When was the last time you visited a charity store?
Over recent years they have really upped their game. The “Charity Retail Association” reckons there are now around 10,500 in the UK raising more than £110 million to fund good causes such as medical research, hospices, environmental issues and much, much more.
If your idea of a charity shop is dingy and disorganised then I urge you to think again. Interiors are often bright, enticing and well sorted into sizes, types and colours. It’s possible to find unique or vintage pieces for a fraction of their original price. Scotland now has its own re-use quality standard certification for 2nd hand shops called “Revolve”.
Charity stores are thriving in the UK right now. In part this is due to the fact that they get a huge business rate relief. The other key aspect is that more and more people are recognising the value (Both monetary and environmentally) of keeping items in action longer and diverting them away from landfill.
Behind the scenes…
I recently visited the Deephaven depot of “Blythswood Care” in Evanton and was given a fascinating tour by one of the managers to get behind the scenes of how the charity operates.
For those who are not familiar with them they are a Christian organisation that brings practical help and hope to those in need. They co-operate with like-minded charities around the world and are committed to long term projects in a variety of locations. For each paid member of staff they aim to have more than 10 volunteers in the organisation as a whole. In the depot there are approximately 55 staff. Donations are a central component to them raising the necessary money to fund the varying projects.
As we wander around the bustling depot we discuss what happens to all the items.
SORTING is a large part of the operation. Textiles are separated out into categories. The higher grade goods head out to the shops whilst lower quality items are sold onto other buyers on the recycling market in the UK and beyond. They have several industrial washers. If good quality textiles / duvets are found that are slightly marked they will wash them before putting into the store.
Shops will only keep items for several weeks before they are sent back to the depot – it might then head off to another store, get boxed up for another season or be sent for textile recycling.
UPCYCLING – Over the past few years they have attempted a number of upcycling projects. Currently they make dog beds out of old duvets. They sell these in the shops but also out at other events such as the Moy Games.
They have someone who can PAT (Portable appliance testing) test but they don’t currently have the capacity to repair appliances at the moment.
Another section of the building houses “FOODBANK” items. Much of the collection, storage and organising is now done directly at other locations, with partners.
The depot is a fascinating space with all corners being used for something! I spot a container with old garden tools poking out. They have someone who repairs them and gets them back into action.
WASTE is something they are very keen to minimise. They currently spend about £30 000 per year on it, equating to 7% of total donated. They are continually sourcing reliable buyers to pass goods onto and reduce any wastage.
The items they have most of are toys, pictures and bizarrely, old medical equipment e.g. zimmer frames etc.! Unfortunately, many of the cheaper plastic toys are broken or have pieces missing which make them unsellable.
As we come to the end of the tour I reflect on the vast amount of “stuff” that fills the building. Whilst there are many positive aspects to this culture of re-using and re-cycling I can’t help but think
“If only we didn’t accumulate so much stuff in the first place!”
So how can you get more involved?
· If you have any queries about whether something is suitable for donation just get in touch with your chosen charity. Most will detail what they accept on their website but if it’s unusual then maybe give them a call.
· Try to ensure textiles are clean.
· Don’t give broken / damaged items as they may end up in their waste stream.
· Some charities will accept rags (Stained or torn garments) that they can sell on which are recycled into other products e.g. cleaning cloths. It’s easier if you separate these off from your other donations and mark up as “rags”.
· Whilst they encourage most people to bring donations into their stores or collection banks many charities would consider picking up from someone’s home if they had a larger amount of items.
· “Gone for Good” is a free app that helps you find what charitable options are available in your area to donate items.
· If you do not currently use charity stores to buy goods then why not give it a try next time you need something. You may be surprised.
A really big “Thank You” to Willie Mackintosh of Blythswood for giving up his time to let me in behind the scenes.