity retailers mean that staff and space are major factors in a shop’s success.

The Charity Retail Association has produced a robust reopening pack with legal requirements and industry recommendations, and it’s clear this is a major readjustment for staff, volunteers, donors and customers.

Emerging challenges for charity retailers

  • 30 to 50 per cent of the UK’s 230,000 charity shop volunteers may not be able to return to volunteering straight away, for a mixture of reasons – primarily because they are vulnerable to coronavirus or they have public transport issues.
  • Small shop floors and stockrooms make it hard to maintain a two metre distance between people.
  • Screens and other safety measures need to be installed for the protection of staff and customers (Eastern Daily Press has a good example of this, including 50% reduction in stock levels to help with social distancing, seen at a Break charity shop in Norfolk).
  • Staff and volunteers need training to adjust to the new rules and guidelines in place. Many of these volunteers will be new, so they need induction training as well.
  • The closure of changing rooms, to avoid spreading coronavirus, may increase the number of refunds and returns processed in store.
  • Anecdotally, staff in New Zealand’s reopened St Vincent de Paul charity shops told colleagues in Ireland that customers are spending less time browsing than before coronavirus. We should anticipate a similar behaviour change in English shoppers.
  • Not everyone feels comfortable visiting shops right now, even if they can travel. This will also affect footfall, on top of social distancing measures.  

Recommendations for donors, customers, volunteers and staff

  • As the Charity Retail Association states, all donations must be quarantined for 72 hours before they can be sorted – that means clothes, books, homeware, toys and so on. Leading charity retailers such as Oxfam have recommended that donors wash or wipe down everything they donate.
  • Many charity shops are installing contactless drop-off points at the front of the store (typically a donation bin) to make it easier to donate goods, or asking people to phone ahead before donating, but actually storing quarantined items poses a challenge. Some retailers will collect donations somewhere else entirely.
  • Heavy and bulky winter clothes, such as coats, thick jumpers and boots, take up more space and will need to be stored for months until they are appropriate for the weather. You should prioritise giving summer clothes that people want to buy and wear this season, and store winter clothes in your own homes for now.
  • Not all charity shops will open on Monday 15 June. Many charity retailers are staggering opening times and limiting the number of branches reopening. Charities should clearly communicate which branches are open and when, as well as any restrictions (such as needing to pre-book dropping off large furniture) so that donors and customers don’t have a wasted journey, and to reduce the likelihood of donors dumping items outside closed shops. St Peter’s Hospice is a great example – it has clearly listed the seven major branches that will reopen on Monday 15 June, and the regulations in-store; there are links to the items that can’t be accepted.
  • Washing, ironing or steaming and neatly folding clothes before you donate will mean staff can quickly get stock out on the shop floor in saleable condition once the 72-hour limit has passed. Creased items normally need to be steamed before they are displayed.
  • Stained or damaged clothing cannot be sold; it is normally placed in bags for textile recycling which has to be stored in the stockroom or a back room until it can be collected. Charity shops are paid for the number of bags they pass to textile recycling, but it is much less profitable than selling clothes to the public. Donors, you can help by removing stains before you donate, or taking unsaleable items to textile recycling points yourselves, to reduce the burden on charity shops.
  • Anything poor quality, damaged or unusable – for example, ripped clothing, products with offensive slogans, incomplete puzzles, broken electrical items or chipped crockery – shouldn’t be taken to charity shops, as they can’t be sold.
  • Shops need to observe social distancing measures of two metres wherever possible. This means limiting the number of customers and staff in the space. Some branches may use floor markers, as other shops do, to represent the two metre gap needed. Please be patient with staff and volunteers, as this is all new to them.

If there aren’t many nearby places where you can donate goods right now, you could consider:

  • Listing clothing on resale websites, such as eBay, and donating the money raised to your chosen local charity. You can also shop from many charities’ own eBay stores.
  • Sending any unwanted toiletries and make-up to local causes through Toiletries Amnesty, a directory of charities and community groups that support people living in hygiene poverty.
  • Organising a clothes swap with friends and neighbours once lockdown is relaxed further, and each donating to charity.
  • Looking at other ways to donate – Emmaus Bristol has a ‘Furnish Our Future’ campaign on Crowdfunder, where the money you donate now can be redeemed in their shops when they reopen. 

We look forward to seeing charity shops reopen as soon as they are safe and comfortable enough to do so.


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