As Oxfam asks us to call local stores before we donate, how will charity shops work now?

Tamara Abraham
Traid - Leigh McAlea/Traid

Whether you’re trying to save money, want to be more eco-friendly, or just love the thrill of discovery that comes from trawling the rails of a charity shop, their reopening has been good news to many.

Along with other non-essential stores, charity shops began reopening on 15th June, along with a whole host of new protocols in line with the new Government health and safety guidelines.

Of course, any business that is dependent on a regular supply of donated goods faces a unique challenge. Government guidelines state that any clothes that have been tried-on or returned by customers must be quarantined for 72 hours in a separate room or container before going back onto the shop floor. Many charity shop chains are applying the same time frame to donated clothing, shoes and accessories too.

This means that they have had to establish an efficient and effective system for accepting and sorting through donations, ensuring that volunteers, staff and customers are protected. At Oxfam, for instance, people are being asked to call their local shop before dropping off donations so that staff and volunteers can manage the influx of goods.

Of course, charity shops serve an important purpose, raising valuable funds for critical causes, so managers will be keen to restore normal operations as soon as possible. Here, some of the most popular charity retail chains in the UK reveal their post-lockdown plans.

When will charity shops reopen?

As soon as it’s safe, is the resounding consensus. Though the Government has allowed non-essential retailers to reopen from 15th June, most charity shops will ensure that they can truly provide effective protection for staff, volunteers and customers before they welcome shoppers again. 

Oxfam stores are among those that reopened on Monday. “Our shops are a much loved part of their communities and, at this difficult time, we can’t wait to reopen our doors and reconnect with our supporters and shoppers," said Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB chief executive earlier this month. "Our shop staff and volunteers are working hard to make sure we can welcome the public back into Oxfam stores safely."

A gradual reopening, testing the efficacy of their measures will be a widely used solution. “TRAID is planning a phased reopening of our charity shops around the 18th June beginning with our most spacious stores,” the charity’s CEO Maria Chenoweth told The Telegraph. 

The same will be the case for Age UK, Mary's Living & Giving shops (which support Save the Children) and at British Heart Foundation stores. "From mid-June, we will reopen a small number of BHF shops, ensuring that all necessary precautions are in place such as social distancing measures, protective equipment for staff and volunteers and the safe collection and processing of donated items," says Allison Swaine-Hughes, retail director at the British Heart Foundation. "Once these new ways of working are established, we will continue to reopen our 750 nationwide shops and stores over the following weeks."

Cancer Research UK says it will begin a phased reopening of stores from 29th June.

TRAID  - Jo Hailey/TRAID 

What kind of safety measures will be in place?

The Government has not issued any specific guidance for donated goods, so most charity shop managers are adapting the general retail guidelines using common sense. All of the charity shops we contacted said that donated goods would be quarantined for 72 hours before being sorted and put on the shop floor, in the same way that retailers of new goods will have to treat any returned or tried-on clothing.

“Logistically, there are many hurdles to overcome," says Kate Avenell, Head of Retail Development at Save the Children. "For example, we are expecting a large volume of goods to be donated and these goods may need to be isolated for 72 hours. Because of this, we are currently focused on exploring every necessary precaution."

London’s Fara charity shops, which raise funds for Romania’s poorest families, echoed that concern in a statement. “Clearly the handling of donated goods by our staff, volunteers and customers presents a particular concern and we are looking at a range of measures to reduce the risk of handling donations. This includes quarantining donations for 72 hours from the time they are donated.”

Other health and safety measures echo those across the rest of the retail industry. Expect a limit on the number of customers in each store, closed fitting rooms and hand sanitiser available for customers and staff. Oxfam, Age UK and Cancer Research UK say staff and volunteers have been provided with PPE too.

“We’re planning significant safety measures and putting new processes in place to receive and handle donations," says Julie Byard, Director of Trading at Cancer Research UK. "These include installing hand sanitiser stations, cough guards, contactless payment and face coverings for staff, as well as floor markings inside our larger superstores and social distancing mapping for the front and back of each of our 600 shops. Donated items will have an isolation period before they’re sorted to be sold."

How can I donate my old clothes?

Most of us have done some kind of wardrobe clear out during lockdown, leaving us with plenty of goods to donate. But whatever you do, don’t leave bags of old clothes outside your local charity shops.

“We welcome the fact that many people are taking the opportunity to declutter during lockdown and we are asking people to hold on to those items for now and donate them when the shops and donation banks are open again,” said Oxfam in a statement. “We ask people not to leave donations outside shops.”

As items will need to be stored for 72 hours before volunteers can process them, Oxfam says storage space may be limited, so they are also urging people to call their local store in advance to check the best time to donate.

Age UK is also advising people not to leave bags of donated goods outside stores: “We’d urge the public to hold on to any good quality items they might have cleared out during lockdown," says Nick Smith, the charity's Head of Retail. "They will be able to drop the donations off once their nearest Age UK shop has reopened."

There are some donation bins and banks still being emptied though. “During lockdown, TRAID has continued emptying our clothes recycling banks supporting households clearing out their wardrobes while supporting councils to continue reducing clothes waste,” says Chenoweth. 

“Now, we look forward to safely welcoming our customers and staff back into our charity shops and providing local communities with affordable sustainable clothes.”

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