London: Bargain hunters have returned to Britain’s beloved charity shops since they began reopening following lockdown, but busy tills alone will struggle to repair the damage done by the coronavirus pandemic.
The country’s charitable sector, worth billions of pounds, has seen its revenues collapse in the roughly three months since the virus prompted the unprecedented restrictions.
Popular stores selling various second-hand items from clothes to crockery were allowed to restart operating earlier this month alongside other so-called non-essential retailers.
Maxine Boersma, 53, a public relations consultant, was the first customer through the doors Thursday at the British Red Cross store in Chelsea, in west London, two days after its reopening.
The retailer, in one of the capital’s most upmarket districts, has a reputation for selling expensive brands at eye-poppingly low prices.
“I would rather have it open with restrictions than without, than not having it open at all,” said Maxine. Staff have limited the number of customers at any one time to five, asked them to disinfect their hands on entering and follow a signposted path once inside.
A lack of volunteers has also affected charity shops’ ability to get back to normal. “Our guess is somewhere between 30 to 50 percent of the volunteers won’t be able to come back straight away,” said Robin Osterley, chief executive of the Charity Retail Association.
He estimates around 230,000 people volunteer nationwide.
Oxfam, which relies on 20,000 volunteers to help run its 650 stores — with a team of around 30 volunteers supported by one or two staff in each — said “many” were elderly.
To make up for the shortfall, the sector has entered into a partnership with the voluntary civil service programme to attract young people aged 16 and 17.
“Charity shops will survive because their business model works,” Osterley said, noting annually they generate £300 million net and have benefited from shoppers’ increased focus on sustainability in recent years.
“The government really needs to understand how much the charity sector does for the community,” he said. “They wouldn’t be able to replace those services.”